Beloit’s Magazine Reaches its 100th YearPosted by admin on 3/24/10 • Categorized as Spring 2010
By Susan Kasten
When The Beloit Alumnus rolled off the presses for the first time in January 1910, even the alumni closely involved in the launch probably never imagined this modest 12-page publication would exist 100 years later, now in the form of Beloit College Magazine.
Although its moniker and physical form have changed several times since the first issue appeared, this chronicle of the life of Beloit College and its people has prevailed through world wars, campus unrest, changing administrations, depressions and recessions, and the advent of the Internet.
With the exception of a brief hiatus in 1975, when extreme financial difficulties halted its production, this magazine’s voice across time has refused to be silent.
In recognition of this longevity, we invite all readers to take pride in this centennial feat.
Why does it matter that Beloit has published a magazine for 100 years? In large part, it’s because these hundreds of issues pieced together tell an alumni-centric story that truly exists nowhere else.
In honor of this venerable anniversary, we look back at the magazine’s founding and offer an admittedly idiosyncratic sampling of the stories and little surprises it has presented to readers during its first century. For those who want more, the complete collection exists in the Beloit College Archives.
Why start a magazine?
Discussions about whether to launch an alumni magazine apparently went on for years until 1909, when College President Edward Dwight Eaton appointed a committee of seven alumni to grapple seriously with the idea.
Before 1910, alumni interested in College news subscribed to the Round Table, the student newspaper, which dismissively called the newly minted Beloit Alumnus “only an experiment.” When The Beloit Alumnus debuted, subscribers could receive both the Round Table and The Alumnus for a price of 50 cents.
In explaining its purpose in the inaugural issue, editors write that alumni and friends of the College should know the conditions at the school, the policies that control it, and “the needs that beset it, in a more intimate way than would be possible or proper in the College catalogue and bulletins.” They go on to say that alumni often disagree with the policies and tendencies of their college, and they offer The Alumnus as a forum for voicing differences of opinion as well as praise. A special department called “Kicks and Half Pence” was established for this purpose.
Because it was published independently and paid for through alumni dues at the time, the early magazine relied solely on the support of graduates.
“The magazine can succeed only through hearty sympathy and support of the alumni and old students of the college,” the editors wrote in the debut issue. “If they support it well, there is no reason why it should not be a creditable magazine. If they are indifferent to it and neglect it, it will perforce be a cheap and scrubby affair.”
The Beloit Alumnus: Highlights from 1910-1932
Beloit’s earliest magazines focus on several subjects that still merit our attention today. Alumni news, the comings and goings of faculty, academic programs, new buildings, and the business affairs of the College—especially enrollment and fundraising—are among the enduring topics. The 1910 issue features a small sampling of news items, organized by alumni class year, similar to what readers still find in the spring 2010 issue.
But throughout 100 years of publishing, there are surprises, too, and world history, keenly observed through a Beloit College lens. For instance, as World War I reshaped life as people knew it in 1917, the magazine shifted from covering lighthearted topics to the grim realities of war. Almost overnight, the editors went from reporting the details of reunions—in which women wore white crepe paper hats trimmed with yellow roses and carried parasols printed with their class years—to covering the horrors of war.
Reports on faculty and student departures for war service fill these columns. The magazine begins printing “Rolls of Honor”—lists of those called to serve. Soon, death notices begin to appear, along with letters sent by alumni from the front:
“ … No words can fitly express this war,” wrote John Hanscom of the class of 1917 in “News from the War Zone.” “Every new place you go there are fresh horrors. One gets a sort of hardened crust after awhile, but even that does not withstand some of the sights. …”
The Alumnus reports on how campus evolved in response to war as host to the Student Army Training Corps. In 1918, in an article called “The War College,” the writer vividly lays out the scene:
“Beloit College has become a veritable military camp. From reville to retreat four hundred student soldiers march and countermarch across the campus of our memories. The bugle’s call, the shouting of commands, the rhythmic tread of feet—all these declare the College to be a vigorous part of the new order imposed upon us by the war.”
By the 1920s, the Alumnus is publishing articles both by and about one of Beloit’s most famous graduates, then in his prime. Whether the magazine was reporting on explorer Roy Chapman Andrews (1906) visiting campus or showing slides at alumni gatherings across the country, these stories offer captivating tales of adventure in places like Burma, China, and Mongolia, where Andrews traveled by camel, car, or airplane to locales where “the white man has never visited.”
Fund raising was prominent and pitches were direct in magazines of the 1920s and ’30s. Unusual generosity to the College found itself worthy of ink, too, including one alumnus’ gift of three prized Hereford steers. Ralph Selkirk (1911) raised the cattle at his Montana ranch over three years, sold them to the stockyards, and donated the proceeds to Beloit’s endowment. As the writer put it in the Alumnus, “This was not merely a gift, it was an act of devotion.”
College President Irving Maurer (1904) had a facility with words that comes across in published excerpts of his 1929 baccalaureate talk. He waxes nostalgic about meetings in Eaton Chapel: “ … Let us cherish the memory of the western windows glowing with sunset fire. On Sunday afternoons let us think of the twilight, the darkness in which the organ meditation wove about our lives a mantle of dreams.”
“Drinking in Colleges,” a story about a contemporary national problem (circa 1930) was published during Prohibition. The piece decries not only the debilitating personal effects of liquor but also the unwholesome “campus bootlegger,” described as “a diabolical influence that we have to think about whether we like it or not.”
In a report about a relatively new College “news service,” the Alumnus rounds up Beloit stories that made it into the national press. One unusual article, picked up by 37 newspapers nationwide, reports on how Beloit students returned to campus one fall to find the TKE fraternity house loaded with honey and a swarm of bees. About 100 pounds of honey had to be removed before undergraduates could move in.
In 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression, The Beloit Alumnus cut back its ambitious publishing schedule—six to nine annual issues—to only four. An ad in one issue features a plea for alumni donations, both to sustain the magazine and for much-needed student scholarships. It includes a drawing of Middle College with the cupola being torn off by unseen forces. “All together everybody!” the ad exclaims. “Keep the structure from falling!”
The Bulletin: Highlights from 1933-1969
In 1933, the magazine changes its name to The Bulletin of Beloit College, albeit with The Alumnus as its subhead. Now under the management of the College, it is mailed free of charge to all alumni and friends with addresses on record. Circulation reaches 8,000 by 1939.
Entire speeches or speech excerpts are customary fare in these issues, conveying a strong sense of Beloit at the time. All of the speeches printed from the 1940 Commencement ceremony in some way address war in Europe and a shifting world order.
In a 1942 column, President Maurer writes about the way life goes on despite world upheavals: “Inveterate youth. One week after America had declared war against Germany and Italy, 11 days after declaration of war against Japan, the SAEs [Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity] gather under my bedroom window and sing Christmas carols and shout ‘Merry Christmas.’”
A couple of months later, President Maurer, 62, dies during routine surgery while holding office. As a tribute, editors change the typeface of the spring 1942 issue to Caslon, a favorite of Maurer, an aficionado of printing. “Dr. Maurer often said of Beloit that it was ‘a good, roast beef sort of College,’” wrote the editor, “and Caslon is that kind of type.”
When the world went to war a second time, Beloit’s magazine continued to keep tabs on alumni, students, and faculty in the armed services, but the coverage seems more personal than it was in World War I. Among the Bulletin’s lists of the dead, the lost, and the missing in action are photographs and full biographies, details that tug at the heart even today.
Reports of campus life reveal World War II-era Beloit as a completely changed place. Football games and dances are eliminated. Enrollment drops 40 percent. Servicemen are housed on campus and eat in Commons. The Bulletin captures all of these changes in words and pictures.
However, by the spring of 1946, the magazine reports that dances, Greek life, and the popular Beloit Relays—a nationally known track and field event hosted by the College—are all reinstated. Coach Dolph Stanley’s famed basketball program starts its meteoric rise to fame, winning the championship that year. As the war ends and vets return to Beloit en masse, former army barracks have to be erected to make room for students.
In January 1954, the Bulletin publishes the first of several richly detailed reports about the December 1953 fire that gutted and nearly destroyed Eaton Chapel. “Thousands were attracted to the spectacle,” reads one report, “some of the students being in formal attire, ready for the Christmas Formal held that evening in the Field House.” Among other things, the magazine describes how students stood vigil as the fire pierced the building’s roof. The electrically controlled chapel bells continued to ring out defiantly as the flames reached new heights. Suddenly, the bells went silent.
A new 24-page alumni periodical named Alma Mater debuts in 1955 and forms a kind of publishing tag team with the Bulletin for five years. Alma Mater fulfills the role of a journal, publishing longer, more literary pieces, while the Bulletin sticks to College and alumni news.
Staffing changes and other preparations for launching the “New Beloit Plan” are covered in depth in a 1964 issue. The year-round academic calendar, which featured common courses and required field experiences, was a progressive initiative that won renown for Beloit until it ended in 1978.
The Bulletin unveils a new cover design in December 1966. Featuring a close up of the stone carvings around an Eaton Chapel entrance, it poses a riddle which readers could solve by checking the next issue. There, the editor shares the lore that explains why all the chapel entrances are not carved equally. Reportedly, toward the end of chapel construction in the 1890s, a group of German stone cutters from Milwaukee were creating relief carvings around the building’s exterior entryways. When a top College administrator (probably
President Eaton) strolled past around lunchtime, he came across the craftsmen, who were eating lunch and quaffing beer from pails. The beer pail was a tradition in Milwaukee, a customary way of paying stone cutters, but the temperate Beloit administrator was appalled by the practice and let the cutters know it. “The beer-drinking ceased,” writes the editor. “So did the stone cutting.”
The civil rights era hits home in the March 1969 Bulletin, which focuses almost exclusively on a single topic: the demands of black students for equal rights. The 12 demands include more Afro-centric courses, mandatory classes on the concept of blackness, increased recruitment of students and faculty of color, a re-evaluation of the curriculum to include black experts in each field, the hiring of a black financial aid consultant, and more.
The magazine publishes then-president Miller Upton’s response to the demands along with the faculty’s separate response. The coverage culminates with the students’ rebuttal to both, a column by the dean of students, and a printing of the preliminary agreement between the groups.
While most column inches of this historical issue are devoted to the call for racial equality on campus, other news manages to rise to the surface, strangely juxtaposed with the gravity of the students’ demands. One contains a photo of a woman student, wearing a tiara, elbow-length white gloves, and a gown, after she was named Miss Beloit that same year.
Beloit Magazine: Highlights from 1969-1974
As the 1960s come to a close, Beloit’s magazine reinvents itself, changing its name, format, and design, and segmenting class notes and other alumni news into a separate Bulletin Issue. The following year, the magazine received national recognition by the American College Public Relations Association for “total publication improvement.”
President Upton presents the re-imagined magazine in his column as something entirely new, backed by his promise of open communication.
“I hope this new magazine can help you to sense some of the vigor, imagination, dialogue, and spirit of innovation that characterize Beloit College today,” he wrote. “I also hope it will make you more aware of the tensions, unique problems, and occasional frustrations that can threaten a campus community …”
Among the fun surprises in Beloit is a mid-70s story called “Try it, you’ll like it,” a headline that riffs off a popular Alka Seltzer ad of the time. The article culls recipes from students and staff in Beloit’s geology department, taken from a cookbook produced by the tightly knit community of geology-field-trippers. One recipe is for Eli’s Beaver Stew, which begins with step one: “Skin the beaver.”
In the fall of 1974, the magazine publishes financial reports that reveal a $400,000 deficit from operations, and President Upton lays out his plan for addressing a fiscal climate of sharply rising costs and flat tuition revenue.
The next year, the magazine temporarily disappears.
Beloit Quarterly: Highlights from 1976-1978
The hiatus is brief, lasting only until 1976, when the magazine returns as the Beloit Quarterly. While the publication will morph and eventually turn into the magazine we know today, the name does not last long.
A photo in a 1976 issue illustrates a smiling College President Martha Peterson, who seems to be enjoying herself immensely as a guest bartender at the C-Haus. But it’s far from fun and games during her six-year tenure. In a 1978 issue, Peterson’s letter to readers lays out a five-year financial plan that eliminates the Beloit Plan and addresses the causes of the fiscal exigencies that have beset the College.
Beloit Magazine and Beloit College Magazine: Highlights from 1978-2010
By the late 1970s, the magazine begins to look more like it does today in shape and size, and it becomes more structured, too, with separate news pages, special sections, and feature stories, in some ways reflecting the stability that is gradually returning to the College after the uncertainties of the mid-70s.
Eighth College President Roger Hull’s message on the state of the College, which appears in the fall of 1986, confirms the College’s remarkable physical and financial turnaround from only a decade before. Among the accomplishments he reports within a span of only five years is a graceful renovation of Pearsons Hall, a 54 percent alumni participation rate of giving (doubled from 27 percent and the highest at the time among Beloit’s peers), stabilized enrollment, increases in faculty salaries, eradication of all accumulated debt, and the establishment of four fully endowed professorships.
In 1989, a small box in the back of the summer issue announces that the magazine will return to its quarterly schedule from what had been earlier reduced to only three issues.
Many of Beloit’s past magazines contain historical stories, the kind that grow even richer with the passage of time and changed contexts. One such article from 1991 is about Professor James J. Blaisdell, a noted Civil War-era conservationist whose legacy fits with contemporary Beloit and its interests in sustainability.
According to the magazine, Blaisdell was way ahead of his time, taking Wisconsin deforesters to task shortly after the Civil War and later giving the keynote address at an 1893 conservation conference held in Madison. From his modest salary, he scraped together the funds to purchase 10 acres of scenic wooded land along the Rock River northwest of campus, which was eventually given to the city of Beloit for public use. Today it is called Big Hill Park.
Highlights from a stack of the most recent magazines include several stories that stand out, some of them simply for the large response they drew from readers.
One, from 2007, contained a collection of stories and photos about the C-Haus, in honor of the campus pub’s 35th birthday. Another was a 2003 article titled “On Hallowed Ground,” by Bill Green, James E. Lockwood, Jr. Director of the Logan Museum of Anthropology. Green’s story debunks many of the long-held myths about Beloit’s Indian mounds by offering readers an overview of current scholarship about them. And then there is the Last Word essay, published in the fall/winter 2001 issue, in which Valerie Reiss’95 writes almost breathlessly about a bright fall morning when she arrived late for work at the World Trade Center. It was September 11. Reiss’ account of running from the towers as they were under attack, and her elegy for the New York she knew before the tragedy, made many Beloit readers feel they were right there with her.
Over the next 100 years, may Beloit College Magazine—or whatever Beloit’s magazine is called in the future—continue to be what the small band of founding alumni originally envisioned: “A journal all our own, a medium of expression for our thoughts and wishes, in which we shall live our lives in part together.”
• First issue published: January 1910
• Current circulation: 20,000
• Published: March, July, November
• Mailed to: 50 states and 99 countries
• Most popular cover art over time: Middle College
• Younger than us: Better Homes and Gardens (88 years old); Forbes (93 years old).
• Other names: Beloit Alumnus, Bulletin, Beloit Quarterly, Beloit
• Online presence: http://www.beloit.edu/belmag; as of 2009, the magazine is posted
to a blogging platform that allows readers to comment on stories.
Lynn Vollbrecht’06 assisted in researching this story.