Daily record: Growth ebbs into summer discussing ‘great currents of national life’

Through the winter of 1908 and into 1909, Chautauqua was abuzz with activity. The first 1909 issue of The Chautauquan Daily announced that “a new and beautiful Chautauqua greeted Chautauquans.”

The Hall of Christ, under construction for a few years, had been completed. There had been renovations to College buildings, improved condition of the Amphitheater, a new home for Arts and Crafts and new class mosaics in the floor of the Hall of Philosophy.

But the crown jewels had to have been the Colonnade and the Post Office, each of them having been constructed over the winter. While the Post Office had been on Edward B. Green’s drawing table, the Colonnade had not, having been the subject of a spectacular fire on Oct. 19, 1908. Journalist Ed Evans called it “building on a fast track.”

Green and his staff at Green & Wicks, of Buffalo, “had the design skills, the support staff and E.B. Green had all the connections to align the stars so Chautauqua’s reconstruction could happen fast,” Evans wrote in his book Hidden Treasure, The Chautauqua Commission of Buffalo’s E.B. Green.

“Never in any one year of the history of the Institution has so much been done in a material way for the betterment of working facilities and the enhancement of beauty,” President George E. Vincent said.

Vincent cautioned people not to get so enamored of the physical attractions as to lose sight of spiritual and intellectual pursuits.

“The larger spiritual and intellectual life has not been lost from sight in the new bricks and mortar,” the July 2 Daily quoted Vincent.

The list of 1909 speakers was top notch. The summer platform would be interspersed with “symposia made up of lectures, single or in groups, on related topics, as aspects of Religious Education or Social Service or problems of democracy,” the Daily read.

In his book, The Story of Chautauqua, Jesse Hurlbut wrote that the “keynote of the year” had been expressed by Vincent in his annual report: Chautauqua “must be kept in close and sympathetic connection with the great currents of national life. It must be a center from which the larger and more significant movements may gain strength and intelligent support.”

Walter Damrosch brought the New York Symphony Orchestra to Chautauqua for the first time that summer. The July 26 Daily reported that the concert was heard by 8,000 people, filling every open space in the Amp, “The large number of women in summer dresses making it an enormous blend of gay colors, [presenting] a sight that could scarcely be duplicated elsewhere.”

Psychologist Earl Barnes gave a number of lectures on the development of the human mind. The July 7 Daily reported that Barnes said Americans ostensibly worship intellect, but when it comes to “choosing a leader such as president, the much-admired brilliant men are rejected and men of mediocre intellect but dependable characters are elected.”

Unconsciously, Americans distrusted brilliance, Barnes said. Nonetheless, “the schools have been run with the aim of turning out smart graduates, and all promotions are based entirely upon intellectual qualities.”

This was a distinctly modern idea, and as much an illusion as it was a reality. A person’s physical condition, leadership and popularity contributed greatly to the estimation with which people held others.

“In our choice of leaders,” Barnes said, “we have never trusted brilliant men.”

Americans realized, unconsciously, that mentality was not the most important thing.

As part of the 2:30 p.m. lecture series in the Amp, on July 12, George Albert Coe of Union Theological Seminary gave a talk on “Character Development in the College and University,” the first in a number to be delivered during the week on the general topic of character development under modern conditions. Coe was also president of the Religious Education Association, the organization that convened its 10th annual meeting that very day at 9 a.m. in the parlor of the Athenaeum Hotel “with a large number of men of note in the educational and religious world present.”

“The college is teaching subjects and not educating men,” Coe said. Although the faculty were responsible for the sound teaching of a subject, “nobody holds himself responsible for the moral and religious training of the students.”

This was not to say that students should be put into monastic seclusion.

“The colleges cannot remove their students from the moral dangers of the commercial, political and social life of the times, but the colleges can and should do everything possible to open the eyes of students so that they shall not stumble through the ignorance of youth,” Coe said.

Coe “declared that gambling, particularly betting on athletic contests, has a considerable foothold on some colleges,” the Daily reported.

And, too, there was drinking and licentiousness in alarming proportions. Schools could provide conditions for student life removed from temptation, even though “we cannot and need not isolate the student from this big world with all its weakness and its wickedness.”

College athletics is a case in point. Coe said college athletics were “one of the unfortunate features of college life. They not only … distract the students from their studies, but cultivate a false and perverted standard of eminence and go falsely under the colors of a sport when they are a great organized business.”

Coe talked of the adulation that athletes receive from fellow students, as well as the prominence athletes are given in the popular press.

“What is scientific discovery compared with a new trick in football?” Coe asked. “What is brilliant scholarship compared with brilliant tackling? When thinking about their children going to college, parents need to ask themselves whether such an atmosphere is favorable to the growth of solid character.”

There was a fundamental dishonesty of intercollegiate athletic contests, presenting as play (“as recreation after labor, as an ebullition of the surplus energy of youth”) a great “organized business that requires large funds for its prosecution, employs numerous paid specialists … and subordinates the real interests of the college player to the necessities of the business,” Coe said.

In the mix, players are distracted from their study, play becomes labor, rules are made, rules are broken. No rule would be abided when existing in such a contradiction.

“In vain do we strive to stop dirty work by formal rules … in an enterprise which, by its very methods, contradicts the ideals of a college as an educational institution,” Coe said.

But the situation could be remedied, the evils eliminated “without destroying anything that deserves the name of sport,” Coe said.

“I believe in confessing the fault until heaven sends us grit enough to tackle it,” he said.