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History of the Crimson Survival, Solvency, and, Once in a While, Something Serious to Editorialize About


Resting peacefully in a tattered red book which lies in reverence and dust somewhere high in the stacks of Widener are ten wistful and somewhat historical little words: "We earnestly request contributions from all members of the University."

This hopeful appeal for aid is buried in a mass of editorial trivia in Volume I, Number 1 of an upstart literary magazine which first made its appearance in January, 1873, sporting the title of Magenta.

The ten original editors could not have known that their brainchild was destined to survive with incredible stamina an epidemic of wars, fierce competition, and depression, and to emerge as today's thriving enterprise, The Harvard Crimson, Inc.

If anything, indications were that the bi-weekly 16-page collection of tidbits and fiction would soon be a nostalgic memento, hung on the walls of its first home, a journalistically uninspiring room in Stoughton Hall. Five previous publications since 1810 had folded, and the Magenta began under the inauspicious attitude of the Dean of the College who "expressed strong disapproval" of the venture.

But the paper ignored the Dean, managed to survive, and when the College officially changed its color in 1875 the Magenta followed suit and became the CRIMSON.

Gay 90's

Sports news played a very large part in the CRIMSON of the Gay 90's. Detailed accounts of the daily football practice were invariably given top billing, and minor jugglings in the JV crew boatings rated detailed accounts. There was a lot of talk, even in the paper, about over-emphasis of athletics, but even so, the CRIMSON published a series in 1893 giving a recapitulation of Harvard's encounters with Yale in every major sport for the past five years.

Beginning in the early '90's, however, the social club aspects of the '80's were giving way to a more serious concern with journalism. The good-time editors of the '80's had even written a drinking song about the CRIMSON, and while it survived until the '20's, Crimeds were obviously tiring of a schmaltzy song about a newspaper.

Not that the editors entirely renounced their pleasant vices. The paper's office moved around a good bit in those days and wherever it went there was a sanctum, the center of exuberant convivality. Franklin D. Roosevelt recalled years later the occasion of the transfer of quarters to the Union in 1891: "There was much fear that the new quarters would take away the espirit de corps which had grown up in the old sanctum, and also that no punch night could be held in the Union. Both fears proved to be groundless."

But if good times remained, they co-existed with serious journalism. In the 90's the custom of publishing extras after football games was born. The first experiment was in 1892 on the day of the Harvard-Princeton baseball game. The newsboys were in the Square just four minutes and fifty-four seconds after the game.

Competition arose to test the newfound sense of journalistic purpose. In 1894 the Daily News was founded which enjoyed a brief but respectable history, and suffered in a bitter and somewhat violent rivalry with the entrenched CRIMSON. The new-comer finally folded in 1895, and loyal Crimeds gathered in the Sanctum under the hastily constructed banner, "No News is Good News."

With the News out of the way, the CRIMSON was free to continue its gradual progress to financial solvency. In fact, mere solvency was replaced by unheard-of prosperity, and the Lampoon took advantage of the pleasant situation to issue the first local parody. Aided by a traitorous Crimed, the funnymen put out a spurious issue announcing, among other things, that the fat CRIMSON would give a $1 rebate to all subscribers who called at the office. The stunt left a good deal of hard feeling.

Beginning with President Lowell's active administration in 1900, the CRIMSON began to dig itself out of several ruts. Action pictures began to appear, and the typographical format was livened up. Editorials ceased to plod along, and news copy was generally sharper.

But if the editors had some reason to be satisfied with their products, they were not happy with their environment. By 1914 there was more than a little agitation for a private CRIMSON building. Undergraduate interest and graduate financing combined on the project, and in 1915 the CRIMSON ceased its nomadic existence and settled down at 14 Plympton Street, never to unsettle again.


No doubt for a while, CRIMSON editors treated their new quarters more kindly than successive generations would, and the paper was certainly kind to them in the first few successful years on Plympton Street. But it was too good to last, and the edition of April 5, 1917, announced with three-inch box-car headlines, "WAR."

The CRIMSON has had good reason to appreciate the high costs of war. Both world wars have virtually bankrupted it-and taken the lives of thirty-four editors. In 1917 the paper struggled on for the next eighteen months-and then capitulated.

At that point, the student body began to clamor for what they had so often clamored against, and the CRIMSON was resurrected as a feeble weekly only 20 days after it had ceased to publish.

After Christmas vacation in 1918, the paper was once again on a daily schedule, and the CRIMSON soon began to regain its former health. In 1919, the paper bought the 20-year-old Harvard Illustrated, a pictorial journal, and thenceforth published a bi-weekly photographic supplement. The next year, the progressive board also purchased a new press, which made the addition of a fifth column of news possible.

The larger paper was indicative, and what the Crime lacked in quality, it made up in quantity. On the day of the Yale game in 1921, for instance, editors spewed forth a 16-page edition, a 40-page pictorial supplement, a four-page post-game extra, and 45,000 song programs, which is a world's record for something or other.

The 1923 staff woke up one morning-if it had ever gone to bed-to find that the paper had survived for fifty years and appeared inordinately healthy. The New York Evening-Post called the Crime "a very fine and highgrade expression of the best student sentiment," while Mother Advocate, thinking back to the days when the paper was an upstart literary magazine, observed, "If the child is father to the man, the two are often strangely dissimilar."

Linotyping in the '20's was under the capable mismanagement of Dick Dyer, and credit goes to him for the worst "pruf hacks" (proofreading errors) of the decade. On one occasion Dyer, offended by the euphonics of Agamemnon's name, proceeded to alter it to "Agoddammit." Likewise, a bit of theological profundity on the merits of the Christian faith lost its effort in no small degree when the head above it appeared proclaiming "Christianity: A Positive Farce."

More seriously, the CRIMSON was for the first time overtly criticizing a University administration. The University's anti-theatre policy had resulted in the closing of the '47 Workshop and the resignation of Professor Baker to Yale. With the demise of the Workshop, the CRIMSON made its first of several attacks on President Lowell's regime. After that, the CRIMSON "viewed with disfavor" a whole series of actions, including College eating facilities, the inefficiency of the Harvard Athletic Association, bureaucratic red-tape, the handling of the athletic rupture with Princeton in 1926, a rise in tuition, and the brutality of Cambridge police in quelling a student riot in 1927.

While the editorial board was flexing its muscles, the news coverage of the CRIMSON was also developing, primarily along athletic lines. While sports stories abounded, when a policeman shot a Harvard student in October, 1928, the only notice given the affair in the CRIMSON was a small editorial sounding off against the indiscriminate use of firearms.

The Depression

In 1932, the Depression hit Plympton Street hard, and the paper could not meet mortgage payments, much less pay its normal operating expenses. Papers were small, advertisements few and far between, although deadlines were met, even at the personal expense of editors.

Even in the middle of economic crisis, however, Crimeds managed to disagree among themselves so violently that eleven top-notch editors resigned to launch a new daily, the Harvard Journal. Another battle, reminiscent of the almost forgotten News skirmish, was on.

What was left of the CRIMSON rallied around to wage a battle to the death with the rebel editors. The "100 Days War" ended by June, when the Journal editors had had it, financially and academically, and the Crime emerged victorious, not unchanged. The presence of a vigorous competitor had forced the CRIMSON to become

a far more modern and readable paper than it had been before the schism.

While the CRIMSON had numerous advantages and several disadvantages in the war with the Journal the real hero was Arthur Hopkins From 1929 until his retirement in 1964, chief linotypist Art was the hero of the nightly "Battle of the Bilge." It was he who guided the inexperienced editors through the 100 Day War and it was Art who again rescued the CRIMSON during the Second World War.

Tutoring Schools

Following the defeat of the Journal in the '30s?? the Crime's? next major opponent was the commercial tutoring schools. In 1939, when its conscience would have been hurt more by complacency than its pocketbook was injured by ?? the paper rejected advertising from what it called the intellectual branches and began a crusade which saw their abolition within a year.

The paper emerged from battle flushed with victory and financially very, very, able. Red ink was a thing of the past.

By 1948 the CRIMSON was fat and sassy and the 70th anniversary was an occasion of unstated-self-congratulation. The President of the United States took time out to write: "As an old CRIMSON man... I am sure that I voice the sentiments of all of that company of happy men when I say that none of them would exchange his CRIMSON training for any other experience or association of his college days...."

There was little for that company of happy men to be happy about however as the undermanned staff found publication a terrific struggle during the early days of the war. The suspension of the paper on May 27, 1943, had appeared inevitable for quite a while.

Before it quit the CRIMSON set up a Graduate Board to keep a watchful eye on its temporary successor the Harvard Service News. The substitute was a four-column, semi-weekly semi-literate sheet that was not allowed to express editorial opinion. Although it was circulated free to military personnel. civilians in the University wouldn't take the Service News on a bet.

Nevertheless. the militarized sheet did improve and as a connecting link between 1943 and the post-war Crime . it was well worth the money it lost in three years of publication.

Gradually, more and more Crimeds returned to the College ready to resurrect the paper. Finally, on April 9, 1946, the CRIMSON reappeared. A black flag hung from the bronze ibis atop the Lampoon building to make things official.

The revitalization was swift and sweeping. The CRIMSON'S pen was mightier than the Service News sheathed sword, and other departments of the paper sprang into action under the guidance of experienced veterans.

Among the accomplishments of the post-war board was the $16.000 building fund of 1946-47 which provided much needed repairs for the Plympton Street headquarters.

1948 marked the diamond anniversary of the publication that was no longer a diamond in the rough. President Conant said: "As a former editor of the paper. I send you hearty greetings on this memorable milestone. All who have had the privilege of seeing the University through the CRIMSON'S eyes have been especially privileged."

The next two years were a time of parody rivalries, full-page features and lightning extras. Although the CRIMSON has changed considerably in the post-war decade the transition of the paper has been graded. Sweeping changes did not occur possibly because of complacency, but undoubtedly because the immediate post-war formula has proved very successful.

Editorially the paper struck a balance between college and national topics and opinions were strongly expressed. In news coverage, the paper tended to become more judicious than the 1946-47 editions but a distinct crusading spirit remained.

The early fifties provided the most significant issue of the post-war decade. the Communist witch-hunts engendered by the late Senator McCarthy. The University found itself in the midst of the controversy and no one connected with Harvard voiced stronger support for academic freedom than did the CRIMSON. In 1949 the paper published the first of its annual extensive reports on academic freedom.

Reflecting an important change in the University, the CRIMSON accepted Radcliffe girls as full members of the paper in 1947. Although Cliffie representation on the staff has always been small, girls have held important posts.

The discovery by a Cliffie, the assistant managing editor, that the College had decided to issue diplomas in English rather than the traditional Latin led in the Spring of 1961 to the famous Latin Riots when more than 4000 chanting students proclaiming "Latin Si! Pusey No- " marched through the streets of Cambridge.

CRIMSON news stories in the Spring of 1962 first called attention to the research with consciousness-expanding drugs such as psilocybin by Richard Alpert and Timothy Leary. A University investigation of their work led to a restriction on their research. the University contending they did not exercise proper scientific caution. In Spring 1963 a CRIMSON extra announced that Alpert had been fired for viola?? agreement with the University not to give drugs to the undergraduates.

But during the past five years. the most important changes have been in the CRIMSON'S organization. In the early summer of 1965, the paper bought its own press and linotype equipment from the printing company next door, which had been doing the CRIMSON on a contract basis for decades. The purchase gave the CRIMSON much added flexibility. In February, 1964, it printed 104 pages: a year later under the new arrangement, it printed 142. The average paper became eight rather than six pages.

The CRIMSON'S new print shop, under the direction of Frank T. Rogan also acquired new equipment to make the operation more efficient. The biggest addition came in 1966 when two new presses-one for eight-page papers and one for single-sheet "extras" -were installed.

Other things at 14 Plympton Street have changed. Cliffies have moved into increasingly important positions on the paper: four years ago. Faye Levine 65 became the first Cliffie Executive Editor and three years ago Linda McVeigh 67 was named to the paper's second highest position, Managing Editor.

The CRIMSON of today bears little resemblance to the Magenta . A large business with a gross of almost $200.000 a year, it publishes a daily newspaper (six days a week and recently expanded to eight pages a day) with a readership of approximately 20.000. In addition, the organization issues several auxiliary annual publications such as a weekly eight-page supplement. The Confidential Guide to Courses. The Collegiate Guide to Greater Boston. The Harvard-Radcliffe Telephone Directory and The CRIMSON Photo Annual.

Undoubtedly a discreet policy would dictate keeping as much as possible of this sentimental mush from the public. but the CRIMSON was not proud about "earnestly requesting contributions" back in 1873, and it is doubtful that it will be humble about announcing in the years to come that it has managed to survive without them.

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