Clay Jenkinson

Clay began doing a first-person characterization of Meriwether Lewis  in the early 1980s as a Chautauquan for the North Dakota Humanities Council, the birthplace of the modern Chautauqua movement. Since then, Clay has continued to present historical figures in a format  which has become among the most successful in the nation. A teaching format, that is bringing the humanities and history to citizens of all ages.

In 1988, Clay was recognized for his groundbreaking  work in the format with one of the first five National Endowment for the Humanities awards for excellence by President George H. W. Bush.

Jenkinson’s  presentations of Thomas Jefferson have become the  national model for scholars interpreting historical figures in the Chautauqua format. Clay appeared as Thomas Jefferson in the White House for President Clinton and distinguished guests on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of the third president’s birth in April 1994. This was the first public program in the humanities featured in a White House event. Clay has been heard throughout the nation as Jefferson on the weekly Thomas Jefferson Hour. Jenkinson has first  presented Jefferson in character and then visited with audiences as a public scholar of Jefferson’s ideas and views in thousands of programs throughout the United States. These programs have included:

*       Supreme Court justices
*       State legislative assemblies
*       Gatherings of U.S. Representatives and Senators
*       Groups numbering several  thousand who came together in major cities during a tour for the Library of Congress

Jenkinson’s Chautauqua work over the last two decades has included new historical figures each year for the Great Basin Chautauqua, including Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis , Theodore Roosevelt, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and John Steinbeck.

The late Everett C. Albers, past-executive director of the North Dakota Humanities Council,  where the modern Chautauqua movement began, said of Clay, “The North Dakota Humanities Council had an idea. Jenkinson made it work.”

The Thomas Jefferson Hour

Clay Jenkinson began presenting Jefferson in character in 1984 for a Regional Chautauqua Program. The Thomas Jefferson Hour is a radio program broadcast weekly on public radio stations across the country. The Thomas Jefferson Hour website grew out of the popularity of this radio broadcast. Please be sure to visit us at

Clay has dedicated the better part of his life to researching the historical characters that he portrays and to bringing back and defining the “living theatre” of Chautauqua, which also emphasizes education with audience participation to enhance the learning and entertainment experience. While Clay is currently traveling the country and bringing his unique style of living history to college campuses, and corporate venues across the United States ,  he has also mentored others in the Chautauqua style of performing through his past  position as artistic director of the Nevada Humanities annual  Great Basin Chautauqua Festival.

Clay Jenkinson portrays:

Thomas Jefferson

J. Robert Oppenheimer

John Wesley Powell

Meriwether Lewis

Theodore Roosevelt

John Steinbeck