1967: Williston Academy’s Literary Society had, for many years, published an oh-so-serious magazine called The Scribe. Imagine, then, the excitement when the Society announced that they would depart from venerable tradition and attempt a humor magazine. The first, and only issue of The Jester appeared in the winter of 1967. Almost immediately, certain elements in the administrative hierarchy objected to the cover on grounds of taste, until it was pointed out that the navel in question, which belonged to our champion diver, was on display in the pool every afternoon.
51 years later, this seems relatively innocuous. Tasteless, yes, but hardly provocative. But our plan to republish substantial excerpts here was somewhat modified when we realized that by 2018 standards, the magazine was so replete with trademark violations, potential libel suits, and what are now called “trigger warnings,” that we had to be very selective. Plus: some of it was too insider-obscure to resonate today, or just wasn’t very funny.
But much of it was funny, or clever, and still is. Perhaps against our better judgment, here are excerpts, beginning with a parody of that prep-school classic, The Catcher in the Rye.
Williston Seminary’s first Principal, Luther Wright (served 1841-1849), was reputedly a great believer in the order of things. Early on, he had printed placards, posted in every student room, which quickly became known as the “23 commandments.” This set of regulations was considered so comprehensive, of such educational and moral impact, that they remained on the walls, contents unaltered, five Principals and four decades later. Professor Henry Alford, who had strong opinions about most things, had cause to comment in the 1880s.
In his History of Williston Seminary (1917) Principal Joseph Henry Sawyer (taught from 1866; Principal, 1896-1919) commented that “they are rules which all schools must have,” but even Sawyer, a master of tact, marveled at the level of what adolescent boys must have considered petty detail. One of Wright’s placards survives to this day:Here are the two sides, in more readable detail. (Click on images to enlarge.)One can imagine the students’ attitude toward the prohibition of gathering in groups on Saturday night, or might wonder whether most sixteen-year-olds could sit without tipping their chairs.It should be no surprise, then, that by 1846 Mr. Wright’s “young gentlemen” had produced a wickedly funny parody of the school catalogue. (This, incidentally, gives us a “no later than” date for the Regulations placard.) Not only did the parody capture and inflate the moralizing and rather effusive marketingese of its model, but the typography and layout were such that the fake could easily have been mistaken for the real thing.Wright’s 23 commandments had expanded to 25. Together, they suggest aspects of day-to-day Williston that he probably preferred had gone unrecorded.For further exploration of administrative attempts to regulate student lives, please see “Thou shalt not . . .” (Because, boys and girls, it’s good for you, and you’ll thank us later.)
A new school year is upon us, with all the annual rituals that accompany it: friends to be made, rooms decorated, class schedules to figure out. An essential opening-of-school tradition is our attempt to instill into all our students’ consciousnesses the concept of “A Certain Minimally Consistent Standard of Behavior,” also known as “The Rules.” Yes, friends, this is when Alma Mater actually asserts her rights in loco parentis.
When I began to compile this essay, it occurred to me that it was a great topic for alumni input. A brief and wildly unscientific sampling of Facebook friends elicited many responses, some of which are reproduced here. But Amy Goodwillie Lipkin ’77 noted, “what I thought was ridiculous in my mind as a 16-year-old, I may not see as ridiculous now as an adult.” It’s a good point, one with which most parents or deans, if not every teenager, might concur. On the other hand, alumni recollections suggest that sometimes, even after many years, passions, or at least the memories of outrage, run high. It is also a reminder of the essential conflict between common sense and regulatory detail. Even today, the idea of having, say, a simple conceptual dress code of “neat, clean, and appropriate” is utterly impractical in a community of approximately 700 students and adults, who will voice as many opinions over exactly what that means.