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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Columbia College student newspaper evolves with the years

By Amanda Noel

As you may have read in this year’s first edition of “The Columbian,” the Columbia College student newspaper will do away with its print version and convert to an online-only newspaper next year. Along with a brand new online edition, “The Columbian” is also celebrating its 30th anniversary. With this shift in gears, we are honoring the history of our student newspaper, which got its start more than 100 years ago.
It all began with the founding of Christian Female College in 1851, which would later become Columbia College in 1970. Although a student newspaper did not exist until many years after the college was started, the foundation of journalism at Christian College was at its roots. John Augustus Williams, the first president of the college from 1851 to 1856, was a journalist prior to becoming president of Christian College according to "Columbia College: 150 Years of Courage, Commitment and Change" by Paulina "Polly" Batterson.
Williams was responsible for some of the first circulations at Columbia College and helped produce early catalogs. The first of these of these catalogs dominated over other written submissions by competing journalists at the 1851 Boone County fair. Batterson noted that “the first thousand copies proved so popular that more had to be printed.” In the summer of 1851 Batterson refers to a publication called “First Circular of the Christian College” which discussed the construction of Christian College’s first building, later to be named Williams Hall.

Creative writing and public speaking skills also were valued by presidents Lanceford B. Wilkes (1856-1858) and Joseph Kirtley Rogers (1858-1877). These men established the Martha Washington Institute in 1856, modeled after the University of Missouri Literary Society, of which both Wilkes and Rogers were former members.  The 1857 catalog describes the activities carried out by the institute as “various, embracing the varieties of Prose and Verse composition, Discussion, oral and written, and … arranged with special development of powers of thought and expression.”
Journalism was not mentioned again until 1889 in the catalog published under President William Abner Oldham (1883-1893). In the catalog, Oldham includes some of his own remarks titled “Christian Womanhood as a Factor in the Moral Progress of the World” in which he says, “In medicine, in journalism, in authorship, on the lecture platform, in the schoolroom, in the mission field, and in many of the more difficult callings of life, demanding high executive ability, woman is pushing her way to front and asking the privilege of being independent …”

Two of Oldham’s followers, Luella St. Clair Moss and Emma Moore (1893-1920), proved just that. St. Clair took on the role of president in 1893 after the death of her husband Frank P. St. Clair from a heart condition shortly after his election. By accepting this position, St. Clair “became one of the first women college presidents in the United States,” notes Batterson. Former editor of her college paper at Hamilton College in Kentucky, St. Clair initiated Christian College’s first magazine called the “Chronicle.” Batterson quotes St. Clair as saying that the “Chronicle” was to be “a faithful representation of Christian College; to reflect the thought and desire of her students and to advertise her manifold advantages … The Chronicle should be the receptacle of all the best essays and literary efforts of Christian College girls.” In addition to student contributions, the “Chronicle” also included local newspaper articles that discussed happenings at the college.
In 1897, St. Clair resigned her presidency and handed her position to Emma Frederick Moore, a Wellesley graduate and wife of William Thomas Moore, former preacher and editor of the “Christian Commonwealth” in London. Under Emma Moore’s administration, 1902 marked the end of the “Martha Washington Journal,” a publication produced by the Martha Washington Institute that was said to be “out of harmony with the age of electricity” by the “Chronicle.” In the same year, the “Chronicle” reported that Dr. William T. Moore had begun instructing journalism courses. “Students studied the gathering of news, editorial departments, advertising and mechanical features” under Moore’s instruction, notes Batterson. From these courses, the first student newspaper was born. This paper was produced by “16 pioneers … [who] pecked furiously on the tall typewriter, putting out ‘The Rag-time Gazette’,” notes Allean Lemmon Hale, author of “Petticoat Pioneer: The Story of Christian College.”
Moore’s courses predated the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism which was established in 1908, but further research unveiled that Columbia College was not the first school to instruct journalism courses. The University of Missouri offered its first journalism course more than 20 years prior to Columbia College in 1879. This course was called “The History of Journalism” and was taught by David R. McAnally, a University of Missouri English professor, according to the Missouri School of Journalism’s 2008 Centennial Timeline found on their Web site.

In the midst of the booming journalism program at the University of Missouri, Christian College, under the administration of President Edgar D. Lee (1920-1935), dropped the journalism program for several years only to re-establish it in 1928. In the meantime, “The Rag-time Gazette” was replaced by “Campus Coverall,” the first newspaper to be edited exclusively by students in 1926. Shortly thereafter, the “Christian College Microphone” became the official college newspaper in 1929 under the supervision of Mary Paxton Keeley, the first woman to graduate from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism in 1910.
The “Christian College Microphone” reigned for over 40 years. In 1970, it underwent a name change, dropping Christian College from its title to become “The Microphone,” in response to the transformation of the two-year, all-female Christian College to a four-year co-educational college renamed Columbia College. Less than a decade later “The Microphone” was replaced by “The Columbian” in 1979 which still exists today.
“The Columbian” celebrates its 30th anniversary this year with the end of a printed student newspaper and the beginning of an online newspaper. Despite its rich history, no journalism program exists at the college today except the four sections offered in Newspaper Production that are not tied to a degree program. The University of Missouri has claimed its fame with its School of Journalism and dominates the collegiate journalism programs in the area.
With declining readership of “The Columbian” and lack of student interest in serving on its staff, one wonders what will become of the Columbia College student newspaper that has remained for more than 100 years. Will technology serve as life support for “The Columbian,” or will its 30th year be among the last for the Columbia College student newspaper?

Dr. William T. Moore  and his 1903 journalism class. Photo courtesy of “Columbia College: 150 Years of Courage, Commitment and Change” by Paulina “Polly” Batterson.

Mary Gentry Paxton (later Keeley), the first female graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, poses with her 1910 graduating class. Photo courtesy of 

Mary Paxton Keeley (second from left) and the 1936 “Microphone” staff. Photo courtesy of “Columbia College: 150 Years of Courage, Commitment and Change” by Paulina “Polly” Batterson. 

Diane DeBose, the 1969-1970 editor of “The Microphone,” reads over an issue of the student newspaper. Photo courtesy of Columbia College.

The 1977-1978 “Microphone” staff sets up the printer for the next edition of the newspaper.  Photo courtesy of Columbia College.

The 1976-1977 “Microphone” staff finishes paste-ups for the weekly newspaper. Photo courtesy of Columbia College.

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