Fridays With Fred: The Round Table
When I began my duties as Beloit College Archivist in 1986, there were several profoundly mysterious – and profoundly dingy - basements and attics on campus, where untold archival treasures lurked, hidden under shrouds of century-old dust. One of my favorite haunts was the basement of the Hull-Dyson Day Care Center, formerly the Kappa Delta sorority house. A spacious room featured rows of rusting file cabinets and stacks of sagging cardboard boxes and splintery wooden crates. During one of my ventures down there I struggled to heave a carton from its mountain peak and, after inhaling the sands of time and sneezing violently, I pried it open. What I discovered was rather unusual – packages of single, unbound copies of The Round Table, dating between the 1880s and 1916. Every package boasted a year’s worth of newspapers, cocooned in brittle brown paper and tied tightly with imperviously knotted twine.
The brown paper had seen better days, streaked black, scorched by a long ago fire. When I finally managed to open one up I discovered relatively pristine issues, each with original covers of heavier paper, known as “wrappers” back then. Few bound copies of The Round Table retain the wrappers, which typically displayed the Beloit College seal or a stylish masthead design. However, editors often published special issues with commemorative covers drawn or crafted by fellow students. Few of those seemed to have survived, so I was excited to find so many well-preserved examples in this trove of decrepit cartons, likely stashed here and there for decades. After my rescue mission, they found a less dusty, but no less crowded, home in the Beloit College Archives.
Although the wrappers are also brimming with descriptive advertisements for the college and for local businesses, this time we’ll focus on a dozen of the often artfully designed front covers.
The advent of coeducation at Beloit College in 1895 did not entail instant parity for the women in extracurricular activities. Men continued to head most editorial departments of The Round Table, including editor-in-chief. Women staffed the “Local” department and occasionally the “Literary” department. Once a year, however, senior women edited a special edition of the newspaper, taking on all editorial and writing positions.
Similarly, the college’s journalism class seized their opportunity once per year, as noted in the June 7, 1912 issue:
Well, here we are in print! We, the class in Journalism, after a semester of training in the newspaper arts, have been given a chance to air our knowledge before a generous public…Criticism we must expect (that’s the secret of improvement, we are told), but remember that we have passed but through the kindergarten of our journalistic schooling.
The Round Table sometimes celebrated anniversaries such as the college’s 60th in 1907. The cover portrays the limestone archway donated by the class of 1907, which once stood at the corner where the Poetry Garden is today. The ’07 keystone still exists, embedded at the top of a door opening to the west at the north side of Eaton Chapel.
1909 was both the year of the Lincoln penny and of a tribute by The Round Table to the 16thPresident of the United States. The issue included a detailed article about Abraham Lincoln’s visit to Beloit in 1859.
The college’s athletic teams during the late 19th and early 20th centuries often played and beat opponents from far larger schools and were especially strong in baseball, track, and football. Contests at home lured enthusiastic crowds from Beloit and neighboring communities. It’s no surprise that The Round Table concocted elaborate issues devoted to sports. This one from November 27, 1907 includes season wrap-ups, player profiles, editorial commentary, and a lengthy article by acting president and longtime professor, George Collie, entitled, “The Lessons of the Football Season.”
The college calendar extended into June back then, which provided much longer (and warmer) seasons for baseball and track.
From its earliest incarnation as The Beloit College Monthly in 1853, the student newspaper has published literary work, including poems, fiction, essays, satires, and parodies, sometimes interspersed with news stories and at other times via special issues or supplements.
The Round Table committed plenty of column space to the two campus museums after their founding in the 1890s and occasionally devoted nearly entire issues to their collections and development. “Unique Collections: Their Value to the College” and “How We Got the Greek Casts” are among in-depth articles from March 12, 1909.
The paper also dedicated covers to holidays, including Christmas, which inspired some of their most colorful designs.