The Archivist’s Nook: A Historical Perspective on The Tower

A 12th anniversary issue on November 1, 1934, featuring an upcoming football.          Courtesy of CUA Archives

By William J. Shepherd, CUA Archives

American student newspapers began appearing on Ivy League campuses such as Harvard, Princeton, and Yale in the 1870s. It took a while longer for their Catholic colleagues to follow suit, with the founding of the Tribune at Marquette University in 1916, The Hoya at Georgetown University in 1920, and The Tower at The Catholic University of America in 1922.  Named after the center tower portion of Gibbons Hall, the latter debuted on October 27, 1922 as a four page weekly intending to “serve no individual, no group, no class; it is a publication in the interests of all students.” It also eloquently stated “The Tower is now a living being on the Campus, and will be kept as such only thru the wholehearted co-operation of all the students.”

With a price of ten cents per copy or $1.50 a year, The Tower was initially funded by the University and later by the student government, but also increasingly by advertising. It became more independent over time and in the 1960s reported in the midst of the tumult over University attempts to fire dissident professor Fr. Charles Curran for teachings contrary to the Church and the resulting student strike on campus. Tower reporters were also front and center for such notable events as the historic visits of presidents and popes to campus, including Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and John Paul II in 1979. Interestingly, in the 1970s and 1980s, before the advent of email, the unclassified section, where students could print anonymous messages for $1, was quite popular.

The first editor was W. T. Keavny, Jr., Class of 1923, a Law major from Connecticut. Jimmy Cassidy, Class of 2018, a Media and Communication Studies Major from Maryland, who has served since 2017, is the 123rd editor. The first woman to be editor was Mimi Reisman, Class of 1957, a biology major from Pennsylvania. Many student contributors went on to later fame (or infamy), including renowned photographer Fred Maroon, Oscar winning actor Jon Voight, Pulitzer prize winning New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, Washington Post Sunday editor James Rowe, former Republican National Committee (RNC) chair Ed Gillespie, and problematic NBC news anchor Brian Williams.

The print edition of The Tower has changed size several times in its venerable history: twelve by nineteen inches from 1922-1923 to 1925-1926; fourteen by twenty one inches from 1926-1927 to 1931-1932; seventeen and one half by twenty three inches from 1932-1933 to 1941-1944; eleven by seventeen inches from 1946-1947 to 1972-1973; eleven by fifteen inches for 1973-1974 to 2003-2004; and twelve by twenty three inches 2004-2005 to the present. The Tower transitioned to a digital layout in 2003 and in practice has become increasingly digital-only, with occasional print issues as advertising revenue permits.

University archives staff worked in 2008 with several campus departments, including Mullen Library and the Student Association General Assembly, as well as an outside digitization company, Olive, to get archived copies of the newspaper digitized and accessible online. The years 1922-1991 had previously been microfilmed, so these were relatively easy for Olive to scan. Print copies for 1992-2003 were digitized and the combined digital collection website went live in 2009. Additional years have been added thereafter so that coverage on the Olive site is currently 1922-2013. The most recent years can be accessed on The Tower’s website. The library stores backup digital copies and the Archives retains three sets of print copies whenever possible.

Link to original story, with additional images

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