Teach PA History
The Most American Thing in America: The Chautauqua
What to Know
Teaching Time
2 50-minute sessions
Grade Level
Middle School
  • Arts and Humanities
  • Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening
  • Geography
  • History
Historical Period
  • Development of the Industrial Pennsylvania - 1877-1900
  • The Emergence of Modern Pennsylvania - 1901-1928
"The most American thing in America." That is what former President Theodore Roosevelt said about the Chautauqua. Not only did the movement represent a microcosm of our democracy, it also was a symbol of new traditions in American education. That is, people of all social standings, even those who did not attend college or live in the big city, could be enlightened. The Chautauqua provided communities, who otherwise felt isolated and lacking opportunities of educational entertainment, the chance to hear a number of orators, artists, musicians, comedians, and educators address issues concerning their time. Located on grounds where recreational and leisurely activities were possible, Chautauquas went beyond mere entertainment value. The Chautauqua was a platform for Populist and Progressive concerns as well as science, literature, and international relations. Speakers like William Jennings Bryan, former President William McKinley, Jane Addams, and Amelia Earhart both challenged and inspired the assemblies that gathered throughout the country and the state of Pennsylvania. In this lesson, students will evaluate the cultural and educational values of the late 19th century and early 20th century using sources from past Chautauquas. In addition to examining photographs, postcards, advertisements and programs, students will be able to plan their own Chautauqua reviewing concepts from the Progressive/Populist era.


Students will be able to: 1. Identify some of the towns where chautauquas first originated and spread to Pennsylvania. 2. Interpret primary sources. 3. Determine common traits shared by towns with chautauquas. 4. Describe activities and purpose of the Chautauqua in Pennsylvania and the United States using pictures, programs, and postcards. 5. Analyze cultural and educational values of late 19th century/early 20th century United States. 6. Plan a student Chautauqua where students research and use concepts from Progressive/Populist Era.

Standards Alignment

  • Arts and Humanities

    9.1.5. A. Know and use the elements and principles of each art form to create works in the arts and humanities.

  • Geography

    7.1.9. B. Explain and locate places and regions.

  • History

    8.1.9. B. Analyze and interpret historical sources.
    8.1.9. C. Analyze the fundamentals of historical interpretation.
    8.1.9. D. Analyze and interpret historical research using primary sources.
    8.2.3. A. Understand the political and cultural contributions of individuals and groups to Pennsylvania.
    8.2.3. B. Identify and describe primary documents, material artifacts and historic sites important in Pennsylvania history.
    8.2.6. A. Identifies political and cultural contributions of individuals to Pennsylvania history

  • Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening

    1.4.8. C. Write persuasive pieces.
    1.6.8. A. Listen to others.
    1.6.8. C. Speak using skills appropriate to formal speech situations.
    1.6.8. D. Contribute to discussions.
    1.6.8. E. Participate in small and large group discussions and presentations.

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