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The Chautauqua in Libertyville

Entertainment in the early part of the 20th century was different from our experiences today. Fairs and festivals offered a type of communal and collective form of entertainment unknown in the present. During the 1900s to the mid-1920s the circuit or tent Chautauqua, a cross between a traveling show and a lecture series, offered a variety of entertainment and education opportunities for people of all ages. Music, religion, drama, and science were just a few of the major topics that the Chautauqua offered. The Chautauqua would go from town to town on a traveling circuit in a complex system of acts and performances. At times performers would travel with a specific show, while at other times they would be independently hired to perform at only a few venues.

Postcard taken during the Chautauqua of July 1921. Postcard compliments of the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society and available online at the Illinois Digital Archive.
Program list from the Chautauqua of 1918. Orginally posted in the Lake County Independent July 19, 1916.

Chautauquas got their name from Chautauqua Lake in southwest New York, the site of the first gathering in 1874. The original emphasis of the programs was religious but they became more entertaining and informative as their popularity grew. As the success of the program grew, the performers took to the road having circuit or tent Chautauquas throughout the country.
Libertyville hosted its share of Chautauquas with the event being a week-long celebration held in a large green tent in Central Park. Advertising for the arrival of the Chautauqua usually took place weeks in advance to inform the public about the times and dates, but most importantly, it told potential attendees who the performers would be. Tickets were sold for the event to help pay for the entertainers and other expenses. Chautauquas took themselves seriously as a public service rather than a money making venture.
Programming lists were set up and published in the Libertyville newspaper, both to inform those attending or to entice those who were undecided about buying tickets. The programming covered a vast array of topics: sports, religion, and entertainment for children, live music and lectures on home life for the adults. One year, a speaker from India described life in his native country. Admission on a particular day might cost anywhere from 30 to 55 cents, depending on the performer. Within a few years the Chautauqua was extremely popular in Libertyville. In 1914, a permanent committee known as the Libertyville Lincoln Chautauqua League was formed to organize and promote the event.
At the start of the United States’ involvement into the European War in 1916, the Chautauqua took on an entirely new patriotic role. Chautauquas were seen as an American event. With the patriotic enthusiasm brought about by the war, Chautauquas were viewed as an excellent outlet for American pride.

By the late 1920s enthusiasm for the circuit Chautauqua began to wane. As automobiles became more affordable, travel became more popular. People didn’t need to wait for the Chautauqua to arrive; they could seek out entertainment by traveling when and where they wanted, and at a greater distance. Motion pictures and radios provided entertainment and information to people in a new and modern way that made the Chautauqua feel outdated. Eventually the circuit Chautauquas were but a memory with a unique place in American history, but Libertyville had had a front seat to enjoy the show.

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Advertisement for 1918 Chautauqua, note the patriotic theme. Originally posted in the Libertyville Independent, July 25, 1918.


1. “Chautauqua Pleases Large Crowds Daily.” Libertyville Independent, July 19, 1923, p. 1.
2. “Redpath Chautauqua Crowded Day and Night.” Libertyville Independent, July 19, 1924, p. 1.
3. “Form Permanent Organization Monday Night.” Libertyville Independent, August 14, 1914, p. 1
4. “Lincoln Chautaugua Tents Sage Green.” Libertyville Independent, July 10, 1914, p. 8
5. “Fine Programme Announced For the Chautauqua .” Libertyville Independent, August 8, 1916, p. 1.
6. “Chautauqua To Open Tuesday Afternoon at 3.” Libertyville Independent, July 15, 1920, p. 1.
7. “’Patriotism’ Keynote at Lincoln Chautauqua.” Libertyville Independent, June 12, 1916, p. 1
8. “Chautauqua Program Is Highest Class This Year.” Libertyville Independent, June 30, 1922, p. 8
9. “Chautauqua Week To Be Made Patriotic Rally.” Libertyville Independent, June 21, 1916, p. 1

Categories: Local History

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