Local history buffs and mavens of culture should take note that Teddy Roosevelt, Madame Marie Curie and a caravan of scholars will be coming to Hamilton next summer for the Ohio Chautauqua.
Hamilton is one of four cities around the state selected for the 18th annual Ohio Chautauqua, a week-long program of cultural enrichment and education, according to Fran Tiburzio, coordinator of the event for the Ohio Humanities Council.
“The Ohio Chautauqua is a traveling living history program,” Tiburzio said. “Each evening we have a different living history performance under a big red-and-white striped tent, and during the daytime our scholars present fun hands-on workshops for kids and adult programs like lectures in different venues throughout the community.”
The tent will be set up on the Hamilton Campus of Miami University, said Sarah Templeton Wilson, the Regional Campus’s assistant director of development, who led the local effort to bring the Chautauqua to town.
“It will be a full week of events,” she said. “The evening programs will always be at the Miami Hamilton Campus and during the day the re-enactors will go out to different community spots. So we will probably do things with Partners in Prime, the Lane Library, Pyramid Hill and Miami Hamilton Downtown to try and get a lot of different audiences from senior citizens to little kids.”
The dates of the 2016 Ohio Chautauqua have yet to be arranged, Tiburzio said, coordinated with the other host cities–Rossford, Gallipolis and Brimfield–but will be around late June or in July. More living history speakers will also be announced with the theme of “The Natural World.”
“The evening starts with some musical entertainment, then our scholar comes out on-stage, in costume, tells some stories from his life, then takes questions in character,” Tiburzio said. “So people in the audience will get to ask Teddy Roosevelt what made him go West, and what did he really think of the Rough Riders. Then the scholar steps out of character, that way he can answer question that the character would not have answered himself.”
Communities must apply for the Ohio Chautauqua in a competitive process that includes a site visit. Tiburzio said that Wilson and the local team “knocked it out of the ballpark” when she came to town. It was the second time Hamilton applied.
“The first year they were turned down just because the competition is so fierce,” she said. “But because the community is undergoing an arts renaissance and has such a strong interest in history, I think they are really going to glom onto this program. After 17 years of site visits, you get a feel for where it’s going to work and where it isn’t, and Hamilton was completely positive all the way.”
Wilson said that hosting a Chautauqua coincides with a movement on the regional campuses to generate more alumni involvement, especially with programming that will appeal to families, but that the event should have a broad impact across the community and Southwestern Ohio in general.”
Hamilton City Council member Kathleen Klink, who served on the site visit committee, said that the event will showcase both Miami Hamilton and the city at large.
“Attendees will be able to enjoy the events while also engaging with Hamilton amenities, a wonderful experience for families,” Klink said. “This event brings together those interested in history and Ohio and Hamilton remains a key contributor to the history of our region and state.”
History of the Chautauqua Movement
Tiburzio said the Chautauqua movement began in 1874 on the banks of Lake Chautauqua in New York as a school for Methodist Sunday School teachers.
“The popularity of the program spread to the surrounding regions and eventually throughout the country people started demanding this kind of cultural enrichment, so the traveling Chautauquas began around the turn of the century,” she said. “They were so popular that there were dozens of Chautauqua circuits around the country. Ohio had six Chautauqua circuits, and at the turn of the century, one in four Americans attended a Chautauqua programs. That’s how popular they were.
“It was a really great way to bring culture to the masses,” she said, noting that Teddy Roosevelt called Chautauqua “the most American thing in America.”
The traveling Chautauqua events gave people a place to discuss important issues of the day. As time went on, however, the quality and nature of the Chautauqua programs began to decline, becoming less about enrichment and more about entertainment. Consequently, their popularity declined as well and the movement died out by the end of the 1930s.
“For the nation’s Bicentennial in 1976, the North Dakota Humanities Council was looking for a way to revive interest in history and came up with what we call ‘the modern revival of Chautauqua,’ Tiburzio said. “The popularity of the program again began to spread across the country. We were a little late to jump on the bandwagon. We didn’t start the Ohio Chautauqua until 1999, but we now have the biggest Chautauqua program in the country.”