Just what is a chautauqua? What's our connection? And how the heck do you pronounce it?
At McMenamins Gearhart Hotel & Sand Trap Pub in Gearhart, Ore., one of our event spaces is called the Chautauqua Room. It takes its name from an Iroquois Indian word meaning either "two moccasins tied together" or "where the fish are taken out." The pronunciation is: shuh-TOCK-wuh.
The original Chautauqua Institution is a not-for-profit, 750-acre educational center on Chautauqua Lake in Western New York State. Founded in 1874, the institution was an educational experiment in out-of-school, vacation learning – anything from academic subjects to music and art to sports.
The Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (CLSC) was started in 1878 to provide those who could not afford the time or cost to attend college the opportunity of acquiring the essential knowledge of a college education. The four-year correspondence course was one of the first attempts at distance learning. The program was also intended to show people how best to use their leisure time and avoid idle pastimes, such as drinking, gambling, dancing and theater-going.
Soon local CLSC outposts popped up across the country. Among those who benefited most from the CLSC program were women, teachers, and those living in remote rural areas (such as in Gearhart, Ore.). With the success of the CLSC, many new "Daughter Chautauquas" were created, giving rise to what was called the Chautauqua Movement.
Local socialite Narcissa Kinney, wife of preeminent Gearhart landowner Marshall Kinney, organized the Gearhart Chautauqua as a means to bring education and refinement to the region (as well as to distinguish the town from that rowdy, rough-and-tumble Seaside just five miles away). From 1895 to 1915, the Gearhart Auditorium was the center of Gearhart's cultural happenings, set "in the midst of a 200-acre forest park." The CLSC brought in such luminaries as the famous orator William Jennings Bryant, march king John Phillip Sousa and his band and others, as McMenamins artist Kolieha Bush recreates in her artwork shown here.
Although the remote chautauquas began to decline after their peak year in 1924, the original Chautauqua Institution in Western NY still hosts year-round programming that includes concerts, operas, plays and lectures. For example, the 2013 line-up included such offerings as "An Evening with Sandra Day O'Connor," live music by American Idol winner Scott McCreery and a theatrical performance of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams.