Welcome to the history of the Rocky Mountain Collegian

Greetings. You are reading the first blog about the 125-year history of the Rocky Mountain Collegian, the student newspaper at Colorado State University.

This blog evolved out of a project underway to update a history book about the Collegian’s first century. “The First 100 Years” was published in the 1991-92 school year.

Now, in the 2016-17 school year, the update of the book is moving forward to include the last 25 years, back to the 1992-93 school year. The end product will be “The First 125 Years.”

As part of this blog, we’re asking former and current Collegian employees—and, for that matter, any readers from any decade—to contribute guest essays that relate, somehow and in some way, to the newspaper’s history.

If you’re interested in contributing an essay now or in the future, send an email to collegianhistory@yahoo.com.

{Read a PDF of “The First 100 Years”}

The Collegian was launched in December 1891. Back then, 100 students attended the school, known as Colorado Agricultural College. The school opened its doors in 1877 when the first five students began classes. Now, the enrollment is more than 32,000.

Printed on glossy paper less than the size of typewriter paper, the first Collegian was 12 pages, with more than 30 percent devoted to advertising. Only 190 college newspapers existed at the time. By 2016, almost every university, college and junior college publishes a student newspaper.

Advertisements from the first Collegian.

Advertisements from the first Collegian.

The first words in the first issue: “All progress is the result of mental activity….”  This proceeded into a lengthy esoteric, eloquent essay about the benefits of education, the search for God, the meaning of life and death, and the infinite depths of the human mind.

Taken from the winning speech in the college’s oration contest held a couple of weeks earlier, the essay was penned in the complex, formal language of the time period. It’s fun to read just to see what written language and student thoughts were all about in those days.

A poem and one other article — an essay on an imaginative and idyllic Thanksgiving — were the other main editorial offerings. The poem was about how adding tender to a campfire is like stoking one’s hope in life.

Like a Tweet before Tweets: The early Collegians were published monthly, often with news of what readers of today might consider gossip—that is, blurbs and short quips about the activities of students and professors.

With the small student enrollment, the campus was similar to a hamlet where everybody seemed to know everything about everyone. As a result, some of the information in the first issue was meant for insiders who already were privy to the background of issues.

There is no way of telling today what was meant by such lines in the first Collegian as:

Did you go left?

Are you a member of the family circle?”

Hand your dollar to “Tommy.”

And, of course, this mysterious numerical one-liner lost now in the long halls of history: 124.

{Read the first issue of the Rocky Mountain Collegian}

During its 125 years, the Collegian carved out a remarkable history. It helped shape the minds of students, faculty and community members. Its news coverage and editorials swayed elections of student leaders and campus issues; and even balloting in the city of Fort Collins and Larimer County. It was the local leader in advocating equality for races, religion, sexual preference, and many other issues, sometimes long before those issues emerged on the national scene.

The Collegian supported American World I and II efforts, strongly opposed the Vietnam War, and captured in stories, editorials, photographs and political cartoons such unusual times as “streaking” when hundreds of students raced naked back and forth on the lawn on the west side of the Student Center.

1896: The first photograph of a Collegian staff. When it came time in June 1896 for the Collegian to publish the traditional biographical sketches of graduating seniors, the staff members didn’t let anyone off their witty hook. About editor R.W. Hawley (standing in the middle of the back row), they wrote, “By actual measurement he is found to be five feet high and the ratio of his breadth to his height is 1:2. he wears a No. 7 1/8 hat; weighs 140 pounds, greater part of which is feet; has a warm heart especially for the ‘fair sex’ and among them he is known as ‘Robbie,’ which is quite significant.” Photo courtesy of Rocky Mountain Collegian.

The Collegian applauded individual students, skewered some, reported on tragedy, editorialized about student fee hikes, made students cry and laugh, and caused administrators to grit their teeth in sizzling anger. A few editors-in-chief were loved by readers. Others were hung in effigy from trees on campus…

Well, you get the point. For Collegian staff members throughout the decades, life often boiled down to staying ahead of the proverbial curve, falling behind the just-as-proverbial eight-ball, and learning, failing, getting back up, and succeeding—and then back to work to prepare the next issue. Oh, and then there were those pesky academic classes…

Work at the Collegian: I always encourage students—regardless of whether they are journalism and mass communication majors—to work at the Collegian as reporters, editors, columnists, photographers, graphic artists, or ad sales reps. About 2,500 to 3,000 students worked there throughout the 125 years. Many learned skills and a craft that benefited them throughout their lives.

The experience to be gained can best be explained by an editorial written more than four decades ago by Pat Noel, editor-in-chief during the last part of the 1973 school year:

“College journalism remains, for the most part, the last creative medium now published. Here, one can try on ideas, discard them, play with photographic layout, typography, toy with prose and rhetoric…All within the journalistic credo that there is no idea so sacred that it is not subject to questioning criticism and affirmation or negation as a result.”

For many reporters, editors and other employees, the Collegian was the first time (and, unfortunately, sometimes the last time) when they had access to a medium where they were the ones solely in charge.

Regardless of how the newspaper evolved and changed throughout the 125 years, one tradition remained strong: The Collegian has always been run by students. Their judgement calls were occasionally wrong; most often, good; and, to paraphrase a sentence in the first article in the first Collegian, the power of the mind began to unfold itself for them.

Examples of upcoming blog topics:

  • Sex and the Collegian
  • Collegian fights against racism when the KKK ruled northern Colorado
  • Burning of Old Main