Professors Bryan Jack, left, and Erik Alexander

Living History Days: A Chautauqua with Teddy Roosevelt and Friends

On Saturday, Sept. 11, area residents are invited to step back to a time between the 19th and 20th centuries, when Chautauqua entertainments were all the rage. Visitors can experience Living History Days: a Chautauqua with Teddy Roosevelt and Friends, from 3-6 p.m. at Edwardsville City Park, located at the corner of Vandalia (Route 157) and South Buchanan Streets in Edwardsville, Illinois. There is no admission fee.

In the past, a Chautauqua was typically a travelling “show” that emphasized entertainment and education by presenting a program of musical performances, humorists, politicians, and speakers. Although this Chautauqua will last only three hours, the original events were often two-three weeks in length. Famous personalities who travelled the Chautauqua circuit included celebrities of the time. The events were so popular that Teddy Roosevelt called them “the most American thing in America.”

At the 2021 Chautauqua, re-enactors will portray President Teddy Roosevelt, as he describes “a strenuous life,” social crusader Jane Addams discussing “slums and juvenile delinquency”, and investigative journalist Ida B. Wells who will speak against lynching. Humorist Josh Billings’ words of wit will be an “Essa on the Mule.” In addition, there will be musical entertainments, festival foods, and a selection of vendors offering books and other appropriate products for a century-old venue. Children’s activities hosted by the 1820 Col. Benjamin Stephenson House will make this an event for the whole family.

In reality, Jane Addams, the founder of Hull House in Chicago, visited Edwardsville in 1899 as a guest of N. O. Nelson. While in Edwardsville she gave two lectures, one on her social settlement work and the other on the life and work of Count Leo Tolstoi. Journalist Ida B. Wells went on to become one of the founders of the NAACP and the work of humorist Josh Billings has been compared to that of Mark Twain.

The event is a made possible through the cooperative efforts of the Madison County Historical Society, the 1820 Col. Benjamin Stephenson House, and the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Department of Historical Studies. Funding is provided through grants from the City of Edwardsville and the SIUE Meridian Society. For more information contact the Madison County Historical Society, 618-656-1294.