I’ve had the pleasure this week of collaborating with an anonymous Wikipedia editor on a history of the Yellow Journal–that scurrilous student humor magazine at the University of Virginia. In the process we found more than a few interesting points, like:
- The Yellow Journal was originally founded in 1912 by the journalistic fraternity Sigma Delta Chi, later to become the Society of Professional Journalists! Anyone who saw the 1990s incarnation (which I had a small hand in) knows how unlikely that origin story is… but it’s not only true, it’s attested in an official UVA history (Dabney, pp. 98-99).
- Perhaps because of the ΣΔΧ connection, the early Yellow Journal got press in the New York Times! The Times, which up through the 1930s still published bulletins about social doings in Charlottesville, had a nice article in 1913 about Easters which included a description of the Yellow Journal which is dead on: “…did not spare individuals, events or institutions in its ridicule and quips. It was well illustrated with appropriate cartoons. The character of the sheet can be best gathered from its motto, which is one of Mark Twain‘s witticisms: Truth is precious–therefore economize with it.”
- The YJ was first shut down over its scurrilous anonymity — presumably a perceived violation of the honor code–rather than its equally scurrilous content. (See, for instance, headline on the final 1934 edition above.)
- The reincarnated 1990s version of the Yellow Journal got tied up in UVA’s Supreme Court case over the funding of Wide Awake, thanks largely to the issue with the Sinéad O’Connor inspired picture of Pope John Paul II with the legend, “Tear Here.” As a result, about the only thing you can find about the late era YJ on Google is that it was “a humor magazine that has targeted Christianity as an object of satire.”
- The YJ’s “rejected Dr. Seuss titles,” originating as kickers (jokes along the bottom of each page) in a 1990-1991 issue, turned into a veritable Internet meme.
Alas, there isn’t much out there generally about the YJ. But a few alums and I have been thinking about republishing some of the best content from the 1990s run, maybe even turning it into something like a proper book. I’d love to hear from any Virginia alum who thinks that’s a great idea–or a terrible one. Also, if there are favorite memories about the YJ, please share in the comments.