Island Park is located on 200 Main St. and was the site of Winfield’s Chautauquas from 1887 to 1913. The Chautauqua included a number of different intellectuals who spoke to the public during the summer months. Characterized by the large tents and open fields, Chautauqua was created by co-founder John C. Vincent in western New York, and the movement quickly spread across the country. Chautauqua was one of the most notable nontraditional educational opportunities for adults to learn about the arts, religion, and social movements. Specifically notable is its impact on the women’s rights movement. Chautauqua provided an educational opportunity for rural women (usually exclusive to white women) whose social roles centered on family life only. Through Chautauqua, women were able to continuously learn while remaining in the family sphere. Island Park was a permanent Chautauqua location during its active years. The park is now open to the public with playground equipment for children, a garden, and a waterfall.
Backstory and Context
Founded as adult educational lectures in Lake Chautauqua, New York, in 1874, Chautauqua was a place where people could gather to discuss political, social, and cultural topics. “WE ARE ALL ONE on these Grounds,” proclaimed Chautauqua co-founder Lewis Miller. “No matter to what denomination you belong; no matter what creed, no matter to what political party of the country. You are welcome here, whether high or low.” The Chautauqua movement caught on and caught fire across the nation, notably in Kansas where Winfield, Ottawa, Cawker City, and other communities hosted long-running summer Chautauqua assemblies. By 1886, the Chautauquanproclaimed that Kansas carried “the banner for the largest number of new circles in any state west of the Mississippi.”
Winfield’s Island Park was home to summer Chautauqua from 1887 to 1924. “There is no spot more beautiful than Island Park,” effused The Daily Courier in 1892. “Its winding water course, stately trees, handsome carpet of green with winds making music in the boughs and branches overhead and blue canopy of Heaven covering all.” Winfield’s local Chautauqua association partnered with the city to build a Hall of Philanthropy and a Tabernacle that could seat 3,500. Crowds of up to 10,000 swelled the park to see popular orator and three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan on one of his four visits.
Families would travel by rail and wagon to attend Chautauqua, taking advantage of the educational opportunities for the “common man.” “Chautauqua is a great university whose students are scattered in homes, on farms, in shops and factories, in towns and mining camps, in cars and ships, wherever a human soul carries the love of learning,” proclaimed the program for the 1896 Ottawa Chautauqua Assembly. “Then once a year they flock to the great assembly to study under competent professors to round up the year’s work, to receive diplomas, to form new classes, and to go back to life’s duties refreshed and inspired.”
This democratic approach to education had an enormous impact on women. One of the lasting legacies of Chautauqua is the way that it engaged women – primarily white, middle-class women – in the pursuit of studies at a time when educational opportunities were limited. The Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle offered a four-year correspondence course which women could pursue at home. In 1907, The Winfield Tribune declared “The most important department of the Chautauqua is the Chautauqua Ladies Social Circle department under the direction of Miss Elinor Hayes. The Chautauqua Ladies Social Circle has encouraged and secured hundreds of readers of the home reading course that has been a lasting benefit to the participants and in this work the record of the Winfield Assembly is second to none.”
Women also lectured on the Chautauqua circuit on topics including temperance, religion, literature, and eventually, women’s suffrage. The Winfield Chautauqua welcomed Rev. Dr. Anna Howard Shaw to Island Park in the summer of 1892. Shaw was an ordained Methodist minister and chair of the Franchise Department of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. She traveled extensively to support women’s voting rights believing that women’s access to the ballot would result in the election of more temperance candidates. “The subject of this brief sketch may be considered one of the brightest stars on the lecture platform,” wrote the Winfield Monthly Herald. “She asks this very pertinent question: ‘Why is it that so few monuments are built in honor of noble, heroic women?’...Women do not merely ask for pockets and pocket books. They can earn a living. There are no laws preventing them from engaging in any business enterprise they please, but they do ask that when the voice of the people is to speak, that women shall be counted with the people.”
Bell, Sarah. “Speaking Out: Women Speakers at the Chautauqua,” kansashumanities.org.
Blakemore, Erin. “The Forgotten Movement That Changed Women’s Lives,” JSTOR Daily. August 16, 2017.
“Chautauquas in Kansas,” kansapedia, Kansas Historical Society.
Ottawa Chatauqua Assembly Program, 1896. KansasMemory.org
“Reverand Dr. Anna Howard Shaw,” National Park Service
Robinson, W. Stitt. “Chautauqua: Then and Now,” Kansas State Historical Society Presidential Address, 1988.
The Winfield Daily Courier, July 1, 1892.
The Winfield Tribune, June 13, 1907.
Winfield Monthly Herald, April 1, 1892.
This bell used by the Winfield Chautauqua Assembly from 1886-1918. Located in Island Park.