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.
1932. The national economic depression was at its worst. President Herbert Hoover, forced to defend his record, was about to receive the worst electoral whipping ever at the hands of Franklin Roosevelt, who promised a New Deal for the American People. But even FDR’s most rabid supporters knew that recovery would take years. And the people who managed tuition-dependent private schools weren’t sure they had years. Williston Academy’s Headmaster Archibald Galbraith (served 1919-1949) was no exception.
To be sure, Williston was in somewhat better shape than some of its competitors. The 1920s had been reasonably good years for fund-raising. When the 1929 crash came, much of the school’s assets were liquid, since Williston was midway through a major construction project. So we were less affected by the implosion of the investment market. The construction of the Recreation Center (see previous post) proceeded on schedule, and the building was opened in 1930. But endowment was nearly nonexistent, and the pool of academically eligible students whose families could afford boarding school was shrinking.
One answer was more aggressive marketing. Gone were the days when a combination of alumni networking and discreet ads in a few prestigious magazines was sufficient to create a viable group of applicants for admission. Galbraith needed to cast his net wider, to appeal to families that perhaps had never considered private schools. Among the products of this re-thinking was a 1932 pictorial pamphlet entitled “Williston Boys at Home.”
The booklet is nearly devoid of text, in contrast to the dry, text-heavy and pictureless Annual Catalogue of the time. It manages to avoid nearly any mention of Williston’s crumbling Old Campus, although more than half the students lived there and all classes met there — in fact, whether through oversight or design, there is no reference to the academic program at all. This Williston is a place of hockey and dancing, theatricals and swimmin’ holes. Times are good. Williston boys are indeed at home.
(“Williston Boys at Home” was generously donated to the Archives in 2008 by Gordon Cronin of Taurus Books, Northampton, MA.)
Recently Williston Northampton announced an evolution in institutional iconography, with the introduction of a new “shield” logo and a redesign – not an abandonment – of the extant and, as shall be seen, hardly ancient “tree and mountain” seal. Predictably, the school receivedmany reactions, that ranged from enthusiasm to apoplexy. It may be instructive to look at school branding – for that it what we are talking about, a brand, a recognizable visual and textual representation of something far larger and more complex – through 171 years of history.
In the beginning . . .
. . . Samuel created the Seminary. And he looked upon the Seminary, and saw that it was good. So Samuel caused an image of the campus to be imprinted upon the stationery . . . and gave the matter no further thought.