Student Dissidence in the 1840s.

The 1840s saw a sharp increase in the number of student publications (at least of publications of which we still have a record). The most famous of these was The Dartmouth, which was first published in 1799 as The Dartmouth Gazette. Operation of The Dartmouth continued throughout the 1840s, but then printing ceased and was not resumed until after the Civil War, in 1867. In The Dartmouth student could published articles and prose on various topics. The language used was many times quite condescending. In a volume from 1842, for example, an article appeared, ridiculing the French Canadians:

“For the last century and a half, apparently, they have introduced no improvement unless forced upon them by the English part of the population… They have no aspiration for anything higher or nobler than a dead, stupid level, where they may grind out their existence by dull, unmitigated toil… We are sufficiently prone to boast of the qualities of the Saxon race ; but the most impartial observer cannot be blind to the difference existing between the English and the French in Canada. The one race is thoughtful and efficient, keeping pace with the progress of the world ; the other is plodding and stationary, permitting centuries to still the march of them in the itinerary of the world’s advancement.”

Another article, published  the same year, described the life on a certain plantation. The depiction of the slaves is extremely explicit, even for this period:

“At length they had all gathered together, the beasts were placed in their pens, and the master allotting to each the work of the ensuing day, they separated to meet again when the evening should fairly come, and mingle in the dance…the stillness of the hour was alone broken by the music of the rude instruments of slaves, and the thoughtless beings were moving to its measure.”

Other articles, however, featured quite progressive points of view. For example, in the same year, 1842, an analysis of the character of Shylock from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice was published. The author discussed Shylock’s Jewish heritage:

“In judging the character of the Jews as a class, we are too apt not to discriminate between the effects produced and the cause producing… We give them no place in our thoughts, but our feelings, our prejudices are excited against them. Hatred, here, is not guided by reflection ; receives no direction, no softening by charity or sympathy. Their misfortunes and their crimes, wrongs received and wrongs committed, are alike their condemnation. Laid, as it were, upon a Procrustes, bed, they are tortured to a given amount of hatred, according as the feelings, habits, and customs of each age may dictate… O! when thou seest one like him, turn not aside in scorn, but bend thy thoughts within, upon thine own heart and ask thyself, ‘Is not this my brother?'”

One of The Dartmouth’s editors, James Osgood Adams, worked for the first abolitionist publication in Hanover, The People’s Advocate. In a letter from the 1880s, he mentions this paper:

“There was a paper printed for a time called the Advocate (People’s) by “St. Clair & Briggs”—it seems to me two papers were printed one for N.H. and one for Vt.—afterwards united these provided at H[anover] – It was an abolition journal. I took the contract to do the work on it lythographically [sic.] & made money enough to pay my college bills for a time.”

In the margins of these mainstream publications, different pamphlets were printed, more satirical and scorning in nature. The earliest publication of which a copy survived was The Hawk, published in April, 1844. The main target of ridicule, a theme that repeated itself in the student papers that followed, was members of the faculty. The authors sometimes used religious motifs, for example by parodying catechism.

The next surviving satirical publication was The Northern Lights, from March, 1846. Again, the main target of ridicule was the faculty. The writing in this publication was more explicit, and included, among others, a description of one professor breastfeeding another professor, as well as an obituary written about the Dartmouth Phalanx (the college’s paramilitary organization). The students’ opinion on The Northern Lights seemed to be ambivalent. One student, in a letter to his father, describes it as “a scurrilous paper published & distributed by unknown hands through the village.” Another student describes it to his brother as “kind of gleaners, haws or crows, as they are sometimes called, calculated to blow up the faculty, full of fun & take-offs, the genuine college wit.”

The next publication to appear was Old Grimes. Three volumes were published in April, June, and July, 1848. Again, the anti-faculty theme persists. The “nunnery,” a school for girls managed by the College’s Liberian Oliver Hubbard and his wife Faith, which mentioned in numerous OEstrus jokes, is first mentioned in Old Grimes. The authors also mention the US-Mexican War (erupted in 1846), writing that “a soldier was wounded in hat in Mexico.” In a letter to his father, one student mentions the paper, saying that “three numbers of a paper has been published this term (called Old Grimes). They were probably printed privately in the rooms of some one of the students.”


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