Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2011

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

American Studies

First Advisor

Marra, Kim

First Committee Member

Adams, Bluford

Second Committee Member

Altman, Rick

Third Committee Member

Stromquist, Shelton

Fourth Committee Member

Raeburn, John


This dissertation explores the impact of the permanent chautauqua movement in American culture, especially in the period from 1874 to 1935. It argues that chautauquas served as sites for the production of middle-class culture and the renegotiation of relationships among class, gender, race, and religion.

Permanent chautauquas were popular vacation resorts throughout the United States, beginning with the founding of the Chautauqua Sunday School Assembly in upstate New York and increasing in number to about two hundred in 1900. They were associations of cottages offering community programs that were educational, religious, and entertaining. This dissertation examines the programs that the chautauquas planned, arguing that they espoused a burgeoning form of culture, one that supported a perceived morality and middle-class values like dedication to family, temperance, education, patriotism, piety, and fighting against temptation to sin.

Particular emphasis is placed on how performance at permanent chautauquas led to new expectations of gender, class, race, and religion. Women had opportunities for leadership, were able to blur lines between public and private spheres, and could act out different expectations of their gender while on the grounds. While most chautauquans were middle class, attending a chautauqua meant that one's class was not important and all could enjoy a middle-class vacation. While the line between whites and non-whites remained stable, non-whites were granted performance opportunities at chautauquas that they might not have had; other non-whites participated as members of the work force that allowed white chautauquans the leisure they expected. Because chautauquas were Protestant communities, religion underlaid all activities on the grounds, redefining expectations of how religion and entertainment could be combined. Taken together, these renegotiations of identity at chautauquas impacted a broader American culture.

This dissertation examines the performances at chautauqua, in particular the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle and their Recognition Day graduation ceremony; historical pageantry; professional performers who visited as part of the circuit chautauquas; and early film exhibition. It places them in a broader American performance context and argues that permanent chautauquas played a role in their development and popularity.

It draws upon archival records from the chautauquas to outline the kinds of programming presented. Additionally, the research is supported by anecdotal evidence from a series of oral history interviews conducted with individuals who recall their childhoods at permanent chautauquas.


chautauqua, middle-class identity, pageant, reading circle


vii, 282 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 270-282).


Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Loyd Harvey