In the summer of 1890 Isabella Alden and her family were once again at her beloved Chautauqua Institution.
That year, attendance at Chautauqua was remarkable. The Evening Journal—a newspaper in nearby Jamestown, New York—reported on the size of the crowd in an article printed August 20, 1890:
Another Sunday at Chautauqua has come and gone, and yet the big crowd and its interest in everything continues.
There was plenty to be interested in. Chautauqua’s daily schedule included Bible lectures, practical daily living classes, entertainment, nature hikes, and plenty of opportunities for exercise.
An added attraction: that weekend Mr. Leland Powers, known as the “Dramatic wonder of America” presented a three-act comedy based on a story by Frances Hodgson-Burnett, in which he played all the parts!
The newspaper explained one major reason for the crowd size that weekend: more people were making longer stays at Chautauqua:
The outgoing stream has been large during the past week, and yet not enough to keep pace with the one pouring in. The outlet does not equal the inlet, and so the crowd grows larger. It will probably reach its culmination on Recognition Day, which will be Wednesday of this week.
“Recognition Day” is Chautauqua’s version of graduation for members of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle. In 1890, all the C.L.S.C. members who successfully completed their four-year study course gathered at Chautauqua. Together they made a stately procession through the symbolic Golden Gate that stood near the Hall of Philosophy, and then they received their Chautauqua diplomas.
The same newspaper article reported:
Enthusiastic C.L.S.C’ers are coming in daily by droves, by swarms, by multitudes. Meetings of the various classes are held almost every day, and excitement is fast reaching its height. It seems scarcely possible that in another week the Chautauqua season of 1890 will be closed and the exodus will be begun.
Also on that Sunday morning, Isabella’s husband, the Reverend G. R. Alden, led a memorial service in honor of prominent Chautauquans who died during the preceding year.
What a very busy weekend at Chautauqua! That Sunday evening brought rain, which reduced the crowd size at the remaining events. After so much activity, the newspaper report describes for us a peaceful Sunday night:
A ramble about the grounds just after the sermon, even if it did rain, well repaid the discomfort. Every cottage, every tent, every room in every cottage and tent, gleaming with lights through the dismal mist, presented a scene unprecedented and well worth seeing. The chimes rung out another Sunday at Chautauqua.
Karen Noske joins us again to share photos and descriptions of the Chautauqua landmarks she explored this summer, with Isabella Alden’s novels in mind. Welcome back, Karen!
My next objective was the Hall of Christ, as there was an archival lecture to be given momentarily on one of the most influential early religious leaders at Chautauqua, the renowned Shailer Mathews.
I imagined how Isabella might have felt, sitting in this arena, listening to contemporary reflections on the man whose influence changed the course of the Institute in so many ways.
“The Hall of the Christ, is first of all, to stand in the center of Chautauqua to represent Christ as the center of all learning and all true living; the Key to the true and eternal wisdom…a Hall where Jesus Christ is enthroned; where only his story is allowed; told in print and picture and sculpture and the human voice. Isn’t it grand!”
(Four Mothers at Chautauqua)
The workmanlike interior of the unprepossessing Hall of Christ makes me wonder if there haven’t been many changes to it over the years.
The general atmosphere is one of beneficent neglect and exhaustion. A magnificent organ dominates the stage—sadly, it was eclipsed by the speaker’s screen and I only got this tantalizing glimpse of it.
Engrossing as the lecture was, I was glad to make my way out towards my next objective—the centerpiece of Chautauqua for Isabella and, as it turned out, for me.
The Hall in the Grove
Directly adjacent to the Hall of Christ is the cherished “Hall in the Grove.” I recognized it immediately by its prominence and its beauty:
“If you have up to this time been even a careless reader of this volume, you have doubtless discovered that the center of Chautauqua life was the ‘Hall in the Grove.’ A beautiful grove, with trees old enough and grand enough to be worthy of their baptismal name—”St Paul’s Grove.” White-pillared, simple, plain, yet suggestive of such a brilliant past and hinting of such a glorified future … this bit of green and white, with a glimmer of lake between.”
(The Hall in the Grove, page 286)
A talk by the very popular Bill Moyers (of CBS News fame) was just finishing up, so I crept in around the edges and starting following the elaborate and beautiful mosaics that frame the lecture hall’s floor.
“All was quiet there. The sunset meeting which had been held in that white, still place was closed sometime since, and their feet, as they stepped on the floor, resounded throughout the vacant Hall.”
(The Hall in the Grove, page 240)
I was delighted to find the shield of Pansy’s Class of 1887 in a place of genuine honor—nestled around the corners of the lectern.
The lectern platform itself is still a modest affair, virtually unchanged since Pansy’s class approached to celebrate their graduation. Let’s join Paul Adams from The Hall in the Grove here:
“Arrived at the white, quiet building, he entered it with soft tread, and, under an impulse which he did not in the least understand, uncovered his head. He stepped softly onto the platform, drew the armchair, which was the seat of honor, forward a trifle, and settled himself in it. Then he brought up before him in review the many and varied and wonderful experiences which the weeks had brought him in connection with that spot … Then he got down from the professor’s chair and … after a silent last look at the Hall, he walked home with Joe, they two speaking words together that were better than marble columns or millions of money, for they represented manhood.”
(The Hall in the Grove, page 382)
In The Hall in the Grove, Isabella shares a peek into her heart:
“…the gleaming pillars of the Hall of Philosophy rose up before him; something in the purity and strength and quaintness seemed to have gotten possession of him. Whether it was a shadowy link between him and some ancient scholar or worshiper I cannot say … but treading the Chautauquan avenues for the first time … his young heart thrill[ed] with a hope and a determination, neither of which he understood, every time he saw those gleaming pillars.”
(The Hall in the Grove, page 198)
When Caroline Raynor (another character in The Hall in the Grove) objects to the Hall being made in the style of a Temple of Minerva, she is vigorously corrected by her soon-to-be suitor, Robert:
“I like it exceedingly. Let the beautiful white temple be rescued from its heathen desecration and dedicated to the service of the good and true God our Father, and his Son Jesus Christ.”
I passed an ancient oak near one of entrances that was garmented in ivy and wondered … if I parted the ivy, would I find a lichen-crusted carving in the tree reading “Vine, 22, 1887”? (Eighty–Seven, page 12.)
I surely saw what Dr. Winter Kelland did when …
“he and Vine walked … around under the hill, and up the hill, and come out beside the white-pillared hall and stopped under one of the tallest trees, and looked about them, and were silent. Dr. Kelland took off his hat and looked up reverently to the very top of the tall tree, beyond the top, into the blue of heaven.”
(Eighty-Seven, page 318)
As I walked reluctantly away from the Hall, I looked up and felt sure I was seeing the same trees, the same sky, the same view Pansy enjoyed in Four Girls at Chautauqua:
“None of all … who spent the day within the shadow of that sweet and leafy place have surely forgotten how the quaint and quiet beauty of the place and its surrounding fell upon them; they know just how the birds sang among those tall old trees; they know just how still and blue and clear the lake looked as they caught glimpses of it through the quivering green of myriad leaves …”
(Four Girls at Chautauqua, page 180)
Next time, Karen makes a little visit to the Chautauqua Post Office before trekking to the “Holy Land.”
If you missed previous posts about Chautauqua Institution, you can read them by clicking on the links below:
In the summer of 1885 inventor Thomas Alva Edison was a rock star in American culture.
Americans admired his intelligence and strong work ethic. They revered him for inventing products that made the average American’s life easier and more enjoyable.
He was affectionately called “The Wizard;” reporters and photographers followed him wherever he went; and authors wrote imaginative stories endowing Edison with cartoon-like super-hero powers (at the bottom of this post you can read an example).
In the summer of 1885 Edison was 38 years old. He was touring Mount Washington, New Hampshire with a party of friends, when a reporter asked him for a quote for his newspaper.
This was not an unusual occurrence; reporters were used to Edison spontaneously offering up heady scientific thoughts or pithy quotes for them to print.
But on this particular day, Edison took the newspaper reporter’s pencil and pad and wrote on it:
Miss Mina Miller of Akron, the most beautiful woman in Ohio, is today a guest of Mount Washington.
It was a stunning revelation: The Wizard of Menlo Park—known for being so focused on his work that he usually slept in his laboratory rather than going home to his family—had a romantic streak! But who was Mina Miller?
Mina Miller was the 19 year old daughter of Lewis Miller, co-founder of the Chautauqua Institution and an inventor himself. He had made a fortune designing and manufacturing farm equipment.
That summer Mina was one of Edison’s party touring Mount Washington. She had just graduated from a ladies’ boarding school in Boston and was pursuing her music studies when she met Edison through an introduction in a mutual friend’s drawing room. Edison fell instantly in love.
A widower, Edison had been married before to Mary Stillwell, a young woman who worked in his laboratory. An 1896 article in a Louisiana newspaper described his courtship of Mary:
While Edison’s first marriage may have had a very practical beginning, his second marriage was undoubtedly a love match.
Edison himself joked that he was so distracted by thoughts of Mina, he was almost run over by a street car. When Mina and the rest of the Miller family removed to Chautauqua Institution for the summer, Edison followed, determined to win Mina’s heart and the good opinion of her parents.
He taught her Morse Code so they could converse privately when other people were around. It was while they were riding in a motor car with friends that Edison tapped out his marriage proposal on the palm of Mina’s hand. She tapped out her acceptance.
Six months later they were married in Mina’s home in Akron, Ohio. Newspapers of the time described every detail, from the cost of the floral decorations, to a description of the extravagant wedding gifts they received.
America embraced the new Mrs. Edison with the same spirit in which they admired Thomas Edison. Newspapers described her as “young and fine looking,” “vivacious,” “brilliant,” and “sweet.”
Edison proved to be a thoughtful and attentive husband, even though he still worked long hours on his inventions and many business endeavors. He built Mina a new home, which they named Glenmont. Mina decorated the home with exquisite taste and filled the rooms with music and friends.
Because her father was a noted inventor, Mina knew the peculiarities of living with someone who worked when inspiration struck. When her husband spent whole days and nights at a time in his laboratory, Mina didn’t complain; instead, she slept on a cot near his workbench so she could be with him.
She was active in the Temperance Movement, and served on committees, councils, and boards for charities and civic causes.
Mina also succeeded in one area where many others failed: She got Thomas Edison to take time off from his work and relax. They were frequent visitors to Chautauqua, and often stayed at the Miller cottage. They invited friends to stay with them, and entertained Henry Ford and his wife on a number of occasions.
Edison, who never went to college, joined the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, and was a member of the “Edison Class” of 1930. No mention was made in the press about whether Mr. Edison walked with his class on Recognition Day.
The Edison’s happy marriage lasted 45 years until Thomas Edison’s death in 1931. Mina died in 1947.
They are buried side-by-side at Glenmont (now a property of the National Park Service), where thousands of people visit to pay their respects to the Wizard of Menlo Park and his brilliant wife.
Would you like to read more about Mina Miller Edison? Click here to visit EdisonMuckers.org. Be sure to scroll to the end of the post where you can see some of the Edison family recipes. You can also download a very nice biography of Mina Miller Edison by John D. Venable that contains several seldom-seen photographs.
John Heyl Vincent co-founded Chautauqua Institution based on one over-riding theory:
Life is one. Religion belongs everywhere. Our people, young and old, should consider educational advantages as religious opportunities.
With this in mind, he set out to prove that education was the right—and the responsibility—of all people, not just the privileged few. To Bishop Vincent, no man had the right to neglect his personal education “whether he be prince or ploughboy, broker or hod-carrier.”
He created the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (“C. L. S. C.”) as a means of bringing education to people, thereby eliminating geography or personal circumstance as barriers to learning. And he made it easy and inexpensive for people to form C. L. S. C. “circles” in their own towns. Circles popped up across the country in every possible venue: house, shop, farm and market; anyplace people could gather to exchange curriculum books and discuss what they’d read.
One of those C. L. S. C. members was author John Habberton. He was a popular writer in the late 1800s, most famous for his children’s book, Helen’s Babies. He was a frequent visitor to Chautauqua Institution and served as president of the C. L. S. C. class of 1894.
Like Isabella Alden, he was inspired by the Chautauqua ideal; he knew from experience the good that resulted from the C. L. S. C. curriculum. And like Isabella, he wrote a book about his experiences.
His novel The Chautauquans tells the story of the residents in a small town who come together to form their own C. L. S. C. chapter. It’s a charming story you can read for free. Just click on the book cover to start reading.
You can also find out more about Bishop John Vincent’s ideas that inspired the creation of Chautauqua Institution and the C. L. S. C. His book The Chautauqua Movement is available for free on Google Books. Click on this link to read it.
Isabella Alden considered The Hall of Philosophy one of the most beloved locations at Chautauqua Institution.
The Hall of Philosophy—sometimes called the Hall in the Grove because of its location in idyllic St. Paul’s Grove—was an open-air structure that sat under a canopy of trees that shaded and cooled the Hall during the hot summer months. It was a favorite gathering place for Chautauquans, even when no lectures were held there.
If you were a Chautauqua visitor, you could stand at the edge of the Hall of Philosophy and look out upon different views of the grounds. From one vantage point, you’d see the Hall of Christ and the spires of the different denominational chapels.
From another direction you’d see gingerbread-trimmed cottages and inviting expanses of green lawns.
The original Hall of Philosophy was designed by Bishop John Vincent for the Christian Literary and Scientific Circle (C.L.S.C.). Twenty years later, when it was discovered the building needed to be replaced in order to last for future generations, the C.L.S.C. lead a fund-raising campaign and raised the money needed to erect a new Hall of Philosophy in the same location.
When the new concrete floor was poured in 1905, it included 51 different mosaic tiles, each designed by a different C.L.S.C. class, beginning with the class of 1882 (the first class) and ending with the class of 1924. Each tile depicts the class year, name and logo.
For instance, the first C.L.S.C. class of 1882 was called “The Pathfinders.” Their emblem was the nasturtium and their motto was “The truth shall make you free.”
The class of 1915 adopted the name “Jane Addams” and used the American laurel as their emblem. Their motto: “Life more abundant.”
Isabella Alden was a member of the 1887 class; her fellow classmates honored her by naming their class the Pansy Class. They used the pansy flower as their emblem and “Neglect not the gift that is in thee” as their motto.
Isabella paid tribute to the Hall of Philosophy and her own experience with the C.L.S.C. in her novel The Hall in the Grove. The story centers around a diverse group of people who each spend a summer at Chautauqua for different reasons—and each end the summer changed by their experience. The Hall of Philosophy is almost another character in Isabella’s story, for it plays a prominent role in the different characters’ spiritual journeys. (You can click on the book cover to learn more about the novel.)
Thanks to the determination and rallying spirit of the members of the C.L.S.C. the Hall of Philosophy was rebuilt, and is still in use today.
This short video by Chautauqua Institution gives a brief history of the Hall of Philosophy and shows some examples of the C.L.S.C. class tiles: