From the Argives: Bad Jokes, Skipping School, and Frederick Douglass?

sorry all the pictures have a weird green glow…

If, in the midst of enjoying your spring break (or laboring away on your thesis…), you find yourself wondering what Wes was like 138 years ago, never fear. I checked out the March 11, 1876 issue of the Argus and found a variety of interesting, amusing, and/or bizarre tidbits.

Anyone wishing to check out the Arguses (Argi?) hirself–which I highly recommend; they’re both fascinating and often hilarious–can do so in the main stack section of floor 3A in Olin, against the North Wall.

The contributors to the paper (who, for some reason, are not identified, despite the fact that “no anonymous contributions [were] received”) apparently had various complaints about the student body, including those who “have an exalted idea of their own knowledge,” and, especially, about the humor employed by said students, described as “poor jokes…bad puns, and…ineffectual attempts at wit.” Ouch. A few quotes are below, or you can read the articles in their entirety.

After a long description of the characteristics of certain know-it-alls: “When they leave college we shall follow their career with interest, confidently expecting that at last they will be universally detested or utterly unknown.” (Also interesting to note: the singular ‘they’ sounded just as grammatical in 1876 as it does now.)

“The person who uses such sarcasm [in retelling old and tired jokes] seems like a knight tilting at his enemy with a corn stalk.”

A delightfully ambiguous section titled simply “About Here” included a wide variety of apparently unrelated notes, some of which follow:

The results of an investigation of missing frosh:

skipping school

Songs about gun violence–how romantic!

A joke(?) about juniors getting drunk:

A picayune was a “small coin of little value.”

In 1876, the Argus reported if you fell asleep during a guest lecture.

Poor Johnny Peanut.

It also reported what your mom said in her last letter.


The editors were pretty snarky.


And (somewhat unsurprisingly) jokes were both distasteful and racist.

Talk about bad puns.

The editors did, however, have nice things to say about Whitman, who can “sharpen your rhyming capacities.”


Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of this issue is the following review of a guest lecture by “Hon. Frederick Douglas [sic]”, whom I can only assume is Frederick Douglass, famous black orator and abolitionist. (Yes, this is the lecture Johnny Peanut fell asleep at….) The Argus is surprisingly critical, given modern opinions of Douglass, describing much of his speech as in “the dullest kind of a fashion” and noting that “he [was] now to be admired for what he [had] been, rather than for what he [was].” They were, however, “very glad of this opportunity to see the renowned gentleman,” saying:

To gratify the public eye is as important as to please the universal ear, and some public characters are better to be seen than heard.

A few weeks later, Douglass gave the keynote address at the unveiling of the Emancipation Memorial and received a standing ovation. Huh.

Full text:

And finally, a highlight from the February 26, 1876 issue:

The use of firearms is becoming a serious matter about college. Firing about the rooms and out of windows puts somebody’s corpus in danger. A Sophomore just missed two Seniors lately, though aiming at a dog. A costly and elegant spittoon was shivered to atoms in the hall the other day, and somebody is a dollar and a half out. The editor’s clock, an heir-loom in the family, has been made to serve as a target, and now lies down to run. The doves about the premises are in jeopardy. Where is the enforcement of the law that will save us from this threatened destruction?

However scary some of the recent PSafe emails have been, I think we can all be glad that our corpora are not in danger from gunfire. Why anyone ever thought firing guns out of windows (at dogs, people, OR doves) was a good idea is beyond me.


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