Circuit Chautauquas: What Were They And What’s Their Legacy For Us Today?

North Street Garden

North Street Garden

Circuit Chautauquas, a/k/a culture under tents, were a major national cultural movement across rural America during the early 1900s.  The circuits brought education and entertainment to people who did not have access to them because of poor roads, unreliable cars and the lack of regular radio programming.  Hence, the circuits were the major platform for national politicians, motivational speakers and eventually the theater.  Education and entertainment were mixed together under the signature huge, brown tents that moved across the country ever summer.

Carol McCracken learned about the circuits from her grandfather, who in 1913, founded and managed Redpath Chautauqua of New York and (northern) New England.  He was from western Pennsylvania.  His wife, a Portland native, was employed by him as an operatic singer.  The couple was married in Falmouth Foreside in 1910.  They are buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Portland.

McCracken is offering a four-week course starting Tuesday afternoon, (12: 45 p.m. – 2:45 p.m.) June 16th at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (formerly Senior College).  Part of the course will involve reinactments of some of the notables on the platform;  Warren G. Harding, James G. Blaine, Ida Tarbell, Charles Dickens, Katherine Ridgeway, etc.  The class will sing some of the favorite songs of the era, directed by Terry Foster, OLLI Singers co-director.  OLLI is located at the new Wishcamper Building on the University of Southern Maine campus on Bedford Street, Room 102 on the first flooor.   (Students must be at least 50 years or older to regiser for class.)  For more information, please call 780-4706 or 1 800 800-4876.  Or please email Carol at for more specifics.

It promises to be fun and informational – just like the Chautauqua Days – of the 20s.