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University of Iowa News Release

Release: Feb. 18, 2003

UI Libraries Hosts Chautauqua Historical Exhibit

An exhibit of items drawn from the files of one of the largest bookers of Chautauqua performers in the 19th and early 20th centuries will be on display in the UI Libraries department of special collections through April 1.

"Chautauqua: Culture for Everyone" was developed in association with the College of Liberal Arts and Science's Chautauqua, which begins Feb. 26 and offers events through April 2.

The UI department of special collections is on the third floor of the Main Library. The exhibitions may be viewed during regular office hours Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., or from the hallway during the weekends and evenings when the Main Library is open.

All of the materials on display are drawn from the records of the Redpath Lyceum Bureau, a booking agency based in Chicago for the Midwest Chautauqua circuits and now held by the Libraries' department of special collections. It represents an offspring of the lyceum movement and of the Chautauqua assemblies founded in western New York on Lake Chautauqua in 1874. The office files of the Redpath Lyceum Bureau were presented to the UI Libraries between 1945 and 1973, and the comprehensive materials include publicity brochures, contracts, artifacts, promotional advertisements and thousands of talent circulars for performers dating between 1890 and 1940. The Redpath Bureau represented a wide range of talent including the famous, infamous and local luminaries. Among the promotional flyers on display are those for poet Carl Sandburg, Jessie Isabel Christian, "Prima Donna Soprano," and Kellogg the Bird Man. The Phillips Girls Sextette, originally from Seymour, IA, offered classical and popular music on drums, trombone, bagpipes, violin, clarinet and trumpet.

Sensational stories were also part of Chautauqua. Mrs. Florence E. Maybrick, an American woman, was sentenced to life imprisonment in England for causing her husband's death by poison. She was released after 15 years and spent the following years working in the United States for prison reform and lecturing on the Chautauqua circuit. Her promotional brochure exclaims, "I Swear to You I am Innocent," and notes, "...Mrs. Maybrick returned to her native America to tell her sad story..."

An extensive online database of the Redpath collection is available through the Library of Congress at made available through a Library of Congress/Ameritech National Digital Library Award.

The first "Chautauqua" was initiated to train Sunday school teachers but quickly expanded to become more educational and culturally focused. The idea spread quickly across the country, and in less than a decade independent Chautauqua, often called assemblies, sprang up anywhere there was a lake and a grove of trees. As with the early Chautauqua assemblies, the goal of the Circuit Chautauqua was to offer challenging, informational, and inspirational stimulation to rural and small-town America.

For more information about the exhibition contact the Department of Special Collections at (319) 335-5921 or the Libraries' Administrative Office at (319) 335-5867. Information about the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences' Chautauqua, which takes place on February 26 but includes programming that runs through April 2, is available at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACT(S): Tom Snee, 319-384-0010,