History Lesson: The Haverfordian

The Haverfordian, started in 1879, was Haverford’s first literary magazine.

In 1879, the College’s three literary societies got together and decided that what Haverford really needed was a literary magazine. Thus was born The Haverfordian. Its wide-ranging aim, as declared by an editorial in its first issue, was to represent “the daily life and work of the students,” provide “an index of the culture and discipline received,” and offer “a means of inter-communication” with the increasing ranks of alumni.

The Haverfordian would become a constant of campus life for almost 60 years, though it would dramatically change its look and size over the decades, along with its content. In some eras, the student-run monthly printed a section of “alumni notes” and reported on College clubs and sports teams—particularly cricket and football. Later on in its existence, after a student newspaper had begun publishing, The Haverfordian focused on the strictly literary, with student-penned poems, essays, short stories, and book reviews. One of the magazine’s claims to fame: its pages hosted the first appearance of a fictional French detective named Henri Bencolin, created by John Dickson Carr ’29, who would go on to become a prominent mystery writer and devote a whole series of “locked room” mysteries to the Parisian sleuth.

For much of its life, The Haverfordian was sustained by subscriptions and advertisements, and the ads that appear in its pages offer a glimpse of the changing life and times of a Haverford man. In the late 1880s, there were ads selling English walking sticks, encyclopedias, and the services of a carriage maker. By the early 1900s, there were ads for spectacles, automobiles, cameras, and golf and athletic equipment. In the 1920s, one tailor advertised fittings for tuxedos conducted in Founders Hall, and another promoted “the popular suit for the college man,” a four-piece affair that included a coat, vest, trousers, and knickers for $45.

By 1934, the editors of The Haverfordian were lamenting “the absence of any interest in writing around this college,” and in 1938 they threw in the towel. The College announced a revamp of the journal, renamed The Campus Haverfordian, to be published semi-annually and edited by the head of the alumni association, a faculty member, and two students. Though short-lived (the last issue appeared in 1941), this publication focused on College news and aimed to be a communications vehicle between Haverford and its alumni—which sounds just like an early incarnation of what would become, nearly 20 years later, the alumni magazine.

—Eils Lotozo

“History Lesson” is a regular series in Haverford magazine.