The past, come to life

By
Thursday, May 22, 2008

The inaugural issue of the Brown Daily Herald is almost 117 years old. The pages (there are four) are brittle and cracking around the edges, with library call numbers scrawled in the top margins. On that day – Wednesday, Dec. 2, 1891 – the Herald editors wrote somberly of their purpose in undertaking the sixth daily college newspaper in the country:

“This issue begins the career of the Brown Daily Herald. Whether it shall remain as one of the fixtures of Brown or die a natural death is left to the students themselves. … The Herald will not lay claim to any literary merit but will contain only the college news, notices and announcements that may be of daily interest to college men. … We ask a fair trial and we will demonstrate our right to live.”

After months spent working to digitize these crumbling pages, I’ve formed a very clear image of those editors: a few 20-year-old boys, dark-haired probably and wearing suits half-untucked, setting type at a little press in the wee hours of the morning at the foot of a slumbering College Hill. Supposedly, the notoriously alcoholic press operator delayed the Herald’s printing on more than one occasion. Though the early pages of the Herald were evidently serious in purpose, humor inevitably crept in, intentional or not. From Friday, Dec. 11, 1891:

“The bowling-alleys are in daily and hourly use; but we are sorry to see some who drop the balls rather than roll them.”

Do incoming students today know that the Herald once published as front page news the anthropomorphic records kept by the University of each entering class? The average weight of men in the class of 1908 their freshman year? 139.4 pounds. Height? 5’9.1″.

These relics of turn-of-the-century college life are overshadowed in The Herald’s archives by graver moments in history that have shaken Brown’s campus – World Wars I and II, Vietnam. As race relations made headlines in the 1960s, The Herald’s tone shifted with a changing University, striking a tone more provocative and – maybe – more self-aware. “Blacks Set To Leave University,” reads a headline from Dec. 5, 1968, when the majority of black students walked out after President Heffner refused to set an 11 percent quota for black students at Brown and Pembroke.

Despite that first editorial board’s claim that The Herald be merely a college news bulletin, the newspaper’s archive has become an extensive historical repository – and The Herald’s editors, as transmitters of that history, played a unique role in shaping what today we look back on and call “Brown.”

There is so much more. But I’d rather let the archives speak for themselves – they have a lot to say.

Feb. 2, 1904: “College Customs: 1. No Freshman may carry a cane or smoke on the campus (this to include Andrews Field). 2. Only Seniors may sit on the seats of the Van Wickle Gates. 3. No Freshman may wear a straw hat until May thirtieth. 4. No man may wear a silk hat or frock coat until the Junior Week of his class. 5. No Freshman may walk on the south side of College street during the college year (This rule does not apply after the Freshman-Sophomore baseball game, in case the game is won by the Freshmen). 6. No underclassmen may wear preparatory school insignia of any kind. 7. Only Seniors may sit on the middle east steps of University Hall.”

The day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, in Volume 51, Issue 58, The Herald’s editorial board voiced its thoughts in “The Japanese-American War: An Editorial.” They wrote:

“War can come no closer and we are no longer afraid. We are a united nation determined through war to destroy the forces of war and to preserve the forces of peace. We know now that while there is one robber and one knife, no man is safe from attack. America has accepted war without hysteria. Although this is, for many of us, our first experience of wartime, we have learned the first lesson of warfare. Wars are won by calm and resolution, lost by emotional disorganization. ‘We’ll do what we’re told and stand by for further developments,’ President Wriston stated last night.”

Later that academic year, on Jan. 12, 1942, the editorial board wrote, “The fifty-first board of the Brown Herald, as was the twenty-sixth, is forced to bow to the inevitable,” as The Herald ceased daily publication in the throes of World War Two. “Herald Enters On Thrice-Weekly Schedule Until End Of Semester; Senior Board Action Concludes 23 Years Of Publication As Daily,” the headline reads.

From the Spring Weekend 1969 Special Issue, when Smokey Robinson and Janis Joplin were among the featured performers:

“REPENT! Repent, for judgment is at hand. You have strayed from the paths of Righteousness. You have spent your days in Sloth and Villainy. … You have indulged in Lechery, Avarice, Wanton Behavior and other forms of Moral Degeneracy. You hang suspended over a cauldron of Fire and Brimstone, into which you are about to plunge and suffer the fiery Pains of all the Horrors of the Nether Regions. The Transgressions you have committed in the name of youthful enthusiasm are hateful and gross Transgressions of your Proper Nature. … Absolve yourself of your past Wrong-doing. It is not yet too late. Join not in the Bacchanalian revels. Spend the weekend in the wholesome, beneficial establishments of our upright advertisers instead.”

On Oct. 1, 1918, when Brown was officially christened as a military institution, the editors wrote:

“At noon to-day, when 150,000 college men in four hundred institutions throughout the country are sworn into the country’s service as regularly enlisted men, it will be a new world that we look out upon. To the more thoughtful of us, who look deeper than the mere superficial veneer of brick and mortar, of grass and trees, into the very heart and soul of what has been to most of us almost more than a home, a different light shines from the windows of University Hall, a new spirit breathes out upon us; and we cannot help feeling that we are strangers in a strange land.”

From a special issue in the fall of 1968, in an editorial titled “Hope:”

“Contrary to prevalent opinion, the signs that welcomed you to Rhode Island at the state line do not proclaim in fine print ‘there is nothing to do here, go back to New York.’ Actually, Rhode Island is a repository of urbane mercantilism, scintillating social activity, and avant garde acculturation.”

From Dec. 12, 1891, the first ever exam period reported on by The Herald:

Dec. 12, 1891: “The door to Mr. McCabe’s typewriting room is locked now so that we know the deadly examination papers are being concocted.”

And on Sept. 11, 1968, the editors of The Herald offered advice to new students in their Freshman Week Issue:

“What am I doing here? And it shakes you up. Everybody racked up 800’s and has held five years of French and AP English and a full year of Calculus and you don’t even know what the word calculus means.

“Since this is Freshman Orientation Week we really ought to join the other sages – from deans down to last year’s freshmen – in offering you advice on how to spend your four years here. Unfortunately, we ourselves have never found people’s advice particularly helpful, since when examined it usually turns out to be the same clichés we’ve been hearing all our lives; and as we said in the summer issue, college seems an especially good time for not taking other people’s word for things.”

Anne Wootton ‘08.5 served as a Herald metro editor and senior editor. A classics concentrator, she will spend another glorious winter on College Hill finishing a thesis on her idol, Abraham Lincoln.