In the late 19th century, an adult education movement entitled Chautauqua made its debut in the United States. This program quickly gained popularity due to its recreational and educational components; it also took place during a time when entertainment was very limited to those who lived in large cities and metropolitan areas. Chautauqua chapters focused on providing those in rural areas with productions revolving around a number of topics and categories; these shows took shape in the form of educational lectures, musical performances, theatrical plays, and much more. The idea behind this was attributed to the perceived isolation that American farming communities felt in regards to social and cultural offerings. Soon, agricultural communities were holding Chautauqua assemblies yearly– one such community was Waverly, and at the center of it all–the Waverly Community House.
The Waverly Community House hosted the Chautauqua circuit designated as the Swarthmore Chautauqua. This particular program took shape in the form of a three day event centered around comedic presentations, intellectual lectures, dramatic plays, and musical performances. There was also a subset known as the Junior Chautauqua which was entirely operated by teens and featured many educational themed events. As with all Comm offerings, the festival gained tremendous popularity and was heavily modeled around providing community members with educational, recreational, and cultural opportunities in order to highlight its mission statement. Starting in 1920, the Waverly Community House began their incorporation with the Chautauqua movement by holding three-day festivals taking place yearly; some specific programs featured at the Comm are listed below.
The Davis Sisters (1926): A musical duet, also called the American Girl Buglers; they were musical artists who began training at just two years of age. The Davis sisters played a number of instruments during their show and were a very popular act due to the symbolic patriotism that their show demonstrated.
Give and Take, a Chautauqua Play (1926): This performance was described as, “a screaming farce, a laugh in every line–clean–a real Chautauqua play.” The play had long runs in New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago and was featured at the Comm for two consecutive years.
Mrs. Josephine Dominick: “Well Dressed on a Moderate Budget (1927):” A lecture demonstration on “the fundamentals of good taste in dress and how to show good taste on a moderate allowance.” During her segment, Mrs. Dominick modeled various outfits for the audience in attendance.
The presentations above are simply a few of the offerings of the Swarthmore Chautauqua, brought to the Abingtons and surrounding areas through the Waverly Community House. The Comm hosted the event for a total of eight years with intention of enhancing rural life through cultural opportunities– as it does today in the form of a multitude of programming and events. A quote from the National Community Foundation regarding the Chautauqua movement is as follows: ” The National Community Foundation remains committed to bringing communities opportunities for popular education,cultural advancement, letters, and drama of a type ordinarily obtainable only in the largest metropolitan areas.”