The Spark: Looking at The Torch’s First Issue By Natalie Hallak
Since its foundation in 1870, St. John’s University has grown exponentially—and ever since its first issue in September of 1925, The Torch has been there to capture every moment. The Torch’s first publication came about right in the heart of the Roaring Twenties, written by students in their twenties. Headlining stories include the St. John’s law school opening, a record freshman class of 175, a promising year for the Red Men, and a new University president. Now, almost a hundred years later, the news is not so different; St. John’s is on the hunt for a new president, there are high hopes for the Red Storm basketball team, and the freshman class now has several thousand members.
In this first issue, the Torch editors establish that they have been “assigned the task of putting into print student life at St. John’s.” They emphasize that “the support of the men of the college is necessary in order to make the publication a success.” The audience of this newspaper—the student body—is almost entirely male at the time, although the waves of change are beginning to ripple as the University continues to grow. When reporting on the record-breaking freshman class—and the reporters are never named—The Torch says, “Never before has St. John’s needed as much the zealous support of its student body” to not only help the University “in its uphill fight for recognition,” but to stay true to the University’s values. Because the editors say The Torch is an assignment, a duty, it makes sense that they would place upon the student body a call to action of sorts—“that with the whole-hearted support of every member of St. John’s College, a publication will be sent forth of which Alma Mater may well be proud.”
In this time of growth and prosperity, The Torch’s establishment could point to an effort to give the campus an even stronger identity—a paper that is attempting to unify an increasingly diverse student body, and perhaps combat secularism. These 1925 articles suspend telling the news objectively; a voice is telling you what to think about the news. Concerning the announcement of Rev. Cloonan as St. John’s new president, The Torch writes, “The servant of the Creator has risen to splendor and a noon-day prosperity… To this man, the students of St. John’s Colleges extend their heartiest congratulations and good wishes. We rejoice at [his] appointment.” This is a radically different approach to the news than what one sees now at The Torch, and the change, in my opinion, is for the better. Though we do not know exactly what caused the initial spark that began the flame of The Torch, one thing is for sure: It’s still burning as bright as ever.
Natalie Hallak is a Junior English major at St. John’s University. She has many roles on campus, such as being a Writing Center Consultant, working as Head Copy Editor at the Torch, jamming out with the Pep Band, editing for the Sequoya, and serving as a Discover New York Peer Leader.
The University Archives holds nearly the full run of The Torch student newspapers from its inaugural issue of September 25, 1925 until the present. Its name was inspired by the Greek words in the university seal “a bright and shining light,” which refers to St. John the Evangelist’s description of St. John the Baptist (the university’s patron saint). The Torch made its appearance during the transformative era in the University’s history of the 1920s. While still officially named “St. John’s College,” the institution was well on its way to becoming a large university. During this decade, four new schools were established, three of which are still in existence: School of Law (1925), School of Accounting, Commerce and Finance (1927; now Peter J. Tobin College of Business), School of Pharmacy (1929), and the Borough Hall Division of the College of Arts and Sciences (1927). A second Brooklyn campus on Schermerhorn Street opened in the fall of 1929 to accommodate these new schools. Student life also blossomed in the 1920s – new honor societies, student organizations, publications, and traditions appeared.
Recent issues of the Torch are available online, while early issues of the Torch and many other student publications are available for research in the Archives.