Chautauqua Serenade

Violinist Ruth Bowers on Tour 1910 - 1912

Chautauqua: Between 1910 and 1912, Ruth participated in three different cross-country chautauquas. From May to October 1910, Ruth joined the Elma B. Smith Company which toured with the Lincoln Chautauqua throughout Illinois. From July to September 1911, Ruth joined forces with C. Edward Clarke, a gifted Canadian baritone, to form the Clarke-Bowers Company. This opportunity allowed her to perform on the famous Vawter Redpath circuit with larger audiences, and with a greater focus on music. The tour traveled to numerous sites in Iowa, Minnesota, and Missouri. During the summer of 1912, Ruth formed her own company, and performed on a new circuit established by Charles Horner, managing it successfully to favorable reviews. The Ruth Bowers Company performed at various venues in Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. Throughout, Ruth collected newspaper clippings and postcards, photographed well-known performers and local sites, and wrote descriptive letters home about her experiences.
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Elma B. Smith advertisement

Elma B. Smith Company: Elma B. Smith was a famous child impersonator and bird warbler. The 1910 Chautauqua was Ruth’s longest tour, lasting over four months with programs at one hundred communities. Ruth’s confidence and musical talent developed during this period. She received excellent reviews: "The acme of praise is due Miss Ruth Bowers for her wonderful performance on the violin and language fails to convey to the reader the exquisite pleasure of those who listened." Ruth learned to accept the rigors of summer travel: heat, exhaustion, illness; and to appreciate its gifts: "I have surely had some delightful trips this summer and altho I have frequently felt lonesome, I am glad that I took the trip for it has been a broad experience, which has done me a world of good."

William Jennings Bryan

Clarke-Bowers Company: Ruth took this photo in July 1911 of William Jennings Bryan, the most famous lecturer on the circuit. She was thrilled to share the chautauqua experience with him, writing home to her mother "Our train was an hour and twenty minutes late getting to Forest City (were due at 1:20) and the exalted Clarke-Bowers Company was thrown into one auto, Hon. W.J. [Bryan] in another and I was on the platform playing Zigeunerweisen before sixteen hundred people in less time than it takes to tell about it in my green dress and red trimming. Oh! I feel like quite a celebrity. Bryan was so pleasant and before he left this eve he came and shook hands and wanted to know when we next would be together." In later years Ruth identified this photo as one of her favorites.

Ruth returning to chautauqua tent from an auto ride

Ruth Bowers Company: Ruth (on the right) and Celia Fox, who played piano and saxophone in Ruth's company, returning to the chautauqua tent after an auto ride. During her final season, Ruth's evening performances enjoyed audiences averaging a thousand people. The number of chautauqua circuits and performers continued to increase until 1924, the peak year of the movement. Its decline in the following years is attributed to several factors, including the automobile, which facilitated travel to larger towns; radio and film, which provided easier access to cultural events; and changing cultural tastes in America. The Depression brought the final demise of circuit chautauquas in 1932. By that time millions of Americans had attended at least one chautauqua or lyceum.

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