Daily Campus History: Origins of UConn’s student newspaper

Illustration by Kaitlyn Tran/The Daily Campus

Welcome to my column for the semester! Having been inspired by my new job at UConn Archives and Special Collections, I’ve decided to create a weekly spotlight of notable instances throughout the Daily Campus’ 125-year history. It’s quite remarkable that this university has had a relatively continuous publication for so long, and it’s really interesting to see its evolution. What started out as the Storrs Agricultural College Lookout has gone through many iterations, beginning as a monthly magazine and eventually coming to the five-days-a-week schedule that allows us to put “Daily” in our name.

Today, we will be winding back the clock as far as it goes — at least when it comes to UConn student newspaper terms — and zeroing in on the aforementioned S.A.C. Lookout.  Founded on May 11, 1896, the Lookout already had some of the features of the modern Daily Campus. An eight-member board of editors, which likely functioned as both today’s editorial board and board of directors, was headed up by original editor-in-chief J.H. Evans, who graduated in 1896.

The front page of this paper offers some information about the school that shows just how much has changed over the years. A complete list of the faculty appears under the Board of Editors, with a miniscule 12 people named. For context, UConn’s fact sheet in 2019 stated the school employed 1,540 faculty. Aside from that, the school only had six clubs and organizations: Shakespearean Club, YMCA, Students’ Organization, Council, Athletic Association and the Tennis Club.

Of those organizations, some have become other departments at UConn, such as Athletic Association becoming the Athletics Department and Students’ Organization eventually morphing into the modern-day USG, but Club Tennis is the only surviving club of the bunch.

One of the most immediately noticeable differences between the Lookout and the paper from today is the poetry section featured on the front page. Multiple editions of Vol. 1 of the Lookout featured student poetry before the editorials section.

A speech delivered by Lady Principal Margaret Kenwill was a particularly interesting read in the May 1896 issue. The text is titled “Patriots and Patriotism,” and given this was written only three decades after the 13th Amendment’s ratification, I initially expected a very conservative lecture. But, while there is plenty of very outdated language (namely, referring to Queen Elizabeth I as a “great man”), there are also some ideas that must’ve been quite progressive for the time. One passage presents Toussaint L’Ouverture, leader of the Haitian Revolution, as more of a patriot than Napoleon, Cromwell or even George Washington. Of L’Ouverture, Kenwill states, “This man risked his empire rather than permit the slave trade in the humblest village of his dominions.”

Another hero Kenwill mentions is General Samuel Armstrong, with whom she worked at the Hampton Institute (now Hampton University), a school for Black and Indigenous peoples.  Kenwill went on to become the first music teacher at UConn, making her quite the early icon at the university. Reading about her has led me to wonder why she is not more celebrated here today.

One last thing to highlight from the first volume of the Lookout is an editorial called “Student Life at S.A.C.,” examining the schedule of the typical student. Some facets of the schedule seem to have remained mostly unchanged, with students having to get up early for breakfast, but from there things change drastically. Since Storrs Agricultural College was a trade school, instead of possibly going to an 8 a.m. class, students would “report for work at the place assigned” to them, which was either the horticultural department or on the farm. Afternoons more closely resembled the afternoons of students today, as classes were between 1 and 4 p.m. After classes were over, however, mandatory three-night-a-week military drills took place,followed by mandatory chapel. Along with mandatory chapel, students were also supposed to attend church on Sundays.

It is clear that much has changed since the original editors decided to create the Lookout, and goes to show the importance of having a campus newspaper at any point in history. Simply because a handful of students decided to create these documents back then, more information is now available about our past today. With that said, to my fellow Daily Campus writers, we should all think about how each time we write an article, take a photo or work production on the paper, we are creating primary sources that our successors at UConn will learn from for generations to come, and that’s something to take serious pride in.

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