Daily Record: Chautauqua and new world of 20th century

In her book Three Taps of the Gavel: Pledge to the Future, Alfreda L. Irwin, former Chautauqua Institution archivist and historian, called the transition from the 19th to the 20th century an era of “continuity through change.”

They are “two forces which have an astonishing kinship at Chautauqua,” she wrote. And their tension had been distilled into the familiar adage: “The more things change at Chautauqua, the more they remain the same.”

Chautauqua co-founder and longtime president, Lewis Miller, died in 1899. In 1900, Bishop John Vincent, Chautauqua co-founder and designated Institution chancellor, was assigned to the annual Methodist Episcopal Conferences of Europe. He had adopted an official residence in Zurich, Switzerland, although Chautauqua Institution would still receive his counsel and advice.

The first issue of the 1901 Chautauqua Assembly Herald reported that “In the midst of a grateful shower, giving relief from the heat, the exercises of the convocation that marked the opening of the twenty-eight Chautauqua Assembly began in the Amphitheater at 11 o’clock Wednesday morning, Dr. George E. Vincent, Superintendent of Instruction, presiding.”

Institution President Clem Studebaker was in Europe and addressed the audience through a cablegram.

George Vincent conveyed personal greetings from his father, Chancellor Vincent, “from whom he parted a few weeks ago in Switzerland.”

The Herald reported that, in the absence of the president, “First Vice-President Wilson M. Day formally declared the Assembly opened. Dr. Vincent spoke briefly — the details of which the newspaper did not include — and then introduced Naval Constructor Richmond P. Hobson, who delivered an address on ‘Our New Navy.’”

The first week of the 1901 Chautauqua season would feature, among other things, a series of lectures on the Pan-American Exposition underway in Buffalo, New York. The lectures would provide “an admirable preparation for visiting Buffalo,” the Herald said. The Chautauqua newspaper was in its 26th year and would publish 40 issues. For the first time, mechanical composition would replace hand composition in the composing room: “The latest form of Linotype typesetting machine having been installed at the printing office, on Bowman Avenue, during the past week.”

The NOTES ABOUT TOWN feature of the July 6, 1901, issue reported that the Amphitheater was a cool place, often taken advantage of when “there is nothing scheduled but refreshing breezes.” Big steamers arrived at the landing depositing their passengers, where there was “smothered excitement among some of the younger Chautauquans, who occupy balcony seats to see new arrivals and the unloading of baggage.” Deckhands jumped to and fro on the pier. A baby cried loudly as a steamer was made fast.

The Herald reported that, “Everybody waited patiently for the fireworks Thursday night, and when they began to go off there was a change of position by many from Miller [P]ark to get a better view. Each piece was enjoyed, and all went home satisfied with the fitting end for Chautauqua’s Fourth.”

The summer proceeded with equanimity, even though the new century portended new conditions. The July 30 issue of the Assembly Herald reported that Josiah Strong delivered a lecture titled “New Conditions Confronting the New Century.”

“The world is beginning to write the twentieth volume of the history of the Christian era,” Strong began. “We are still in the first of the one hundred chapters, each of which is to contain 365 leaves. Quite naturally, we wonder what record these leaves, now blank, will contain a hundred years hence.”

Strong continued: “First among these new-world conditions, let us consider the fact that the arable public lands of the United States are practically exhausted.”

In the past, there had been plentiful unoccupied land to the west to receive the overflow of people crowded in the East.

“Far in the orient, the cradle of the human race, men began to move outward, and in successive waves this human sea has rolled eastward and westward until today its waves meet on our Pacific coast and there are no more new worlds,” Strong said.

With the increase in population and the decrease in arable land came two inferences: “First, that the great races must now enter upon a new era of competition with each other; and, second, that there must now begin a movement toward tropical regions, where the comparatively unoccupied lands of the world for the most part lie.”

Ultimately, such conditions necessitated “the development of a new world life,” Strong said. Whereas 100 years earlier, civilization was individualistic. Civilization in the early 20th century had become interdependent. In New England, Strong’s father had tilled his own farm, built his own house, made his own furniture, his own implements, his own musical instruments. His mother took wool from the sheep, dyed it, carded it, spun it, wove it and made it into a suit of clothes.

“If there is a woman in the State of New York who can do that today she is a pretty old woman,” Strong said, and such accomplishments were not in the curriculum of the contemporary university. “They belong to the days of homespun, which have passed forever.”

Strong’s father could make 50 things, he said.

“Now it takes fifty men to make one thing … We are coming to live one industrial life, and therefore one national life, and we are now entering upon the last great period of industrial development, a world industry, and the nations are now beginning to become interdependent.”

In turn, it would be “heathenish” to ignore people in other parts of the world.

“It is heathenish to measure moral obligations by a yard stick or surveyor’s chain,” Strong said. “It is heathenish to imagine that we sustain no moral relation to peoples who live [on] the other side of the globe, simply because they are far removed from us.”

The U.S. was well situated regarding the five great conditions of successful industry at the turn of the century. Strong said that America possessed the following: abundant cheap coal; abundant cheap iron; abundant cheap labor; abundant raw materials; and abundant access to open markets.

“These five great advantages — like five fingers — is a hand stretched out to grasp and retain the manufacturing supremacy of the world,” he said.

But such supremacy entailed new responsibilities.

The U.S. was no longer geographically or industrially isolated, “and therefore the superstructure of political policy based on this [assumption] must be superseded,” Strong said. Moreover, “Anglo-Saxon families should draw into the closest possible relations. Mr. Chamberlain has said that it would be worthwhile for the noble cause if we could see the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes floating together over an Anglo-Saxon alliance.”

Strong said that, while Chamberlain’s idea was a good one and well stated, it would be better “to see the two flags floating together over an Anglo-Saxon alliance to keep the world’s peace!”