In the wake of a pandemic, American political turmoil and disturbed international relations, people turned to Chautauqua Institution — amidst an organizational metamorphasis — for a sense of reprieve. The year was 1923.
“There was a frustration amongst Chautauquans with the world. They didn’t lose faith in God, but they did lose faith in the world. The war that was never supposed to happen did happen. The peace it was supposed to produce did not happen. Prohibition came; it did not end all the social ills it was supposed to. (Women’s) suffrage came; it did not fix the political situation the way it was supposed to,” said Jon Schmitz, Institution historian and archivist. “So, these schemes of hope for the future had been frustrated. As a result, people were looking for things like a place to spend a good time with their family.”
It was a safe place for women to go and do things without having to worry about their kids. But, dad wasn’t always there. He was back in the city, or whatever,” Schmitz said. “(The Institution) wanted to stress that this was a wonderful place for the modern businessman to relax and spend time with his family. There was something for dad to do: the men’s club, golf, fishing, etc.”
At the time people were itching for normalcy, Chautauqua Institution underwent a marketing shift to target every member of the family — not just the mothers and children. The Institution used film as one way to accomplish this.
Schmitz will present a 1923 Institution marketing film at 3:30 p.m. EDT Friday, July 17, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform as the third presentation in the Heritage Lecture Series. Schmitz will address the then-new demographic of the 1920s.
“It was a safe place for women to go and do things without having to worry about their kids. But, dad wasn’t always there. He was back in the city, or whatever,” Schmitz said. “(The Institution) wanted to stress that this was a wonderful place for the modern businessman to relax and spend time with his family. There was something for dad to do: the men’s club, golf, fishing, etc.”
By attracting the breadwinning businessman, the Institution hoped to secure bonds and gifts to fund programming. At the time, the Institution was facing financial uncertainty.
“The hope was that people would buy bonds, and then when they mature they would roll them over so as to go on financing the Institution. The gate was no longer able to pay for the programming and the grounds,” Schmitz said. “There had to be other sources of income so there needed to be gifts, but they also were relying on bonds. They needed that commitment from a family, to actually go and purchase the bonds.”
Schmitz said that from a historian’s standpoint, films are a unique way to observe the past. Film can fill in gaps where artifacts, still pictures, and written documents may lack.
“Photographs and films add a great deal to the texts and artifacts, because it captures a moment where you can see the various aspects of this captured moment.” Schmitz said. “With a film, you get a temporal dimension which completes what the photograph is telling us. Film completes what the elements are, what the elements existing at a certain time were doing, and interacting with.”
This series is made possible with a gift from Jeff Lutz and Cathy Nowosielski.