The Spec-timeline: A hundred years of news and views

How The Spectator got its start
A comic drawn by Editor Clarence “Stub” Imislund that appeared on the front page of the first issue of The Spectator. (Photo used with permission from UW-Eau Claire Special Archives)
A comic drawn by Editor Clarence “Stub” Imislund that appeared on the front page of the first issue of The Spectator. (Photo used with permission from UW-Eau Claire Special Archives)

On Tuesday, Oct. 24, The Spectator will celebrate its centennial as UW-Eau Claire’s student-run newspaper. One hundred years of ink-slinging student journalists prioritizing chasing a good story over their schoolwork.

“The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire: A History, 1916-1976” names J. Hartt Walsh, the advertising manager for the campus yearbook The Periscope in 1923, as one of the “main instigators” of the newspaper’s founding.

In September 1923, Walsh and The Periscope’s Editor “Arn” Vollum set off to convince President Harvey Schofield that Eau Claire State Normal School needed a campus newspaper.

Walsh recounts Schofield initially nixed the idea but agreed that the school should have a newspaper at some point in the future.

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Unwilling to take “no” for an answer, Walsh used his advertising contacts and experience at the yearbook to sell enough advertising to cover a year’s worth of printing costs before reapproaching Schofield.

“I returned again and again and, finally, confronted with the blank dummy, the list of prospective advertisers with commitments, the print cost, et cetera, President Schofield reluctantly agreed that perhaps the paper ‘would go’ that year of 1923-24 with 300 out of 488 students subscribing to it,” Walsh said in “The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.”

President Harvey Schofield (middle row, center) and The Spectator advisers W.E. Slagg (middle row, third from right) and A.L. Murray (bottom row, far right) in a 1920 faculty photo from The Periscope. (Photo used with permission from UW-Eau Claire Special Archives)

And so with Schofield’s permission and under the supervision of faculty advisers W.E. Slagg and A.L. Murray — the English department chair who would have an Upper Campus residence hall posthumously named after him — the first issue of The Spectator came off the press on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 1923.

Since the full staff had not been selected prior to the first publication, Editor Clarence “Stub” Imislund and a team of volunteer reporters filled the four-page issue with stories about the Eau Claire State Normal School campus and the Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls area.

The front page highlights Eau Claire’s 16-14 defeat over Superior State Normal School’s football team and includes music professor Clara Mae Ward’s account of being the only person at the game rooting for Eau Claire.

In 1923, Eau Claire State Normal School boasted the highest enrollment numbers in the school’s history up to that point. A table included on page four breaks down enrollment by county and gender, totaling 493 students.

The 1923 school year began with six new faculty members and two professors going on sabbaticals to teach at other universities.

The Spectator used to run “squirms” that would narrate students and professors’ shortcomings, including quarrels between students, conversations about overcrowded classrooms and Schofield allegedly misspelling a professor’s name on payroll.

A poem illustrating the complexities of using news judgment, titled “Getting Out a Newspaper” was printed on the second page:

“Getting out a newspaper is no picnic.

If we print jokes, folks say we are silly. If we don’t they say we are too serious.

If we publish original narrative, they say we lack variety.

If we publish things from other papers, we are too lazy to write something ourselves.

If we stay on the job, we ought to be out rustling news.

If we are rustling news, we are not attending to business.

If we don’t print contributions, we don’t show proper appreciation.

If we do print them, the paper is filled with junk.

If we tell a lie, we are liars, and the truth is not in us.

If we tell the truth, they say the same thing.

Perhaps you will say we got most of this from another paper.

We did.”

Walsh delivered on his advertising promises and the first issue is peppered with advertisements from local businesses, including Culver’s — the shoe cobbler, not the Midwest fast food chain — and Eau Claire National Bank. If that last one doesn’t sound familiar, the advertisement identifies itself as “the bank with the clock.”

Also included on the second page was an open letter from Schofield, urging students to give their full support to the newspaper.

Schofield wrote, “I am glad, on behalf of the faculty, to welcome ‘The Spectator,’ the most recent addition to the Normal School family. It is a lusty youngster, and bids fair to live to a ripe old age.

“Most of the credit for the auspicious launching of our smart little newspaper craft is due to those now in charge, particularly to Joe Walsh, whom future generations of Eau Claire Normal students should remember as the young man who by his energy and business good sense was largely responsible for the present venture.

“But the students must do their part if this success is to continue. I should be pleased to see every student financially able to spare a dollar, become a subscriber to ‘The Spectator.’ I hope, too, that the student body generally will contribute to its news columns, through the channels that the editor may prescribe.

“I am positive that we are going to be proud of our newspaper,” Schofield wrote.

It is safe to say that after 100 years, The Spectator is no longer a “lusty youngster,” but a “ripe old” newspaper that the UW-Eau Claire community can be proud of.

I am certainly proud that amidst a troubling pattern of more local and student newspapers closing during the past two decades, The Spectator has managed to endure through the COVID-19 pandemic, major staff turnover and department changes.

Cheers to 100 years of The Spectator and here’s to many more!

In next week’s column, I will cover significant stories and changes to the paper during the first decade of The Spectator’s existence.

Editor’s note: Special thanks to archivists Sarah Beer and Greg Kocken of the Special Collections and Archives Department of McIntyre Library for their help with navigating The Spectator’s archive collection.

Kasper can be reached at [email protected].

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