Cover image for The Chautauqua moment : Protestants, progressives, and the culture of modern liberalism
The Chautauqua moment : Protestants, progressives, and the culture of modern liberalism
Rieser, Andrew Chamberlin.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Columbia University Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xiii, 399 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
Format :


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LC6551 .R54 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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This book traces the rise and decline of what Theodore Roosevelt once called the "most American thing in America." The Chautauqua movement began in 1874 on the shores of Chautauqua Lake in western New York. More than a college or a summer resort or a religious assembly, it was a composite of all of these--completely derivative yet brilliantly innovative. For five decades, Chautauqua dominated adult education and reached millions with its summer assemblies, reading clubs, and traveling circuits.

Scholars have long struggled to make sense of Chautauqua's pervasive yet disorganized presence in American life. In this critical study, Andrew Rieser weaves the threads of Chautauqua into a single story and places it at the vital center of fin de siècle cultural and political history. Famous for its commitment to democracy, women's rights, and social justice, Chautauqua was nonetheless blind to issues of class and race. How could something that trumpeted democracy be so undemocratic in practice? The answer, Rieser argues, lies in the historical experience of the white, Protestant middle classes, who struggled to reconcile their parochial interests with radically new ideas about social progress and the state. The Chautauqua Moment brings color to a colorless demographic and spins a fascinating tale of modern liberalism's ambivalent but enduring cultural legacy.

Author Notes

Andrew C. Rieser is a past fellow of the Pew Program in religion and American history at Yale University and has taught at several universities in New York and the Midwest.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Rieser's study supersedes all other accounts (and there have been many) about Chautauqua, the place[s], and the fabled cultural movement connected with it, established in western New York in 1874. Cultural and social historian Rieser (SUNY Dutchess) does an excellent job of unpacking these intertwined stories with multiple levels of meaning and making sense of both the parts and the whole. He begins by noting the Chautauqua Movement's cultural origins, rooted in the camp meetings of the evangelical Protestantism scattered so widely throughout the US in the pre-Civil War period. There are interesting discussions of the popular literary, scientific, and even the "business" and "normal" school dimensions of the Chautauqua program, a function of the white, Protestant, middle classes that controlled the US from the Civil War until WW I. Rieser limns excellent chapters on the role of women in the Chautauqua Movement and how the movement's supporters, through securing their own sense of "whiteness" (a very fashionable topic among social historians these days), effectively shut out or sidetracked into insignificance racial and ethnic minorities, especially, and working-class people and their concerns in general. However, the occasional breeziness and impreciseness in Rieser's writing left this reader unclear, confused--and uncomfortable. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. J. F. Findlay emeritus, University of Rhode Island

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Introduction: Chautauqua's Liberal Creedp. 1
1. An American Forum: Methodist Camp Meetings and the Rise of Social Christianityp. 15
Camp Meetings and Terra Spiritualisp. 20
Never on Sundayp. 25
From Far Points to Fair Pointp. 32
Conclusionp. 44
2. The Never-ending Vacation: Boosters, Tourists, and the Fantasyscape of Chautauquap. 47
Sizing the Independent Assembly Movementp. 51
Nature Worship and Stealth Cosmopolitanismp. 54
Better Than a Mill: The Booster's Chautauquap. 57
Railroads Reduxp. 66
Magic Landsp. 70
The Never-ending Vacation: Chautauqua Suburbsp. 79
Conclusionp. 83
3. Canopy of Culture: Democracy under the Big Tent of Prosperityp. 86
Lewis Miller: Communitarian Philanthropistp. 89
John Heyl Vincent: Chautauqua Patriarchp. 94
The Lyceum and Mechanics' Institutesp. 100
Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circlep. 104
Jasper Douthit: Chautauqua's Political Turnp. 108
Joseph Maximilian Hark: Moravian for Middlebrow Culturep. 115
Catholics Respondp. 120
Conclusionp. 124
4. The Liberalism of Whiteness: Webs of Region, Race, and Nationalism in the Chautauqua Movementp. 128
From Anglo-Saxonism to White Americanismp. 130
Chautauqua and the Midwestp. 136
An Invitation to the White Southp. 139
Racial Patriotism and the Spanish-American Warp. 145
Progressivism and the Black Presence at Chautauquap. 147
Lessons in Orientalismp. 151
Conclusionp. 158
5. From Parlor to Politics: Chautauqua and the Institutionalization of Middle-Class Womanhoodp. 161
Who Belonged to the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle?p. 165
Men in the Minorityp. 169
The Fraternity of Intellectp. 174
Integrating the CLSCp. 177
From Temperance to Suffragep. 180
Chautauqua Novelsp. 185
Women as Managers: Kate Kimball's Bureaucracyp. 189
"Women's Clatter" in the Public Spherep. 196
Conclusionp. 204
6. Useful Knowledge and Its Critics: The Messiness of Popular Education in the 1890sp. 207
Chautauqua and the University Extension Movementp. 209
Revolt of the Intellectualsp. 214
"I Like Something Doing": Masculinities at Chautauquap. 218
Delsarte and the Natural Expression Movementp. 228
Business, Correspondence, and Normal Schoolsp. 234
Conclusionp. 237
7. Success through Failure: Chautauqua in the Progressive Erap. 240
The Ambiguous Career of City Beautifulp. 243
Libraries, Parks, and Lecture Seriesp. 251
The Trouble with the Assembliesp. 254
The Theater of Politics in the Progressive Erap. 259
Departure of the Fundamentalistsp. 264
Circuit Chautauquas and the Corporate Reorganization of Culturep. 269
From Liberal Creed to Secular Liberalism: Shelbyville, Illinoisp. 274
The Great War and the Agony of the Circuitsp. 277
Conclusionp. 284
Conclusion: Failure Through Success?p. 286