Our History, Mission and Vision ` img_5164_redglowtent

Chautauqua (pronounced “Shuh-TALK-wa”)

 “Chautauqua” is a word like “circus.” There are many kinds of circuses: three-ring with animals, circuses without animals – or rings, flea circuses, gladiators fighting to the death and even chaos (the proverbial three-ring circus). In general, Chautauqua refers to a place or an event where theater and the arts can educate stimulating critical thinking, while the audience is having fun.


Chautauqua is a Native American word from one of the Iroquois Nations that means “bag-tied-in-the middle.” It aptly describes Lake Chautauqua in upstate New York where the Mother Chautauqua – the Chautauqua Institute has been located since 1894. The Chautauqua Institute on Lake Chautauqua was founded as an adult education program for Sunday School teachers. Housed at a camp on a lake resort, this education program soon added family entertainment and outdoor recreation and became a permanent summer cultural resort that can be enjoyed today.  Chautauqua Institution 

Additional permanent cultural resorts sprung up across America and some continue today. For more info see: The Chautauqua Trail.

Traveling Tent Chautauquas (1904-1932)

The Chautauqua Institute expanded in the early 1900’s to bring the Chautauqua Experience to the American people. Before radio and television, traveling cultural tent shows toured across America. The original Chautauqua was a road show of music, entertainment, and always a great speaker of the day. At their peak, Tent Chautauquas appeared in over 10,000 communities and preformed for more than 45 million people.

A Tent Chautauqua regularly came to Greenville, SC and set up its distinctive brown tents in City Park (now McPherson Park).  When the Great Depression struck the U.S. in the 1930’s, Tent Chautauqua faded away, replaced by radio and movie entertainment.

Modern Chautauqua

In the 1970’s Chautauqua was revived and sponsored by national and state humanities councils as a means of providing lively, interactive and authentic humanities education. Local communities began to recreate the magic of the Chautauqua tent and present historical interpreters in first person performances featuring Q&A often in outdoor settings.

Greenville Chautauqua: History Comes Alive

George Frein, PhD, a founding member of the National Chautauqua Tour, brought Chautauqua back to Greenville in 1999, and the Greenville Chautauqua has been in constant production ever since. In 2009 Greenville Chautauqua expanded to Spartanburg, SC, first sponsored by Wofford College and now by the Spartanburg County Public Libraries. In 2019 the Transylvania County Libraries began sponsoring events in Brevard, NC.

Our Mission

Greenville Chautauqua aims to bring history to life through the use of compelling storytelling and interactive theater where discussion and audience participation stimulates critical thinking.

Our Vision

A brighter future through an enlightened understanding of the past.

Our Values

  • Education: to foster multi-generational, life-long learning. We promote the art of active reading and the development of critical thinking.
  • Authenticity: to engage the highest level of scholarship and underwrite original research.
  • Diversity: to celebrate the impact that diversity has on our community and nation.
  • Inclusion: to create a place, accessible to all, where everyone can come together to interact with their heritage.
  • Dialogue: to encourage questioning and civil discussion of ideas.
  • Collaboration: to initiate and cultivate collaboration with other organizations.

Fun: “We like to laugh, to be challenged, to be entertained, and delighted.” – Dr. Seuss

  • Mark Twain (Winter Chautauqua)
  • James Armistead Lafayette
  • Mary Shelley
  • Nellie Bly
  • Robert Ripley
  • Steve Jobs
  • Julia Child (Winter Chautauqua)
  • Houdini
  • Dwight Eisenhower
  • Robert Kennedy
  • Georgia O’Keeffe
  • Pauli Murray

Winter Chautauqua 2020

  • Teddy Roosevelt

Festival September 2021:

  • Ben Franklin
  • Thomas Edison
  • Nikola Tesla
  • Hedy Lamarr
  • Rosa Parks

  • Napoleon (Winter Chautauqua)
  • Alexander Hamilton
  • Andrew Jackson
  • Malcolm X
  • Jackie Kennedy
  • The Hamilton Women (The Schuyler sisters Angela, Eliza & Peggy)
  • George Washington (Winter Chautauqua)
  • Winston Churchill
  • Harriet Tubman
  • Clara Barton
  • Alice Paul
  • Francis Marion
  • Eleanor Roosevelt (Winter Chautauqua)
  • Maya Angelou
  • Rachel Carson
  • Cesar Chavez
  • Walter Cronkite
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Meriwether Lewis (Winter Chautauqua)
  • Amelia Earhart
  • Matthew Henson
  • Mark Twain
  • Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn
  • Wernher von Braun
  • Bette Davis (Winter Chautauqua)
  • Walt Disney
  • Mary Pickford
  • Gordon Parks
  • Orson Welles
  • Gone with the Wind
  • Marie Curie (Winter Chautauqua)
  • Harry Truman
  • Clara Barton
  • Patrick Henry
  • Robert Smalls
  • The Joy of Music a la Bernstein
  • Benedict Arnold (Winter Chautauqua)
  • Davy Crockett
  • Susan B. Anthony
  • Herman Melville
  • Malcolm X
  • King Harold II of England (Legends of Camelot)
  • Lafayette (Winter Chautauqua)
  • Winston Churchill
  • Golda Meir
  • Denmark Vesey
  • Carl Jung
  • James Madison & Thomas Jefferson (Winter Chautauqua)
  • John Muir
  • Albert Einstein
  • Frances Perkins
  • W.E.B. Du Bois
  • Mark Twain
  • Thomas Jefferson (Winter Chautauqua)
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Thomas Edison
  • Emily Dickinson
  • Langston Hughes
  • Dr. Seuss
  • Robert E. Lee and Wade Hampton III (Winter Chautauqua)
  • George Washington
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Rosa Parks
  • Ansel Adams, Thomas Cole, Asher Durand, Georgia O’Keefe (Winter Chautauqua Panel)
  • John James Audubon
  • James Beckwourth
  • Black Elk
  • Teddy Roosevelt
  • Rachel Carson
  • P.T. Barnum (Winter Chautauqua)
  • Houdini
  • Mark Twain
  • Will Rogers
  • Lillian Hellman
  • Paul Robeson
  • Mary Ingles (Winter Chautauqua)
  • Sequoyah
  • William Clark
  • Herman Melville
  • Harriet Tubman
  • Ambrose Bierce (also Winter Chautauqua)
  • Sam Watkins (also Winter Chautauqua)
  • John C. Calhoun
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Mary Chesnut
  • Frederick Douglass
  • Pauli Murray (First Winter Chautauqua)
  • Thomas Paine
  • John Winthrop
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton
  • Eugene V. Debs
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Henry Adams
  • Andrew Carnegie
  • Pauli Murray
  • Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Mark Twain
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Abigail Adams
  • John Adams
  • Elizabeth Freeman
  • Henry Laurens
  • Alexander Hamilton
  • Walt Whitman
  • Louisa May Alcott
  • Herman Melville
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Henry David Thoreau
  • Frederick Douglass
  • Zora Neale Hurston
  • Katherine Anne Porter
  • Thomas Wolfe
  • William Faulkner
  • Mark Twain
  • Mark Twain
  • Will Rogers
  • Langston Hughes
  • James Thurber
  • Dorothy Parker