Chautauqua — with its many and varied activities — helps to keep people young. It brings out the youth in people of all ages. But there is little doubt about the advantages Chautauqua provides for youth itself — the children — helping to educate them and stimulating them with exercise. It makes them strong.
On July 15, 1908, The Chautauquan Daily related the nature of one experience of Chautauqua youth in “A Morning At Girls’ Club,” describing the athletics, the cooking, the outdoor sketching that was included in a morning’s occupation.
“Probably nobody at Chautauqua has a better time than the 150 or more girls that meet at the Girls’ Club,” the article began. They girls met together for amusement and “study combined with play in its most delightful form.”
In 1908 — as now — while the kids enjoyed an atmosphere of controlled chaos, their parents engaged topics of the day, chosen, no doubt, because addressing them might contribute to their children and their children’s children leading a long and fruitful life enriched by adult doses of study and play in most delightful forms. But the obstacles were pithy.
Jane Addams of Hull House in Chicago lectured on the “Changing Ideals in Education,” arguing, in part, that educational schemes are not only for children, but also for “the young men and women who are confined all day in factories.”
Especially women, Addams said: “At the present time there are three million young women in the United States under twenty-two years of age who are earning their own living, a thing never before permitted,” the Daily reported.
With so many women working, something needed to be done to help keep their lives well balanced. Most of the jobs were industrial.
“What is to be done to bring back into their monotonous lives some of the joy and the freedom of the life outside?” Addams asked.
George E. Vincent was interested in the industrial milieu as well. Vincent was president of Chautauqua Institution as well as a professor at University of Chicago. Vincent said that students of social development adhere to “the theory of unconscious growth, a process by which social life adjusts itself to the constant changes in surrounding conditions,” according to the Daily.
Given this theory, Vincent discussed how the Industrial Revolution had influenced the family structure. The effects had been many and varied, Vincent said. Much production had been taken out of the household and transferred to the factory.
“This has resulted in the impairing and, in some cases, the destruction of the economic unity of the family which in earlier days was held together in a common life by common tasks of industry,” Vincent said.
With this change came a corresponding change — and diminishment — in the “educational discipline which accompanied these tasks.” The site of education had shifted from the home to the school. Moreover, with industrialization had come a redistribution of wealth, a particularly large amount of it having been gathered by the hands of a relatively small number of families.
“Along with these changes have emerged the problems of housing, food supply, privacy, education of children, the preservation of the family unity as an agency for informing, disciplining, and preparing for a larger life the young of the nation,” Vincent said.
And then there was the German Kaiser.
“No one can understand Emperor William who does not have some appreciation of that dynamo of nervous energy who has been occupying our White House during the past seven years,” said Arthur E. Bestor, general director of Chautauqua Institution.
He was referring to Theodore Roosevelt.
“The German Kaiser and the American President are, however, much alike in their martial spirit, their wonderful energy, their sturdy honesty, their broad culture, and their effective public administration,” Bestor said.
Germany was especially martial. The government kept very close track of its citizens.
“You cannot stop in a German town for more than a day without the police officer coming to your lodgings, asking your age, your business, and the time of your intended sojourn,” he said.
Bestor said that such close supervision had some things to recommend it, but in the German case, “it is carried so far that all life is circumscribed and directed by outside authority.”
Among other things, the Kaiser’s intense militarism was, in the end, an intense burden.
“The drain upon Germany of her military establishment is terrific, that the evils of a strong military power are inherent and dangerous, and … no nation can expect to come to permanent industrial and intellectual supremacy which has to make such large sacrifice for military strength,” Bestor said.
The evils of drink were examined in 1908 during more than a week of lectures, including “Prohibition and Progress” by Lillian M. N. Stevens, the national president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Stevens showed that prohibition led to progress. On July 22, Charles Scanlon of the Permanent Committee on Temperance of the Presbyterian General Assembly said the drink evil would be overcome, that dangers lurked in alcoholic patent medicines and that many organizations were fighting the saloon.
Speaking on the same day, Ella M. George, superintendent of the Pennsylvania WCTU, said there could be no compromise with liquor interests. All ills of society could be traced to liquor: “Even polygamy, divorce and Mormonism.”
As some consolation, as some hope and constant force in the face of a quickly changing world, in the face of international militarism, industrialization and evil, George E. Vincent again took the stage. On July 17, 1908, Vincent spoke in the Hall of Philosophy on “The Library as a Social Institution.”
“It is human to liken one thing to another,” Vincent began. “Our ideas grow by simile, metaphor and analogy.”
To some degree, people’s notions of society had been just so influenced.
In the middle of the 19th century, Herbert Spencer had given support for a biological or botanical analogy for society. By the 20th century, psychology had taken command.
“Society is now likened not to an animal or organism, but to a great collective brain,” Vincent said. “Habit in the individual is likened to custom and convention in the group.”
Psychology emphasized memory.
“Without memory there can be no personality,” Vincent said. And memory must be selective to be efficient.
“It must choose the significant and neglect the unimportant — otherwise the value of the stored associations is seriously impaired and vagueness and inconsequence take the place of order, proportion, definiteness and clearness,” he said.
Vincent then likened the human memory to society’s equivalent, the library, a great agent of social memory. The library movement of the early 20th century sought to make the library available, to organize information resources, to adapt itself to the social and industrial demands of each community, and to select the most relevant material for its collection.
It was just an analogy, and an analogy proves nothing, Vincent said. It won’t save the world or in itself protect the children. But Vincent asked a personal question, one “which comes home to each of us must be: Are we keeping ourselves in constant and free communication with these great sources of knowledge, skill and idealism? Are our personalities ever enlarged by illuminating visions of the past and inspiring visions of the future?”