Museum brings back Chautauqua lectures

The Lincoln Parish Museum will rekindle its Chautauqua Lecture Series with a presentation this week reminiscent of the original programs held in Ruston over a century ago.

The Louisiana Chautauqua served as a major educational and cultural conference in the 1890s and early 1900s, according to Rick Godley of the Lincoln Parish Museum, which is reviving the concept with a series of public events.

“The Chautauqua was an annual summer event in Ruston,” Godley said. “People came from all over the region to hear and see prominent speakers and entertainers of the era.” 

Among the speakers were well-known politicians like Williams Jennings Bryan, who made numerous Presidential runs, prominent pastors, and talented musicians.

To bring back the spirit of the Chautauqua, the Museum hosted a well-attended series of presentations on the early history of Ruston and Lincoln Parish annually for several years but due to COVID fears, the program endured a two-year hiatus. The presentation next week will be the first in a spring lecture series as the Museum works to fully open after the long closure.

The first presentation of the new series will be made by Phyllis Miller, a longtime student of Grambling history. She will speak about the “Louisiana Colored Chautauqua,” the only chartered program for African Americans in the state.

The lecture series is a “LINCOLN150” sesquicentennial of Lincoln Parish sanctioned event. The parish was created by act of the state legislature in February 1873.

The annual Chautauqua programs of the 1890s brought recognition to Ruston, according to historian Wesley Harris, and even helped generate support for a college in the town. 

“Ruston’s support for the Chautauqua proved the town was committed to education,” Harris said. “That commitment went a long way in getting the necessary legislative support from around the state to get a bill passed creating the Louisiana Industrial Institute, now known as Louisiana Tech.”

Miller’s presentation will take place Tuesday night, March 7 at the Lincoln Parish Museum at 609 N. Vienna Street in Ruston. The public is invited and encouraged to attend the free session at 7:00 p.m. Doors will open at 6:00 p.m. for those who wish to tour the museum.

Godley said topics for other programs will be announced soon.