Student Media History

Student media at Wilson College has changed much since the publication of the first student newspaper, The Rush Light  in 1882. From corset ads to the rebellious manifestos of an underground newspaper in the 1960s, students involved in campus media have documented major cultural and social trends that offer a fascinating snapshot of history of the college and of American women’s lives.

In an effort to highlight this history, students enrolled in Mass Communications 304: Mass Media in Society during spring 2004 conducted historical research in Wilson’s Hankey Center Archive to offer these glimpses of the student media past:


The Rush Light and the Eclipse (1880s - 1890s): Pioneer Newspapers

The Rush Light and the Eclipse were Wilson’s first sources of news during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Rush Light was available to readers in 1882, five years before the first issue the Eclipse appeared in February 1887.

The Rush Light was a monthly paper edited and published by the CHI-TAU-PI Society. Subscriptions could be purchased for 25 cents or a single issue could be bought for 5 cents. At the time, its editors were L.L. Flick and M.H. Swift. Under their supervision, the paper was full of short serial stories, poetry, and advertisements.

The Rush Light was known for its proper grammar since it was mostly a literary magazine. In the February 1887 edition (volume VI, No. 3), a small feature called “Facts” was printed by the editors:

Another fact please keep in view,
‘Twil help you out of many a plight;
We give it to you gladly unto you,
Call promptly on the ‘Rush Light.’

The Eclipse followed a similar format. It was monthly paper edited and published by PHI-CHI-PSI Society. Lillian L. Dickey and Bessee Lee Naile edited a newspaper that featured articles of poetry, plays, songs, advertisements, and a random selection of lost, found, and wanted items. The editors and their staff supported a theme as they put together each issue of this literary journal that acted as a newspaper.

“The pen is mightier than the sword,” argued one issue. “Quills and pens are not mentioned. These latter are the only weapons used in the Eclipse office.”

Both of these newspapers impacted the Wilson community in a positive way as they now provide information on Wilson’s past as part of the Hankey Center archival holdings. They are good examples of how students provided themselves with good entertainment. Today’s journalistic standards of “who, what, when, where, and why” may not have been present within the work of these newspapers, but each issue deserves recognition for the accomplishments its writers and editors made in print.

—Jessica King

Pharetra (1880s - 1920s): Sleigh Rides, News, and Literature

The Pharetra was one of the earliest newspapers to ever be published on the Wilson College campus. The Pharetra first appeared in the 1880s, and was the successor of Wilson College’s first publication, the Eclipse. The early Pharetra featured short stories, poems, news, events, and advertisements. In the 1800s before cars, one method of transportation in the winter was by horse-drawn sleigh. One particularly interesting and entertaining account was of a sleigh ride to nearby Fayetteville in January 1893.

The past week has been a notable one at Wilson on account of the number of sleighing parties to Fayetteville. Although the Richards girls started the plan of former years, they were not the only ones to adopt it. The party from the “Cottage” on Tuesday was followed the next evening by one from Main Hall composed of fifteen gay Wilsonites…

Although the air felt very much like rain, and there was considerable doubt as to weather Mr. Beyers’ sleigh could be procured for that evening, yet the brave spirits of these Wilson girls were not to be daunted. But when seven o’clock came and no sleigh made its appearance, the questions flew thick and fast over the telephone, and resulted in bringing upon the scene, at half past seven, three comfortable sleighs, in which the merry crowd were soon stowed away.

When they started and found before long that it was raining, they never thought of turning back, but overcame this difficulty by procuring a few umbrellas in town, and nine o’clock saw the entire party landed in safety at their destination—namely the large and commodious hotel of Newcome.

It made no difference to the ever-ready host that our party dropped in upon him unannounced and the “ballroom” was soon the scene of much merriment.

The well-known orchestra of the town, consisting of one violin and two guitars was soon procured and added much to the gayiety of the occasion.

An “elegant supper” was served later in the evening and at half past eleven we were forced to turn our faces toward Chambersburg. A swift ride brought us to Wilson about half past twelve. —Alas for some recitations next morning! But we had fun.

In the 1890s, The Pharetra turned into more of a literary publication and was published that way for the next thirty years until it was replaced with the present day Billboard.

—LeAnn Helman

The Gumdrop (1920): Sweet-Talking the Alums

The Gumdrop was a short-lived publication that appeared in the fall of 1920 and was dedicated to the celebration of the 50th Anniversary Golden Jubilee of Wilson College. Specifically, students published it in an effort to raise money for the college Endowment Fund with a goal of $500,000. Just three issues of the The Gumdrop were published.

The paper reported how students had raised money for the endowment, challenged each class to raise funds and contained inspirational poetry that referred to the importance of the endowment. The October 14 issue contained the Golden Jubilee Program listing the events including a visit from then governor of Pennsylvania, the Honorable Thomas E. Finnegan, LL.D.

a sample issue of The Gumdrop

The final issue of The Gumdrop, appeared December 31, 1920, and included a list of the ways to earn money for the endowment:

“How to Earn Money for the Endowment”

  1. Charge your family for your companionship.
  2. Disguise your Ford (we are sure you have one) and sell it for a Peerless.
  3. Sell all your old clothes to your roommate at 50% profit.
  4. Prove by mathematics that one dollar can do the work of two. Have the
    formula patented and put it on the market.
  5. Store up the hot air you waste on your friends and melt snow with it. Charge
    well for your services.
  6. Put a “nickel-in-the-slot” box on your door. Make your callers pay for your
  7. Don’t go to breakfast and collect the money from headquarters.
  8. Sacrifice all writtens and save money from your Harvard paper.
  9. Sell the mice you catch to a furrier. He can make moleskin coats.
  10. Help other people eat the food they get from home. They will pay liberally
    for this kindness.
  11. Sing to your roommate. After a little effort on your part she will pay you to

The Gumdrop typically featured poetry, song lyrics and pieces encouraging fundraising for the endowment. The paper was a tool to persuade all students to do their part in the effort while still having fun. The banner line of The Gumdrop was “Watch Us Grow.”

— Robin Herring

Wilson Gossip (1922 - 1923): "Wanted: Men for the Prom"

Wilson Gossip was a short-lived, lighthearted publication that focused on life at Wilson College, the lives of the students, and updates on graduated alumni. The first issue appeared in August 1922 and contained witty bits of news about new faculty members, changes made to the campus, and a humorous calendar of the upcoming school year. The publication sold of $.25 per copy. Mentioned frequently throughout the paper was the importance of endowment, which was the act of contributing money to a fund that supported the betterment of Wilson College. In fact, proceeds from the Wilson Gossip went directly to the endowment fund. Most amusing was the classified section that included advertisements such as:

WANTED - Men for the prom. Juniors and Seniors.

LOST - Library books. These must be returned immediately. Miss Erskine.

The format of the second edition of the Wilson Gossip, which was published in August 1923, was much like the first edition, but seemed to have a more confident tone. The columns were written in the same witty manner and emphasized the lives of present and past “Wilson girls.” The new format included page headings for the gossip section which were entitled “Mrs. Nosit Aull” and “Mrs. Told U. Sough.” Funny sub-headings below the title were “Did U Hear This -, “ ”Don’t tell anyone, but -, “ and “Oh! I must run, my beans are burning, but -.”

One thing is quite evident when reading the gossip section: the writers of the Wilson Gossip were quite proud of the achievement of the Wilson girls, whether it was the announcement of a new occupation, a faraway place visited, a marriage, or the birth of a new baby.

The price increase to $.30 per copy in 1923 must have been too significant because the second edition was the last edition of the Wilson Gossip.

—Kristin McGee

The Finger (1969): Dispatches from the Wilson Underground

The late sixties were a time of controversy, protest and activism in America. College campuses embodied this spirit and Wilson College was no exception. In 1969 students launched the underground newspaper The Finger in order to communicate to the administration their concerns and allow their peers a voice. In one article entitled “Things We’d Like to See,” items included contraceptives on sale in the bookstore, a re-enactment of the burning of Chambersburg, and a Viet Cong graduation speaker.

A sample cover page of The Finger.

Another excerpt from the same issue included a poem entitled “We Took the Road Less Traveled by, and Decided We Had Made a Mistake” that was critical of the college. Lines such as “A surplus of dowdy male professors,” “Our wise have left in multitudes,” and “The state of Wilson has gotten rotten” gave a view of how some students really felt about their college.

But while the paper served as an outlet for ranting and poking fun at faculty and staff at Wilson, it also provided some important social commentary. Essays such as “Is College Going to Pot” discussed real problems such as society’s attitudes toward drug use. Another essay titled “Pledge of Allegiance” discussed the prejudices of the American government which, according to the piece, allowed “justice for all except atheists. . . homosexuals. . . protesters. . . pacifists. . . people who like revolutions other than the American one” and many other groups including “finally, everybody who isn’t what we think they should be.”

Always thought-provoking, The Finger provided an unfiltered glimpse into Wilson student politics during the late 1960s.

--Melanie Mills

The Wilson Billboard (1921 - present): A Name Once in Question

Before acquiring the name The Wilson Billboard, Wilson’s present day student newspaper sported a rather quizzical title, that of a question mark. In its first two issues in January 15 and January 22, 1921, the newspaper advertised itself with a large ? in place of a more traditional nameplate. By issue no. 3, which appeared on January 29 of that year, the paper began announcing itself as The Wilson Billboard, a name that has stuck until the present.

Although the Billboard has continued to report on areas important to students at Wilson College, a lot has changed over the years. Alumni notes were popular in the earlier editions, but diminished over the course of the twentieth century. In earlier years, The Wilson Billboard was printed on a weekly basis, while today the paper comes out bi-weekly.

Other aspects, however, have not changed as drastically. The list of “Coming Events” in early editions has been transformed into the “Announcements” section of today.

Elaine Kay Hess


Conococheague (1895 - 1934): Wisdom for Athletic Ladies

The Conococheague, the Wilson College for Women’s yearbook, began in 1895 with the purpose of describing the “world of Wilson” as it was—the duties, pleasures and growing successes of students. “The aim of the college is to train minds, souls and bodies of our students,” according to the 1896 edition of the Conococheague. The college does not claim to teach “all knowledge,” but endeavors to “open the door into the great library of the world’s wisdom.”

Published annually by the junior class, the Conococheague offered its students a place to reflect upon their feelings, college events, challenging classes and how they grew from the college experience. Early editions did not include class pictures, only lists of names.

The Class of 1896’s class yell offers an early depiction of school spirit: “Hippity, zippity, he, hi, hix! Wilson, Wilson ’96!”

The banjo club, the bicycle club and the basketball club are examples of extracurricular activities in which Wilson women of the late 19th century participated, according to yearbooks from that time.

photo of the basketball club, "The Invincibles"

In 1921, each student’s “statistics” were listed in the yearbook. These statistics included the woman’s name, chief characteristic (“her coiffure, lateness, giggling,” etc.), main interest (“growing hair, reading the New York Sun”), philosophy (i.e., “take things easily”), favorite expression (“I’d like to choke you”, “the sooner the quicker”), and future plans (“cabaret dancer, keeper of telescopes, dramatic reader, section boss”).

In 1934, glossy photos of each student appeared. This edition of the Conocoheague was dedicated as a “tribute to our parents.”

--Janet Gardner

Literary Magazines

The Rhombus (1974 - 1977): Bridging the Intercampus Divide

In the mid-1970s, Wilson joined Dickinson, Gettysburg and Franklin and Marshall Colleges to publish The Rhombus, a student literary review. The Rhombus was published each spring from 1974 to 1977 and featured poetry, short stories, photography and art which were submitted by a variety of students from each of these area institutions. The publication was based at Dickinson College, but Wilson students proudly held seven seats on the editorial board during the four years Wilson was involved: Susan D. Peterson (1974), Athena Varonnis (1974-75), Betsy May (1975), Paula Breen (1976-77), M. J. Phelps (1976-77), Angela Gable (1976) and Gretchen Van Ness (1977).

After 1977, The Rhombus appears to have died off. In 1979, The Bottom Shelf Review took its place as the campus literary review.

The following are examples of student poetry that appeared in the The Rhombus in 1977:

By Bernadette Russell

Cells rip,
Dividing a nucleus, a house
Full of secrets
Whispered by unborn babies.

Chromosomes knock and scatter
Bumping the walls
Leaving dents
Inside deep and dark
Chasms of cells.

Darkness flows
Around the secrets
Like blood.

Sometimes we think
Something has gone wrong.
But every so often,
Just for kicks
Room Service
Sends up a freak.

“With a Unicorn, My Sister”
By Gretchen Van Ness

courting disease and infection
she arrives, coat blown open,
fingertips pink and knuckles white
with cold, my sister
grasping papers and stories in her arms
pushing strands of windy hair
from her rosey face

she has spent the afternoon
perfecting a rainbow over
her mermaid’s head, with a unicorn
nearby this time, multicolored
and leaping across the page
the vision still dances
in her eyes

but it is hers alone
translation finds the stories
pale and quickly dismissed
and her hot chocolate is soon finished
with her nose blown and fingers
rewarmed she makes a final sweep
through my rooms into her coat
and flies out the door
managing a distracted goodbye
no doubt already composing
the next dream

--Rachel Ward