Since its beginning in 1992, Kentucky Chautauqua® has brought to life more than 70 people from Kentucky's past - both famous and unknown.
Our Chautauqua performers travel to schools and community organizations throughout the state delivering historically accurate dramatizations of Kentuckians who made valuable contributions.
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The current Kentucky Chautauqua cast includes 27 figures from Kentucky's rich and colorful history. From William Wells Brown's struggle for freedom and John Marshall Harlan's role as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, to Alice Lloyd's struggle to bring education to Appalachia and Jean Ritchie's musical legacy, Kentucky Chautauqua offers something for every classroom and community group.
Kentucky Educational Television (KET) hosted a program about Kentucky Chautauqua as part of their Kentucky Muse series. Click here for a link to that program. http://www.ket.org/muse/chautauqua/about.htm
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For information on How to Book Kentucky Chautauqua Performances, click here.
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For information on How to Become a Kentucky Chautauqua Performer, click here. Please note that we audition for new Chautauquans every other year. The next call will be issued in March 2019. The call for new applications is mailed to everyone on our mail list. If you would like to receive the call for applications, please send us your mailing address and we will make certain you receive it.
Check below for a brief description of each of our current Kentucky Chautauqua dramas.
Daniel Boone is the quintessential Kentuckian, having blazed the trails that would become the map of Kentucky through courage, love of the newfound region, and his cunning facility with the land and its native peoples.
Born November 2, 1734, Boone quickly demonstrated a preference for the outdoors and established himself as an accomplished hunter and explorer. In 1767, he first visited Kentucky and found this new territory as beautiful as it was dangerous, as it was hotly contested by native populations and the ever-advancing British colonists.
Boone was an intrepid adventurer and natural leader whose exploits justify his larger-than-life reputation. In 1784, John Filson published The Discovery, Settlement And present State of Kentucke. This influential book chronicled the adventures of Boone and established him not only as an important settler and explorer of Kentucky and the west, but as an American legend.
Jemima Boone, the fourth child of Daniel and Rebecca Bryan Boone, was born in North Carolina, on October 4, 1762. Destined to live a life beyond the boarders of civilization, she helped pioneer two American frontiers: Kentucky and Missouri.
Typical of pioneers in the era, Boone endured heartbreak and suffering almost unimaginable to modern Americans. One of the most well-known stories to come out of Kentucky's pioneer past involved 14-year-old Jemima. In July 1776, Boone was kidnapped by a group of Indians. Her father led a search party that caught up with the Indians and rescued the girls after three days in captivity.
In 1777, Boone married Flanders Callaway, a union that lasted nearly 50 years. Together with the other settlers at Boonesborough, they endured times of terrible suffering, facing starvation, cold, and the ever-present fear of attack.
Madeline McDowell Breckinridge — or Madge, as she preferred — was both a state and national leader of the women’s suffrage movement, and was highly instrumental in Kentucky’s ratification of the 19th Amendment, granting American women the right to vote. Born in Franklin County and raised in Lexington, Madge, the great-granddaughter of Henry Clay, was expected to dedicate her life to public service — but she surpassed every expectation. While her biggest triumph was the women’s suffrage movement, Madge was also a progressive reformer who worked tirelessly to advance the living conditions of the poor, established educational programs, changed the outlook of child welfare and juvenile rehabilitation, and promoted the need for tuberculosis research. Unafraid and unapologetic, Madge used every opportunity to reach anyone who would listen. She recited countless speeches and marched in many demonstrations, calling for "Votes for Women” — and proudly cast her ballot in the U.S. Presidential Election of 1920.
William Wells Brown was the first published African American novelist and playwright. Brown was born to an enslaved mother. Due to inadequate record keeping for slaves, the time and place is not assured. He was likely born in 1814 or 1815 in the Mt. Sterling area or in Lexington. Brown experienced the dissolution and sale of his own family and witnessed the harsh and brutal separation of other families in the institution of slavery. After years of failed attempts to escape slavery, for which he was jailed and beaten, Brown finally escaped to a life of freedom in 1834.
William Wells Brown went on to become a public advocate of the abolitionist and temperance movements. His memoir, Narrative of William Wells Brown, a Fugitive Slave, Written by Himself, had a direct influence on the abolitionist movement. In 1853, he published Clotel; or the President's Daughter and in 1858, a play The Escape; or a Leap for Freedom.
Above all, Henry Clay wanted to be president. Despite never quite making it, Clay played an important role in the history of his country, which he served as a senator, speaker of the house, and secretary of state.
Born and educated in Virginia, Clay moved to Kentucky and set up a law practice in Lexington in 1797. Elected to the state legislature in 1803, he took a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1810. For more than 40 years he was a major player on the national political scene. Slavery posed a great political and personal quandary for Clay. A slaveholder himself, he advocated gradual emancipation and colonization in Africa. He opposed extension of slavery into the new western states, but argued Congress had no right to interfere with slavery where it already existed. Attacking abolitionists in 1839, he said he would "rather be right than president." The speech cost him the 1840 Whig presidential nomination.
In the first two decades of the 20th century an industrial juggernaut invaded Eastern Kentucky. Timber, coal, and railroad companies forced overnight change on a culture that had been stable for a century. Lilley Cornett, born on Linefork Creek in Letcher County, faced all this with optimism and an eye toward a better future. But this new world was full of unforeseen danger and deceit from unexpected sources.
After being drafted for the war, Lilley returned home to face a new world with grit and ingenuity. Using his army pension and money earned from card game winnings during a stay at Walter Reed Army Hospital, Lilley purchased 500 acres of old growth timber on Pine Mountain. Determined to ward off the timbercutters, the chestnut blight triggered his final confrontation with outside forces and shaped his savagely funny revenge on a hapless local timber operator.
Born near Fairview, Kentucky, in 1808, Jefferson Davis moved to Louisiana and Mississippi before returning to Kentucky to attend Transylvania University. Had Davis had not joined the secession movement and served as President of the Confederate States of America, he likely would be remembered as one of Kentucky's most respected native statesmen instead of one of our nation's most controversial renegades. Davis served the United States with distinction in two wars, and in both chambers of Congress. As Secretary of War he supported or promoted a number of improvements to strengthen the United States Army and the government's infrastructure.
For all of his contribution to the confidence and character of the United States, it was Davis's role in the creation of the Confederacy, a nation of defectors, that enshrines his legacy not as a man who loved his country, but as a man who left it.
Following the performance, the audience will have the opportunity to discuss the controversial emotional and political issues raised in the performance, and their relevance to today.
The daughter of George and Rachel Stanley, Charlotte Dupuy was born in Cambridge, Maryland, in 1787. Her parents were owned and enslaved by Daniel Parker. Eight short years later, Dupuy was sold to James Condon for $100 and was forced to leave her family.
In 1805, at the age of 18, Charlotte was brought to Kentucky by Mr. Condon and was registered as his slave. While in Kentucky she met Aaron Dupuy, who was enslaved by Henry Clay and his wife, Lucretia. Charlotte and Aaron were married in 1806 and Charlotte was sold to the Clay family.
In 1825, the Clay family moved to Washington, D.C. as Henry Clay served as Secretary of State. Charlotte found a lawyer who filed papers for her and her children, suing for their freedom. Her petition was denied and Charlotte was jailed for refusing to return to Kentucky with the Clays. She was later emancipated by Henry Clay in 1840.
As the son of a slave-holding father, John Gregg Fee witnessed firsthand the benefits of having slaves and the profits that could be made from their labor. When he graduated from college and enrolled in Lane Theological Seminary, Fee began to understand the inherent wrong and destructiveness of slavery. He was determined to become and Abolitionist and work for the immediate end to slavery. Fee committed his life and work to ending slavery and discrimination at home in Kentucky.
Fee's dedication and passion for the abolishment of slavery gave him the strength to persevere through the wrath and disappointment of his father, financial hardship, and threats to his safety. His work led to the founding of Union Church of Christ, an anti-slavery, non-denominational church, which planted the seeds for what would become Berea College.
Roscoe Tarleton Goose was born on a Jeffersontown, Kentucky, farm in 1891. As a child, Roscoe took a job riding horses for a blacksmith in Louisville to help his family's finances. Fearless and slight of build, Goose was a natural horseman. While exercising horses at Churchill Downs, Goose was approached by trainer John Kuprion to ride as a jockey. By autumn of 1910, Roscoe Tarleton Goose was the leading money winning jockey at Churchill Downs and was one of the top riders in America. A few years later, he had attracted the attention of trainer and farm owner Thomas Patrick Hayes. Hayes had a horse called Donerail he wanted Goose to ride in the Kentucky Derby. In what was a stunning victory, Roscoe Tarleton Goose and Donerail won the 1913 Kentucky Derby. The race odds were set at 91:1, the longest odds of a Derby winner, a record which still stands.
When Governor Isaac Shelby was tasked with raising troops for a war with the British and the Indians, Kentuckians responded with fervor. William Greathouse was one of more than 3,500 Kentuckians who answered Shelby's call to arms in 1813. Just a teenager, Greathouse joined the troops because he strongly opposed the British occupation and the Indian Confederacy. Greathouse mustered in on August 24, 1813, in Nelson County.
Greathouse took part in the Battle of Thames, considered the turning point of the war. In a battle that lasted less than an hour, the American troops, the majority of whom were from Kentucky, destroyed the Indian Confederacy and drove the British occupants out of Upper Canada.
With humor and pride in his home state, Private Greathouse's story tells of his personal contributions to American history, and explains Kentucky's vital role in America's "Second War for Independence."
Johnny Green was 19 when the Civil War broke out. He was one of the few soldiers in the Orphan Brigade alive when it ended. Orphan Brigade soldiers were unable to return to their home state of Kentucky until the war was over — lest they be tried for treason — because they chose to fight for the Confederacy. Though he had learned to love the Union, as his mother was from Boston, Massachusetts, Green felt passionately that states should have the right to govern themselves. And when President Abraham Lincoln called for men and arms, Green left his job in Florence, Alabama, to travel to Bowling Green, Kentucky, to join the Confederacy on the day before his 20th birthday. Green's story, as detailed in a journal he wrote for his daughters years later, provides extraordinary accounts of courage and bravery, and brings the story of the Orphan Brigade to life.
Script by Bo List
Nancy Green became one of the first prosperous African American women in the U.S. Green was born enslaved in Montgomery County, Kentucky, in 1834. While in Kentucky she worked for the Walker family and moved with them to Chicago just after the Great Fire, in 1872. Eight years later, Nancy Green became "Aunt Jemima." Businessman R.T. Davis had purchased a pre-mixed, self-rising recipe for pancakes and wanted an "Aunt Jemima," a character from minstrel shows which were popular at the time, to be the face of his pancakes. "Aunt Jemima" would be a friendly, animated, African American cook who served a wealthy white family. Playing the role of "Aunt Jemima" gave Green financial independence few African Americans and few women experienced at the time. She used her wealth as a means to empower her community. She was particularly active in her church, leading missionary trips, investing in anti-poverty programs for African Americans, and advocating for equal rights.
During his 33 years on the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice John Marshall Harlan dissented in some of the court's most important civil rights cases.
In one of the most famous dissents in history, Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld the constitutionality of segregation, Harlan wrote: "Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows or tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law."
Though Harlan was born in Boyle County to a prominent slaveholding family, and was once a slaveholder himself, he fought for the Union during the Civil War after graduating from Centre College and earning his law degree at Transylvania.
He was often chastised for contradicting himself politically, but Harlan always maintained that the law afforded him the right to change his mind — and his support for equal rights after the Civil War never waned.
When the Night Riders attacked the Hollowell farm in Caldwell County on the night of May 2, 1907, one of them boasted, "We Night Riders fear no judge or jury!" Young Price Hollowell made them eat those words in one of the most remarkable episodes of the Black Patch War, a western Kentucky conflict that featured mayhem and murder.
Low tobacco prices caused the Black Patch War. The American Tobacco Company was paying less for dark tobacco than it cost farmers to grow it. Farmers fought back by forming the Planters' Protective Association, whose members withheld tobacco from the market. When this strategy did not produce higher prices, the Night Riders resorted to violence against farmers who refused to honor the boycott. The Night Riders ran the Hollowells out of the state, but they returned, filed a federal lawsuit, and, thanks in large part to Price's testimony, won damages of $35,000.
Feisty, funny, and completely fearless, Aunt Molly Jackson lived for nearly 50 years in the coal camps of Southeastern Kentucky, where her father, brothers, husband, and sons were miners. In the camps, Aunt Molly delivered babies, nursed the sick, and wrote and sang songs about the miners' lives. Her "Hungry Ragged Blues," for example, tells of miners during the Depression who regularly risked their lives underground, but did not earn enough to feed and clothe their children. Aunt Molly' songs, her eloquence, and her intimate knowledge of life in the camps impressed Theodore Dreiser and his committee of writers when they visited Kentucky in 1931. Dreiser encouraged Aunt Molly to move to New York City, where her heartfelt songs and lively stories made her a popular and well-known spokesperson for Kentucky miners. Today, Aunt Molly's songs and stories take us back to the Eastern and Western Kentucky coalfields of the early 20th century.
Louis Marshall Jones, better known as Grandpa, was the son of Henderson County sharecroppers. Jones, who had a repertoire of songs learned from his parents and the radio, won a talent contest that led to regular work on an Akron radio station. That launched a career that lasted more than 60 years. It was during tours with country music star Bradley Kincaid in the 1930s that Jones developed the Grandpa persona he used the rest of his life.
Jones wrote many of his most popular songs. Like many old-time musicians, he struggled during the rock-and-roll craze of the 1950s — he toured Canada and tried his hand at early television. Beginning in 1969, television brought Jones fame as a member of the original cast of "Hee Haw," which showcased his skills as a vaudeville comic. Grandpa Jones was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1978. He never retired, suffering a fatal stroke after a performance at the Grand Ole Opry in 1998.
Rose Leigh was just a regular girl from Science Hill, Kentucky, when she arrived at the Willow Run Bomber Factory in Ypsilanti, Michigan, in 1942 to work as a riveter on B-24 bombers during World War II. Although she arrived with personal obstacles that included single motherhood, Rose found her way around the plant, found her ambitions, and found temporary stardom when she met Walter Pidgeon and appeared on the big screen as "Rosie the Riveter." Fame was never Rose's aspiration. Her real dream — to fly airplanes — was sidetracked as Rose continued to work after the war, in a society where women were being urged to return to housework. Rose finally earned her pilot's wings in the early 1970s, but her solo flying career sadly ended a few years later when a plane crash damaged her left eye and kidney. Her film portrayal as Rosie the Riveter has inspired many, but she was just one of the many women who faithfully served her country.
Born on a farm in what is now Larue County, Kentucky, Abraham Lincoln spent his early years in the Commonwealth. His family moved to Indiana when he was 7, partly because of his father's opposition to slavery. But as his brilliance and burning political ambition carried him to the presidency and greatness, Lincoln always had connections with his native state.
In his law office in Springfield, Illinois, he had a law partner from Green County, Kentucky, named William Herndon. His best friend in Springfield was Joshua Speed, a son of Louisville's prominent Speed family; and in Springfield he found a wife from Kentucky, Mary Todd, the daughter of a well-known Lexington family. Lincoln visited Kentucky to see the Speeds and his in-laws, and took the great Kentucky statesman Henry Clay as his political hero.
Mary Todd Lincoln lived a life of tremendous achievement and great tragedy. Born to a prominent Lexington family in 1818, she was uncommonly educated and politically-minded. She married lawyer and state legislator Abraham Lincoln in 1842.
Mary had high ambitions for her husband's political career, in which she was both influential and instrumental. He was inaugurated as the 16th President in 1861.
Mary's years in the White House were some of the most tumultuous; while her husband worked to unite a nation divided by the Civil War, Mary renovated the run-down presidential residence into a stately mansion — cementing her reputation as a force to be reckoned with.
While politically triumphant, the Lincolns' personal lives were filled with tragedy, but this did not deter them from their commitment to the Union.
Called "the stubbornest woman" in Kentucky, Alice Spencer Geddes Lloyd was born near Boston. Her way with words led to a career as a journalist, and later, as the editor of the first all-female newspaper staff in America.
Health problems forced Alice at age 40 to move to a warmer climate. She packed up her typewriter and headed by horse and buggy to the mountains of Kentucky. Acceptance from the people of Eastern Kentucky came slowly. Yet, Alice stayed and showed the good one person can do. She wanted to educate Appalachian children through college at little or no cost to them. Alice and her friend June Buchanan started Caney Junior College (later renamed Alice Lloyd College). Her journey included a gunshot scare, an invitation to the White House during Herbert Hoover's term, a Hollywood television appearance, a major story in Reader's Digest, and many mountain miracles.
On Christmas Day 1809, 1,000 miles away from the nearest hospital and 35 years before the discovery of anesthesia, Dr. Ephraim McDowell removed a 22-pound ovarian tumor from the abdomen of a 46-year-old woman. It was the world's first ovariotomy, and it eventually brought McDowell worldwide acclaim as the father of abdominal surgery. The patient, Jane Todd Crawford, had ridden three days on horseback to reach McDowell's home in Danville, Kentucky, to have the operation. The medical authorities of the day were convinced that opening the abdomen meant certain death, so McDowell was far from sure that the surgery would succeed. He told Crawford he would proceed only if she "thought herself prepared to die." She said she was ready, but they needn't have worried. Mrs. Crawford came through with flying colors and in less than a month was on the way home to Green County.
Harold Henry Reese got his famous nickname Pee Wee from a marble he used when he was a boy. The name fit because he turned out to be a man of modest stature, but by every measure you could apply to an athlete — teamwork, leadership, determination, winning, grace under pressure — Pee Wee Reese was a giant. Born in Meade County, Kentucky, Reese grew up in Louisville. At 19, he quit his job at the telephone company to play professional baseball for the Louisville Colonels. By 1940, he was playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. As captain, shortstop, and lead-off man, he led the Dodgers to seven pennants and, in 1955, a World Series win. Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984, his plaque there also records the powerful example he set when Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers in 1947 as the major leagues' first black player. Reese's acceptance and support of Robinson were instrumental in breaking down baseball's color barrier.
Traditional musician, songwriter, poet, commercial performer, recording artist, author and composer Jean Ritchie, born in Viper, Perry County, Kentucky, in 1922, was the youngest of Balis and Abigail Ritchie's 14 children. She began her recording career in 1952, signing with Elektra Records. Throughout her career she recorded more than 35 albums, which strongly reflected her Kentucky heritage and featured her playing the mountain dulcimer. Known as the "Mother of Folk," Ritchie was a major contributor to the national revival of folk music across American during the mid to second half of the 20th century. Artists including Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, and Dolly Parton have covered her songs. Jean Ritchie was also an outspoken environmental activist. Her song, "Black Waters" is a well known protest song that Ritchie wrote about strip mining in Kentucky.
During the 42 years he coached the University of Kentucky men's basketball team, Adolph Rupp raised the game to near-religious status in the Commonwealth. Rupp's teams won 880 games, four national championships, and one Olympic gold medal. There was a flip side to all this success — the team was suspended for the 1952-53 season after a point-shaving scandal, and Rupp was heavily criticized for taking too long to integrate the Kentucky basketball program.
Adolph Rupp grew up in Kansas, the son of immigrant farmers. He played three years of varsity basketball at the University of Kansas, but never scored a point. He began his coaching career in Kansas, but soon moved on to high schools in Iowa and Illinois. The University of Kentucky hired him in 1930. Rupp's genius for public relations and his team's winning ways combined to make Kentucky basketball a statewide phenomenon, a point of pride around which Kentuckians of all stripes still rally.
Although he is most well-known for the 11 herbs and spices that made Kentucky Fried Chicken famous world-wide, Harland "Colonel" Sanders' life was about much more than fried chicken. The man whose face became synonymous with "finger-lickin' good" chicken used hard work and perseverance to become recognized as Kentucky's most famous citizen.
Sanders delved into the restaurant business in Corbin, opening a lunchroom behind a service station. His restaurant grew rapidly , and his customers made fried chicken the most popular item on the menu. He might have worked in that cafe forever if it weren't for the building of interstate 75, forcing him to sell his place at auction.
In his mid-60s, Sanders decided to travel the country showing restaurants how to make Colonel Sanders' Kentucky Fried Chicken. While most men his age were retiring, Sanders continued doing what he did best, cooking and selling fried chicken.