The History of Chautauqua
"Chautauqua" was named for the Chautauqua Lake area in upstate New York, where the movement began in 1874 as a Methodist summer retreat. A wide range of religious lectures and educational programs attracted a huge following and turned Chautauqua, New York, into a popular summer resort.
Click here to view the history of MHC's Chautauqua themes, characters, and locations.
As it evolved, the Chautauqua movement presented the latest thinking in politics, economics, literature, science, and religion. By 1900, more than 400 summer communities had developed from the original Chautauqua model, and touring companies presented lectures, debates, and performances at sites throughout the country. Theodore Roosevelt, himself an active participant, dubbed Chautauqua "the most American thing in America" due to its enormous popularity and accessibility.
In Maryland, the tradition dates back to the late nineteenth century, when Chautauquas took place at Mountain Lake Park in Garrett County and at Glen Echo Park in Montgomery County. In its heyday between the 1880s and World War I, this program attracted thousands to the community for symphonies, operas, plays and nationally prominent speakers including President Taft, Samuel Gompers, William Jennings Bryan, and Billy Sunday.
While increased access to radios, movies and cars led to a gradual decline in the Chautauqua movement by the 1930s, its legacy lives on through continuing education programs at community colleges, and humanities councils nationwide.
MHC launched the modern Chautauqua in Maryland in 1995 at Garrett College, and since then this popular program has spread to other parts of the state, educating and entertaining thousands of Marylanders every summer.