The Dickinsonian Turns 150!

On the first Tuesday in October, 2022, The Dickinsonian turned 150 years old! The first issue of Dickinson’s student-run newspaper, which we still diligently print every other week, was first published in October 1872 as a joint effort between the Belles Lettres and Union Philosophical literary societies.

That first issue was very different from what we publish now, but in many ways the same. Their previous focus was not, as it is now, campus news from a student perspective. Instead, the Dickinsonians of yore filled its pages with poems, reflections on theology, the natural sciences, and the utility of studying the Greek and Roman classics.

There was, however, also some news in that first issue; hidden amongst discussions of the faraway land of Florida and the various strains of literary criticism, one writer reported on a YMCA convention held in Carlisle that September, while another engaged in what I might even call an early form of data journalism, writing that the College “need have no anxiety” over rising smallpox cases, since the 15 cases in town only came out to 1 in every 400 inhabitants.

An even greater parallel to our modern paper is the format. Though we now publish 5 columns across (it was 4 in 1872) with large headlines and photo spreads, we still publish an 8-page paper, just as our counterparts from a century and a half ago did as well.

We still sell advertisements too – check out full page ad for wholesale shrimp in our third issue from this year – but our rates have certainly changed. In that first-ever issue, a local company could purchase anything from a one-time ad in a single square for $1.00 to a column-length ad in every issue of a year for $50. And businesses took the newspaper up on those offers, from Wanamaker’s, a major Philadelphia department store, to an agency advertising jobs selling copies of the New Testament.

We no longer charge for the paper, since we are funded by the Student Senate, but in 1872, students, faculty, and staff could purchase an annual subscription (10 issues, October through July, at that time) for $1.00 and a club rate for six copies to be delivered to one address for a lightly discounted rate of $5.00.

To handle these tricky financials, the inaugural Dickinsonian team included two business managers, including John W. Wetzel, who would go on to become District Attorney of Cumberland County less than a decade after he helped put together the first issue of the newspaper.

Their peers on the editorial staff were composed of two men from each of the literary societies, a group which expanded in later years to more than 20 editors, and is now 9 or 10 depending on the year. Now, of course, editors are not selected from the literary societies, which would be especially difficult given that Union Philosophical has not existed on campus for some time.

Here’s to the next 150 years of student journalism!