HAROLD WAGNER | Courtesy of the Chautauqua Institution Archives Chautauqua dignitaries gather at the Norton Hall Cornerstone laying ceremony Aug.
Edith and Steve Benson’s Chautauqua cottage sits at 19 Wiley, surrounded by an aged picket fence. Pushing open the gate, walking under the arched trellis draped in akebia and along a short curved stone walkway dripping with yellow roses, blue Russian Sage and the hardy remnant of a purple clematis up to the Benson’s porch is akin to visiting a home from a bygone era.
Writing the “Women Behind the Memorials” column this season, I relearned that history is not tidy. It is sprawling, unexpected, and a singular incident bumped into me in an almost — dare I say it — ghostly way.
There are three observations, among many, gleaned from reading The Chautauquan Daily reporting of Eleanor Roosevelt’s eight visits to Chautauqua from 1927-1937. First: how farsighted her concerns and comments were, particularly in the July 7, 1930, and the July 25, 1933, speeches. Second: the reporting, which inadvertently describes the contrast in the freedom of movement Roosevelt enjoyed to the impenetrable gauze of security which wraps national political figures today. Third: how vivid and observant the reporting was, especially Elizabeth Hall’s July 26, 1933, Daily “Ground Wires” column.
Geraldine Gebbie Bellinger bought Chautauqua’s Amphitheater in 1935. Well, to be precise, she joined her daughter, Janet, and sister, Marion Bertram Gebbie, and made a $5,000 sentimental purchase of the Amp. It was a donation to the “Save Chautauqua Fund” and was one of the larger single contributions to the three-year effort to rescue the Institution from its creditors.
Anna J. Hardwicke Pennybacker signed her 1936 letter to John D. Rockefeller Jr., “I am, most faithfully yours, Anna J. H. Pennybacker.”
Memorials do work. In 1966, Nina Terrill Wensley gave the Windsor Boarding House to the Institution to be used as a guest cottage.
What Alfreda Locke Irwin thought when she read the Aug. 26, 1961 issue of The Chautauquan Daily “Chautauquaquade” column that described her as Daily Editor Virgil Freed’s “right hand man” is not recorded.
The Chautauqua Women’s Club’s 125th celebration this season offers the opportunity to illuminate and celebrate the remarkable women who have made Chautauqua what it is.
This week, 21st-century Chautauquans explore “Health Care: Reform and Innovation.” Health concerns were also very much on the minds of Chautauquans near the end of the 19th century. Today’s discussion is one of a complex, sophisticated health care system; in the 19th century, it was a discussion of water purification and sewage systems. Today, it’s asking how to organize an effective, affordable health care system; in the 19th century, it was asking how to eliminate contagious disease and treat Chautauquans who may be far from home.