BY LINDSEY MCGINNIS ’18
100 years ago on Oct. 3, 1917, Mary E. Aplin, class of 1918, printed the first ever issue of Mount Holyoke News with the help of Business Manager Catherine McCausland, class of 1918, and a small team of staff and reporters. A publication called “The Mount Holyoke” had previously taken on the mantle of both alumnae and campus news, to the dissatisfaction of most students.
Earlier that year, in June, the secretary of the Student’s League submitted a petition for a “weekly news magazine” that would keep the student body up-to-date and engaged with not only their own community, but the world around them. According to their research, three-quarters of the students were “decidedly in favor of this project and promise their support.”
So Aplin, a former editor of “The Mount Holyoke,” became MHN’s first Editor-in-Chief in her last year of college. If the 1917 Llamarada is any indication, this wasn’t a difficult decision. Aplin’s classmates described her as a force to be reckoned with:
“Be careful how you abuse the King’s English when Mary is in the vicinity,” it reads. “An exceed-the-speed-limit rate of talking, accompanied by a fascinating manipulation of the eyebrows, does not lessen the force or precision with which she speaks. Whoever has patience to decipher the cryptic characters in which her manuscripts are written is rewarded with refreshingly spontaneous tales whose originality and novelty are but a dim reflection of the kaleidoscopic variety of her personality.”
The first issue featured a welcome note to the class of 1921, academic department notes, an announcement of five free class opportunities (secretarial, home economics, Red Cross, war relief and gardening) and a Public Opinion section. One of the paper’s original sections, titled “Humor and Rumor,” was simply a collection of jokes and gossip related to students, including rumors “that Mr. Rinehart is detained in France as a German spy” and “that K. and M. were seen recently in Boston together (Freshmen need not read this item, as they will not understand.)” News on Mary Woolley’s welcome back speech and the loss of the state’s oldest and largest black walnut tree—their class tree—dominated the front page.
The first year of MHN, spearheaded by Aplin and McCausland, created a foundation for a century of student journalism at Mount Holyoke.
After graduating, Aplin worked in advertising in Philadelphia and, according to a 1923 Alumnae Questionnaire, attended Radcliffe for a short period of time. From 1920 to 1921, she served as an assistant to the editor for Woman’s Home Companion in New York, before moving to Hankow, China with her husband Henry Barton, who worked for the North China Department of the Standard Oil Company of New York.
McCausland, the barely 5-foot-tall business woman who today we’d call the newspaper’s publisher, went on to be an employment manager at several different companies across the United States, according to Alumnae Office records. She eventually settled down in Phoenix, Arizona, but lived a long and adventurous life. She and her family travelled to Mexico, Spain, France, Bavaria— a 1965 summer trip that resulted in a book deal for her husband George F. Spaulding— and more, before she passed away in November 1991.
Aplin, however, was not so lucky. She died suddenly, after a brief but undefined illness, in Shanghai, on Nov. 19, 1925.
MHN has obviously lived on, changing dramatically with each passing decade. With the rise of WWII, the 40s staff collaborated with the International Relations office to publish a column on U.S. foreign policy. From the late 60s to the early ’70s, the newspaper was retitled The Choragos, and become more political as the writers tackled Divestment in South Africa and civil rights. In the 1990s, The Mount Holyoke News won medals from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association, as well as the 1996 Pangynskeia Student Organization Award.
Today, you can read every issue of Mount Holyoke News at the college archives, where students and researchers use the newspaper as a window into the past.
“It’s definitely a strong [resource] in the fact that students are the ones writing it,” said Samantha Snodgrass ’18, a student archivist who curated “The Mount Holyoke News, 1917-2017: Celebrating 100 Years of the Independent Student Newspaper” last spring. “But I think it can be tough because you can’t always know the whole situation when you’re writing an article or necessarily the entire historical context.”
While individual issues of student newspapers may pose some problems as a historical record — lack of bylines in early publications are especially challenging — a collection of newspapers can easily reveal changes and trends over time.
“In the 1950s ,you couldn’t go a page without seeing a cigarette ad,” said Snodgrass, “which isnot the case today.”
This year, we hope to explore the legacy of the newspaper through a series of articles highlighting MHN’s coverage of everything from Title IX to “General Hospital.” Reporting on one’s own publication posses a lot of questions about journalistic integrity. However, it’s not without precedent, including newspapers like the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which investigated its own change in ownership in early 2016, and the New York Times, which regularly publishes commentary on its own archival records. This series will resemble the latter. By speaking with alumnae and studying past issues, we hope to learn from the newspaper’s failures and victories, and to prepare ourselves for the next 100 years.
Additional reporting by Emily Bernstein ’18.