Elocutionary Arts

Exploring the lost practices and performers of recitation

Chautauqua audience. “Readers” were a regular feature on the Chautauqua tent circuit, which lasted until the end of the 1920s.  Chautauqua programs were hosted by towns under the population of 10,000.  They also consisted of lectures and musical entertainment, and were marketed as educational and cultural events.  At its peak, there were 21 companies that provided Chautauqua programs, and estimates vary, but between 9 million and 20 million Americans attended performances in a year.  Nine thousand towns hosted a Chautauqua in 1921.  The largest tents could hold as many as 1600-2000 people.
[Courtesy of University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections]