A new collection, "Traveling Culture: Circuit Chautauqua in the Twentieth Century," is now available on the American Memory collections Web site at www.loc.gov.
The collection comprises nearly 8,000 publicity brochures, promotional advertisements and flyers featuring more than 4,500 performers who were part of the Circuit Chautauqua. These talent brochures are drawn from the record of the Redpath Lyceum Bureau, one of the largest booking agencies for the Circuit Chautauqua. The records are held by the University of Iowa. Their digitization was made possible by an award from the Library of Congress/Ameritech National Digital Library Competition. This $2 million, three-year program, which concluded in 1999, has made awards to 33 institutions nationwide to enable them to make their important American history collections available online.
Founded in 1874 by Lewis Miller, a Methodist minister (later a bishop), and John Heyl Vincent, the Circuit Chautauqua was established to deliver educational, spiritual, and cultural stimulation to rural and small-town America. Touted as morally respectable vaudeville, the Circuit Chautauqua was an early form of mass culture. Theodore Roosevelt called the Circuit Chautauqua "the most American thing in America." During World War I, Woodrow Wilson described it as "an integral part of the national defense."
The Circuit takes its name from Lake Chautauqua in western New York state, where it originated and first appeared in 1904. The standard program consisted of lectures, musical performances, variety acts, and dramatic readings. This summer camp for families that promised "education and uplift" quickly became popular and was copied by the independent chautauquas. During its peak in the mid-1920s, there were 21 circuits providing programs in more than 10,000 communities in 45 states to an estimated 40 million people. The Great Depression brought an end to most circuits, although a few continued until World War II.
This new online collection has been added to the more than 90 already freely available from American Memory, which is a project of the National Digital Library Program of the Library of Congress.