When The Crimson—then known as The Magenta—first appeared in 1873, all staff members voted on editorials, which is the procedure today. However, the reporters who broke the news every day were the same staffers who wrote the editorials; there was no separate editorial board. When The Crimson went daily, its editorial content became the express domain of its president, which lasted until 1911, when President Daniel Nugent, Class of 1911, established a separate editorial board, which has been a key fixture in the Harvard and local Boston community ever since. To be perfectly honest, it should be said that even in 1911 the Crimson’s higher executives had a much more influential voice when it came to staff editorials; by the mid-1930s, formal editorial meetings, open to the entire staff, were held regularly as they are today.
In the last one hundred years, The Crimson’s editorial board bore witness to a century that involved the greatest conflicts in human history, the rise of American supremacy, and explosive social revolutions right outside its headquarters at 14 Plympton Street. Given Harvard College’s changing demographics—and the quick turnover of the editors in charge—few generalities can explain our often inconsistent staff positions. However, a 1957 editorial articulates pretty well what can be said about the tradition of Crimson editorials past and present: Crimson editorials, the piece says, “say something about the need for imagination (and realism) in foreign policy, boldness (and gradualism) in domestic policy, and House-ification (and money) in University policy.” More or less, the same is still true today.
People often ask us why a university daily like The Crimson deals with events outside the Harvard community, and we respond that ever since Harvard became an institution involved in national and global affairs, The Crimson has, too. Of course, when the paper was first created, that was not the case. As Greg Lawless ’75 wrote in his 1980 history of The Crimson, “If, several centuries hence, the paper were to remain the sole document of the period 1873-1923, historians studying that period would come away with the distinct impression that the United States was largely a nation of sporting gentlemen who were concerned with their inadequate dormitories, boardwalks in their poorly drained school yards, the latest developments in the progress of football, track, and baseball teams, University teas, and the elegant abstractions of men named Eliot, Lowell, Norton, “Copey,” and Kittredge.” But with the dawn of World War I—and the subsequent conflicts that followed—Crimson editors began writing about the events outside of Cambridge that would shape their own futures and that of Harvard University. The tradition continues today.
Without further ado, we invite you to celebrate with us the unique history of The Harvard Crimson Editorial Board in its centennial year. Check back each month this semester as we retrace different aspects of Harvard history through the eyes of The Harvard Crimson.
(Sources: Pusey Archives, The Harvard Crimson Anthology: 100 years at Harvard, ed. Greg Lawless.)