July 24, 2020

SULLIVAN BAKER | A Shattered Rock and Opened Gates

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In 1943, as World War II raged in Europe and Pacific, Ithaca lost The Cornell Daily Sun. From its ashes sprang an unfamiliar new paper, The Cornell Bulletin, which would exist for three years until The Sun returned to campus. Though The Bulletin was short-lived, its impact would be felt far beyond its run of publication, because it inaugurated a new era of Cornell student journalism. The paper’s inception marked the end of The  Cornell Daily Sun’s systematic exclusion of women from leadership, which had persisted since 1880. The Bulletin was the first Cornell paper of record with women at the helm, and these groundbreaking student journalists ensured that the gates of the reestablished Sun would be permanently open to women.

Any reader who picked up the first issue of the Cornell Bulletin, published on November 5, 1943, would have glanced at the front page to find a jarring editorial entitled “Hail and Farewell.” “The exigencies of wartime,” the piece declared, “have shattered even the rock that was The Cornell Sun,” and the paper no longer had the funds or the staff it needed to stay afloat as a financially and editorially independent entity. As a result, The Sun ceased publication, and the university stepped in to underwrite The Bulletin, a free, weekly “Cornell newspaper devoted exclusively to Cornell news.” Because The Bulletin would be Cornell-funded, readers would notice some changes. Editorials, The Bulletin cautioned, might be “more reserved in dealing with controversial material” than editorials in the independent Sun, but the paper would still “welcome student expression” by publishing a range of pieces by readers on important local issues, even if the paper itself would refrain from taking the bold stances that defined Sun editorials. And while The Sun had run news from the Associated Press along with popular comics like Li’l Abner, The Bulletin would substitute such non-local content for “more extensive coverage of campus activities.” Evincing an attitude of wartime restraint, the editorial also urged readers to take only one copy of The Bulletin per week to ensure that supplies of the paper wouldn’t run out, even though it noted that high demand would be a sign of success. And although The Sun Cornellians knew and loved was gone, the editorial emphasized that its absence would not be permanent; rather, the paper had “merely enter[ed] a state of temporary hibernation” after holding on to its wartime independence for longer than any of the other college papers in the East.

Before The Sun began its hiatus, it reached a momentous milestone by electing its first ever woman editor-in-chief, Guinevere Griest ’44. Prior to Griest’s election, women had been confined to a separate women’s section editorial board, which had been established (after “considerable debate”) in 1917, the year the United States entered World War I. Until the women’s section was founded, women were completely barred from The Sun, with the notable exception of Jessie M. Boulton ’84, who served as the literary editor on the 1883 editorial board.

Despite decades of exclusion, the dearth of men brought on by the war meant that The Sun had little choice but to end its sexist discrimination, and Griest siezed the opportunity to lead the paper. Though her election was a historic campus event, Griest did not become the first woman to actually serve as the editor of the independent Cornell Daily Sun, since the paper’s governing board shut down the publication before she could take the helm. Instead, she was forced to take office as editor in chief of The Bulletin.

Though Griest never got to lead our institution’s venerable daily, she went on to have a distinguished career.  Following her graduation from Cornell, Griest earned a PhD in English Literature from the University of Chicago, conducted research on a Fulbright grant at the University of Cambridge, and published a book on the development of Victorian literature. Afterward, she embarked on a long career at the National Endowment for the Humanities, where she spearheaded fellowship and research grant programs to support scholars studying literature and the arts.

And Griest wasn’t the only trailblazing woman to lead The Bulletin. She was succeeded by two other women editors in chief, Margaret Hammersley ’45 and Sylvia Siegal ’46, who both presided over boards on which women outnumbered men. Hammersley’s time as a campus journalist formed the foundation of a long career as a reporter in Buffalo, New York. A 1949 Glamour magazine profile of Hammersley, then a city staff reporter for the Buffalo Evening News, wrote that the young journalist  “blesses her extra-curricular grounding in all phases of news work, so glad she’s an ‘ex-editor—college style.’” And the foundation she built on East Hill served her for more than half a century; the Buffalo News published her byline as recently as January 2004, nearly 60 years after her graduation from Cornell.

Three years after the suspension of The Sun, the publication returned, as did many of its men, one of whom, Harold Raynolds Jr. ’48, succeeded Sylvia Siegal as editor in chief. On Oct. 11, 1946, the newly-reestablished paper published its first postwar issue, in which it made a firm “Statement of Policy,” an assertion of its journalistic independence and its resolve to serve both Cornell and the town of Ithaca. Looking beyond its local communities, the paper expressed its hope for a future defined by peace, prosperity, and respect for personal liberties in the wake of the world’s deadliest armed conflict

The systematic exclusion of women in which the pre-war Sun had engaged was blatantly inconsistent with these lofty principles of equality and liberty, and The Sun’s women must have recognized this tension between rhetoric and policy. The women who had seized their rightful places at the helm of The Sun and The Bulletin were determined not to cede the ground they had gained, and they held the paper to its professed values.  Several days after The Sun returned to campus, it declared “Women Here To Stay,” and stated that, in the wake of the war, there “was never any question of the women again being confined only to a women’s page.” The paper announced that “the gates of the The Sun are open to women from now on, and they are encouraged to compete this year for positions on both the women’s and news boards.” The post-war Sun also opened its business department to women and eliminated its separate women’s business board. Sadly, however, this announcement of The Sun’s gender integration was made several pages deep into the paper and only in the still-extant women’s section, as if to suggest that its inclusive reforms were only of interest to women, rather than to the entire community the paper was meant to serve.

Although gender integration was far from a panacea for sexist discrimination, The Sun’s post-war reforms were a necessary stride toward gender equality and an important milestone for both the institution itself and the campus as a whole. But The Sun would likely have stood still had World War II not forced the paper to turn to women to sustain its operations. Without the disruption of the global conflict, women would likely have found it much more difficult to gain the foothold they could use to demand greater inclusion and equality.

The final paragraph of The Sun’s declaration of gender integration noted that two of its women editors were children of former “Sun men” who carried on their fathers’ legacies on East Hill. Their presence, the paper proclaimed, was proof that The Sun was “more than a mere activity — it’s a tradition!”  But these women did more than follow in their fathers’ footsteps; they laid the foundation for a new, proud tradition of campus journalism by Cornell women, one that continues in earnest today.

Of the 47 students on this year’s editorial board, 25 are women. Since 2000, The Sun has maintained a virtually-even gender ratio at its highest rank: Ten editors in chief have been women, while eleven have been men. Thanks to the trailblazing women of The Cornell Bulletin, The Sun’s gates are wide open.

John Sullivan Baker is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at jds526@cornell.edu. Regards to Davy runs every other Wednesday this semester.