2) The First Wold War and Popular Opinion
When hostilities broke out in Europe in August 1914, President Wilson urged Americans to remain neutral in thought as well as in action. Chautauqua programs followed suit, avoiding controversial issues and occasionally featuring eyewitnesses and lecturers from both sides of the conflict. Chautauqua organizers also knew that a significant percentage of their mainstay mid-western audiences were of German descent and took pride in the activities of the fatherland. A good example of the pre-war Chautauqua impartiality is the 1915 promotional program entitled "F. Tennyson Neely's Wonder Pictures with the German Army (external link)."
Accessible through Subject Index headings, Propaganda, Motion Pictures, and World War, 1914-1918, the program promises that not only are Neely's motion pictures "Approved by the Kaiser" but are the only ones "so far brought to this country."
- How does the text characterize the German military and its endeavors?
- Why would audiences have wanted to see images of famous German landmarks and leaders?
- How might early-nineteenth-century audiences have responded to these photographs?
- What motives might a bureau manager have had for promoting both sides of an entirely foreign conflict?
Once the United States entered the war in April of 1917, however, Chautauqua programs were amended to relflect the country's charged patriotism. Programs extolled the virtues of the allies while condemning the actions and moral shortcomings of the enemy. In fact, such was the wartime importance of Chautauqua platform propaganda, that the secretary of war exempted all Chautauqua personnel from military service due to the educational value of their work.
Materials pertaining to the patriotic programs offered during the war years can be found under the Subject Index heading, World War, 1914-1918. Typical among these is the program presented by the Redpath Chautauqua entitled "The Great War Series." The biographical sketch of Marie Rose Lauler, speaker on "The Spirit of the Women of France," begins:
As long as the memory of the world endures people will honor the heroic women of France and Belgium. The outrages visited upon them by the ravaging Hun, the unquenchable spirit in the midst of overwhelming woes will never be forgotten.
- How does the piece characterize the women of Belgium and France? The German forces?
- How would you describe the tone of the piece?
- How might the language of this piece differ from a similar program delivered before or after the war?
- Of what unique value are eyewitness accounts?