From Harding to Trump: How the News has covered presidential elections

Image courtesy of the Mount Holyoke College Archives

Image courtesy of the Mount Holyoke College Archives

BY LINDSEY MCGINNIS ’18

CNN, Fox, MSNBC, CBS, ABC, NBC… Every one of the Mount Holyoke newsroom computers was live-streaming the election on Nov. 8, 2016. A small group of staff members had gathered there, two floors above the main viewing party in the Blanchard Great Room, to watch Hillary Clinton make history. It was their first election, as voters and as reporters, and one of the News editors had brought champagne to celebrate. 

Rewind 96 years, Mount Holyoke News was covering candidates Warren G. Harding and James M. Cox in the first presidential election since Congress passed the 19th amendment. In addition to covering  each candidate, the Oct. 29, 1920 issue ran more irreverent takes on “Super Tuesday,” including excuses for cutting class: “Dear Miss X: I am so sorry not to be in class Monday and Wednesday but I am going home to vote and I really feel that I should spend at least two days considering such an important matter.” 

Despite Cox’s support of the League of Nations — which earned him Mary Woolley’s vote — Harding’s “America first” campaign ultimately culminated in a landslide victory with 76 percent of the electoral vote. The first page of the Nov. 5, 1920 issue announced the winner along with “The Straw Vote,” a student and faculty poll which showed that students had overwhelmingly voted for Harding (512:187) and faculty for Cox (50:33). The students had won their first election. 

Last fall was different. In the 2016 election, the majority of Mount Holyoke students supported Secretary Clinton. Some lost hope when the Democrats lost Florida, some held out until Pennsylvania went red. Others stuck it out until 2:30 a.m., when Donald Trump’s victory in Wisconsin pushed him over 270 electoral votes. 

“For a lot of us, this was the most devastating thing that ever happened to us politically,” said then Editor-in-Chief Liz Huang ’17. “There was very scary rhetoric coming out of [Trump’s] campaign.” 

That Wednesday, as the majority of the campus grieved Clinton’s loss, Huang was thinking about the newspaper. With less than 24 hours until deadline, their planned content for that week’s issue no longer seemed relevant. “We thought, ‘If we change news, we’d have to change Op-Ed. Then again, what’s the point of running sports this week anyway?’” 

In the end, the executive board decided to scrap the paper entirely. Arts & Entertainment, Sports and Books did not run that week. News, Campus Life and Global got to work redoing their sections to focus on the election. Op-Ed would now be “dedicated to providing a platform for voices from the Mount Holyoke community,” according to the executive board’s statement.

By dinner time, the newsroom was full of activity. Staff rallied, workshopping articles with first-time contributors and helping the board reach out to organizations on campus.The original plan was to run eight pages, but they eventually filled 12. Op-Ed alone contained 13 articles, two statements from student orgs and a message from the newspaper’s executive board. 

“Even though it added stress to our lives, it was an easy decision to make,” said Marya Jucewicz ’17, the managing editor of content at the time. “Liz worked incredibly hard to make that issue happen.”

They entered the final edits around 5 a.m. on Thursday and went to bed. The paper was delivered in thick, inky stacks at noon. Printed on the front page was Langston Hughes’ “Let America be America again.”

“I was so happy to have worked with that team, for pulling off something so big and so important,” said Huang. “That was the proudest I had ever been.”

 

MHN 100 is a bi-weekly column celebrating the newspaper’s 100 years of student journalism. Archival copies of the Mount Holyoke News can be found at compass.fivecolleges.edu.

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