The first part of the 1921 Yellow Journal


I’m gradually scanning and uploading the pages of the April 1921 Yellow Journal, that scurrilous anonymous satirical broadside at the University of Virginia. This morning I’ve uploaded pages 1 through 4 along with an index of the stories. The pages available through my site are 100dpi PNG files; TIFFs have also been produced.

For now, these are scans of photocopies, as I’m reluctant to subject the fragile newsprint to my color scanner directly (mostly because every time I unfold it I run the risk of cracking the pages). I intend to get scans of the original artifact, but these black and white copies hopefully give some flavor of what the original is like.

My favorite excerpt from the issue so far may be the one liner on page 3: “Mike Wagenheim says that Norfolk is the greatest town in this state. Quite right. No other town could be in the state that Norfolk is in.”

Virginia Glee Club: the musical comedy years


No, that’s not a typo, and no, I didn’t post the wrong picture–at least, not if the attributions in the Holsinger Digital Collection at UVA are correct. Today’s stroll down history lane with the Virginia Glee Club covers an era in their history which is, perhaps justifiably, forgotten–their days as a musical theatre troupe.

To understand how a group founded on moonlight serenades, that eventually became a serious musical organization, spent time in the footlights with greasepaint and drag clothing, it’s helpful to go back to the re-formation of the Glee Club in 1910. At that time, the Glee Club, after a few years without any qualified student direction, reconstituted itself, responding, according to University historian Philip A. Bruce, to the disbanding of the musical theatre group the Arcadians. Through contemporary eyes, it’s easy to read this as meaning that the students from that group of musical players saw the error of their ways and became serious choral singers. Apparently not. Instead, this incarnation of the Virginia Glee Club appears to have arrived to fill a market void and spent at least some of its time doing real musical theatre.

And by musical theatre, I mean drag. The photo above, taken by the Holsinger photographic studio on April 4, 1916 (note the date), is attributed to the Glee Club with a question mark, as if to say, “No way!” Alas, other documentary evidence says “Way!” I have in my possession a copy of the April 1, 1921 edition of the Yellow Journal, the University’s anonymous satirical newspaper, in which a reviewer describes a performance of the Glee Club’s April Fools show for that year, “The Visiting Girl”:

“The Visiting Girl” presented by the University of Virginia Glee Club, John Koch, president, director and chief actor. Jefferson Theatre as an April Fool joke, April 1, 1921. We last saw this show in December and later we saw it in Richmond during February. If it hasn’t improved, and we doubt whether it has improved, we advise you not to go to see it. … The chief attraction of the show is Jack Parrott as a girl and John Koch as a rube. Jack plays his girl’s part very well, though he is a bit awkward. The girls’ chorus looks about as much like a bunch of girls as a litter of pups does. …

I could write it off as satire, but then there’s the ad in the back pages of the paper (the ads, while written to be funny, all are for real products or events):


University Glee Club


Suggestion: Why not cut out the “musical”?

Suggestion: They might cut out the “comedy” too.

The YJ’s hostility to the performance is partly a put-on (they spend the whole issue carping about class issues, and there’s “no one notable” in the Club), but the event is all real. It may well have been an April Fools tradition, judging from the dates of the evidence points, but the events were clearly real.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out other photos from this era in the Holsinger archives. Yeah, the Glee Club did some of their “musical comedy” in blackface. I guess this isn’t surprising in a group doing musical comedy in the South in the early 20th century, but it’s still sobering to realize that the Glee Club really was of its time.

The First and Second Comings of the Yellow Journal


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.