Surely “cater to your customers” must be the most fundamental principle of marketing. When Williston Seminary’s campus newspaper, The Willistonian, made its first appearance in March of 1881 (making it, 118 years later, the oldest continuously published secondary school paper in the United States), its student editors sought to finance their enterprise by selling advertising. With a couple hundred teenage boys occupying the campus, local merchants sought to appeal to their wallets. Logically then, we can open a window into an 1880s adolescent’s mind by examining how, away from home and parental supervision, he wanted to spend his (or his father’s) money — or how local merchants wanted him to spend it.
Early issues of The Willistonian came in an advertising wrapper. The “front page” was actually inside. Because the paper was also sold by local merchants, a portion of the advertising was aimed at the general public. And industries like Glendale Elastic Fabrics — one of the late Samuel Williston’s enterprises — may have purchased space out of a sense of obligation to Samuel’s widow Emily, if not to the school.
The advertisements below are selected from the first three years of The Willistonian, 1881-1884.
“Opposite Williston Seminary” meant Shop Row, on Main Street. C. S. Rust appealed to young men’s fashion sensibilities.
F. H. Putnam was also in Shop Row. But just as it is unlikely that dormitory residents were buying much wallpaper, it seems unlikely that kangaroos wore shoes.
This is a somewhat idealized image of the campus as it looked in the early 1880s. North, Middle, and South Halls are in the foreground, left to right, with the gymnasium and tower in the background. These buildings stood opposite Shop Row and the Town Hall, in the photograph above.
From the 1870s on, photography was all the rage. Students had formal portraits taken for class publications and far less formal photos taken whenever the occasion warranted. Richardson’s stamp appears on the back of many images from the period.
More photography, and opportunity for students to learn dancing and swordplay. There were all kinds of ways to impress young ladies.
More essential services. Modern plumbing had not yet arrived in some of the Seminary buildings.
By 1884, the Seminary had contracted with a Northampton merchant to operate a school store on the premises. One wonders how nearby merchants reacted, the more so since the proprietor was offering incentives for Williston students to spend there. (This is, by the way, the earliest known mention of Shakespeare in any Williston document.)
High-wheeled bicycles were all the rage among young men. The modern bike, close to the ground, with wheels of equal size and gear-and-chain drive, would not catch on for another decade.
Your questions and comments are always welcome. Please use the form at bottom!