We’re tenting tonight on the old camp ground, give us a song to cheer,
Our weary hearts, a song of home, and the friends we love so dear.
Tenting tonight, tenting tonight,
Tenting on the old camp ground.
Many are the hearts that are weary tonight, wishing for the war to cease,
Many are the hearts, looking for the right, to see the dawn of Peace.
We’ve been fighting today on the old camp ground, many are lying near,
Some are dead, and some are dying, many are in tears. 1
I grew up singing this song not knowing of the history associated with it. Both Union and Confederate soldiers of the Civil War gathered around their evening fires and joined in harmony.
During the years that followed, many gathered at tent meetings throughout the country and again, “tenting on the old camp ground” was heard in song. I also gathered with others to enjoy an evening of music. My campfire was at Chautauqua Institute in western New York. Needless to say, Chautauqua Institute is alive and well today! The following research paper will discuss the history of the Chautauqua Circuit movement and where it is today.
“Chautauqua (pronounced “sha-TAW-kwa”) is an adult education movement in the United States, highly popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Chautauqua assemblies expanded and spread throughout rural America until the mid-1920s. The Chautauqua brought entertainment and culture for the whole community, with speakers, teachers, musicians, entertainers, preachers and specialists of the day”. 2
Theodore Roosevelt called it “the most American thing in America”, Woodrow Wilson described it during World War I as an “integral part of the national defense”, and William Jennings Bryan deemed it a “potent human factor in molding the mind of the nation”. On the contrary, Sinclair...