A Storied Past: The History of The Dartmouth

by Alec Rossi | 2/8/19 2:15am

Source: Courtesy of the Dartmouth Digital Archives

Only 30 years younger than the College, student journalism at Dartmouth has been a stalwart — chronicling institutional change and the College’s interactions with the world.  

The Dartmouth Gazette was first published by Moses Davis on Aug. 27, 1799. The Dartmouth has long espoused that it is descended from The Gazette, though Christopher Johnson ’94 disputes this origin in his senior thesis on the history of The Dartmouth. 

The first issues of the Gazette reported on Commencement and scheduled fraternity events as well as local events — namely a spell of dysentery in 1800. While the paper had the occasional student contributor, stories were not attributed to their writers.

In addition to information on the College, the paper focused on events in Hanover and served as a way for local businessmen to advertise goods and post wanted ads. The Gazette was also filled with municipal notices and announcements from the town. 

In 1820, the Gazette ceased publication and was effectively replaced by the Dartmouth Herald in June of that year. This publication was similar in scope to the Gazette but was more focused on college happenings, wrote George Wellington Wright, who authored a book outlining the history of journalism at Dartmouth in the late 1800s. 

After the Herald’s founding, many literary magazines started to emerge on campus. One such magazine was called The Dartmouth, according to Johnson. First published in 1840, this publication consisted of editorials, analysis of poetry, fiction and topical essays. 

“The editors unpretentiously intended the publication to be educational and to serve as a showcase for rising talent,” wrote Johnson in his thesis.  

In addition to this literary analysis, the paper had a section focused on providing updates on alumni, as well as physical and staffing changes on campus.  

“The publication served as a proto-Alumni Magazine, College newspaper, literary journal and opinion column," wrote Johnson.

“The publication served as a proto-Alumni Magazine, College newspaper, literary journal and opinion column.”

From its first publication in 1840 to 1875, the magazine had a series of hiatuses; however, it was revitalized each time. In 1875, a longer and more news-oriented version of the magazine was published every Thursday morning.  

The organizational structure of the original Dartmouth differed greatly from that of today. While today’s editors and writers apply for positions, editors of The Dartmouth magazine were voted upon by their peers. The selection process for writers changed in 1895, when staff members began to be chosen by members of the paper’s staff. 

The publication started branding itself as the College’s official weekly newspaper in 1904, while still maintaining many elements from its magazine form, Johnson wrote. The publication soon stopped focusing on literary analysis. However, it was still formatted like a magazine. 

In 1910, the format of The Dartmouth became increasingly similar to today’s format, and publication took place three times per week. The paper continued evolving and in 1913 became an official corporation. 

In the 1930s, the paper continued being published, reporting on the fire at Dartmouth Hall on April 25, 1935. On this night, the staff delayed sending the paper to print as staff members worked to gather information about the fire.  

Several editors from the 1930s had successful careers in journalism after graduation. Editor-in-chief Budd Schulberg ’36 helped write the film “Winter Carnival,” and Bill Leonard ’37 became the president of CBS. 

During the start of World War II, The Dartmouth continued publication. As the war progressed, many staff members of the paper enlisted in the armed forces, and only a fraction of students remained on campus. The paper stopped being published in June of 1943. 

During this hiatus, the Dartmouth Log was created under the direction of Charlie Widmayer ’30. The log staff used the former offices of The Dartmouth, and the paper highlighted daily life on campus. 

“The top topics in the newspaper’s two columns were tobacco and smoking, women, interdormitory competitions and the … Boston and Montreal Railroad,” wrote Johnson.  

After the war ended and students returned to campus, the Log stopped being published and The Dartmouth returned to campus on March 12, 1946. After its return, the paper was published three times each week.  

Much was the same in the 1950s when the paper covered developments on campus, namely the opening of new residence halls and expansion of Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital. Coverage also highlighted the efforts of campus fraternities to fight national chapter discriminatory membership guidelines.  

“Instead of focusing on news, the paper focused on pastimes. Coverage in the 1950s centered on football,” wrote Johnson.  

During the 1960s the paper covered many national events, such as the assassination of President Kennedy. At this time, the staff of The Dartmouth changed the paper’s format in order to cover both the College and the town. 

In March 1967, the paper’s editorial section gained notoriety when a piece was published that focused on the selective service’s new draft process. The editorial was written along with members of the staff from the papers at Brown University, Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania. This editorial was soon republished by major U.S. news outlets. 

The Dartmouth was also at the forefront on the debate over making Dartmouth coeducational. The paper conducted a poll on student opinions of coeducation and published editorials on the merits of adopting a coeducational model. It continued to provide coverage on the decision process and institutional changes enacted as a result of the move to coeducation in 1972. 

College archivist Peter Carini said the content of The Dartmouth between 1920 and 1970 is largely consistent – a mix of news about the College and the occasional national happening. 

In 1978, Anne Bagamery ’78 became the first female editor-in-chief of The Dartmouth in the paper’s history. 

Jacques Steinberg ’88 was editor-in-chief and president of the class of 1988 directorate. After his career at The Dartmouth, Steinberg worked for The New York Times for 25 years as a reporter and senior editor. 

Steinberg said that there were many interesting stories that The Dartmouth covered during his tenure on the staff. He said that student protests, calling for the divestment from companies that did business in apartheid-era South Africa, were highly covered.  

Additionally, Steinberg said that he remembered writing about the transfer of the Dartmouth presidency from David McLaughlin ’54 Tu ’55 to James Freedman. 

“What I learned at The Dartmouth absolutely prepared me to be a New York Times reporter and editor,” Steinberg said. “The rhythm of my day at the [New York Times] was so similar to my rhythm of the day at The D.”  

In the Rauner Special Collections Library, every issue of The Dartmouth since 1839 has been preserved. Carini said that Rauner receives two copies of The Dartmouth every day. Each copy is indexed and is either designated a preservation copy or a copy to be used by visitors in the reading room.

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