Chautauquas were the United States' first form of continuing education.
There were three types of Chautauquas:
The "Mother Chautauqua" as it was called, had its permanent site on Lake Chautauqua.
Major cities, such as Chicago, and larger towns had their own permanent "Independent" Chautauquas, all modeled after the Mother Chautauqua. Most of the Independent Chautauquas could be found in exurban areas a brief train ride away from the urban center they served.
"Daughter Chautaquas" were mostly itinerant, traveling in wagons, and later automobiles and trucks, throughout rural America. Daughter Chautauquas were peopled with musicians, booksellers and elocutionists, Shakespearean actors, teachers, doctors, specialists of various kinds, preachers, lecturers, and family entertainers. In the years before mass media, Daughter Chautauquas were rural America's chief source of cultural entertainment and learning.
President Theodore Roosevelt was once quoted as saying that a Chautauqua was "the most American thing in America".
As radio reached more and more American homes, it supplanted the Chautauqua as the citizenry's main source of information and entertainment, though several Chautauquas still exist, including the Mother Chautauqua.
Imitators often were called "Traveling Medicine Shows," and featured snake-oil salesmen, dancing girls, gambling, and other illicit pleasures.