Friday, June 22, 2012
Guest Blogger: Stephanie Grace Whitson
To tens of thousands of Americans in the late 19th century, that word meant FUN. Chautauquas were a combination of adult education, entertainment, and religious events all rolled into one. By the early twentieth century, there was even a “circuit” that performers followed from place to place, where communities pitched tents and put up stages and invited surrounding residents to gather for a week or ten days. It was a chance for “regular” Americans to hear and see former presidents, famous orators, elocutionists, and renowned preachers for as little as a fifty-cent ticket to enter the grounds.
The 1891 program for one such event reads, “To those longing for a wider outlook on the world and its work, and who because of the rough ways of life are denied much time for study, and whose opportunities for improvement are limited because of narrow and unfavorable surrounding, the Chautauqua Assembly comes like a benediction.”
I personally tend to think that most of the farm wives who were able to go for the full week or ten days felt blessed because it was a season of NO cooking, NO housecleaning, and NO gardening. Although I’ve also wondered if, when they got back home, they wondered if it was worth it as they stared at the weeds in the garden that had cropped up while they were gone!
My next novel, The Message on the Quilt, will be set on the grounds of the Beatrice, Nebraska, Chautauqua in 1890, and I’ve had a wonderful time poring over folders of old photographs and programs and newspaper articles to learn more about that time and place. I will definitely have to have Emilie take a moonlight cruise on the Queen of the Blue. I don’t know that I’ll have the heart to have her slip in the mud and ruin her white dress (as happened to one attendee), but she’ll definitely be wooed by one particular member of The Swedish Quartette—much to her overbearing father’s consternation.
We are so very blessed in American in 2012.