Celebrating 130 years of student journalism at William Jewell College: A history of The Hilltop Monitor from 1894 to 2024

Previous issues of The Hilltop Monitor from 2001 through 2024. (Koda Rose/The Hilltop Monitor)

This year, William Jewell College celebrates its 175th anniversary as an institution of higher learning, but that is not the only milestone achievement that ought to be recognized. 2024 marks the 130th anniversary of The Hilltop Monitor, the college’s official student newspaper. Since 1894, students have been consistently passing the torch and upholding this tradition, making ours among the oldest and longest running student publications in the country. 

The Hilltop Monitor as we know it today originated under a different name: The William Jewell Student. Before 1894, there had been a scattering of attempts to get a regular student publication off the ground. According to the memories from the earliest editions of the William Jewell Tatler, the first student publication was called The Jewell. It began in 1874-75 and lasted only around five years or so, publishing irregularly. The idea of a student paper lay dormant for the next few generations of Jewell students. It was reawakened in the summer of 1881 according to an article in the Kansas Weekly Herald, but it wasn’t until the 1894-95 school year when it was revived definitively as The William Jewell Student. 

Initially, the paper was co-managed by Jewell’s reigning literary societies: Excelsior and Philomathic. These were honors organizations that taught language and communication skills, and they were instrumental to building a campus community in Jewell’s earliest years. The Student’s staff was traditionally composed of four Philomathians and four Excelsiors, a tradition that continued until around 1917-1918 when the literary societies began to fall out of style in favor of the successful debating society and increasing participation in athletics. 

In the beginning, it was a monthly paper on literature, science, and occasionally some general news about the college. For much of its life as The Student, the campus paper reported on all the major and minor happenings relevant to the student body. It published faculty profiles and course updates alongside local advertisements and the personal statuses of classmates. A subscription cost 50¢ per year according to “Cardinal is Her Color,” Jewell’s most recent comprehensive history written for Jewell’s 150th anniversary. The 1912 Tatler reports that, in the 1911-1912 school year, the paper started publishing weekly in addition to the usual monthly literary edition featuring works of creative writing submitted by students. 

After it left the hands of the literary societies, there was a period when The Student fell under the purview of the student government who were then responsible for appointing new editors for both The Student and the Tatler. Upon the introduction of journalism classes to the English curriculum starting in the 20s, maintenance of the paper transferred again to be the charge of journalism students and volunteers under a faculty advisor. 

The Student charged on under the guidance of Dr. Georgia B. Bowman, a staple of the English and Communications departments from 1947 to her retirement in 1980 (although she maintained a presence on the Hill as a welcome professor emeritus for several years following). The role of faculty advisor was then taken on by Professor Lois Anne Harris who began teaching the courses on journalism when she joined the Jewell community in 1979. 

Professor Harris oversaw the 1985-1986 editorial staff’s decision to change the name of the newspaper. In a recent interview by The Monitor, the chief editor at the time, Paul Paulter ‘87, recalled that it was a group decision spurred by repeated confusion when talking about the paper: “You know, you answer the phone, you [say], ‘The Student,’ and they’re like, ‘Oh, I’m looking for the student newspaper.’ ‘Yeah, that’s it.’ ‘Well, what’s the name of it?’ ‘It’s The Student.’” After collaborating with the editors, Professor Harris, the journalism classes, and members of faculty, a new name was decided on. It was even run by the Student Senate for approval among student leaders. During the brainstorming sessions, Paulter remembers “that there were names like, you know, The Monitor or The Post or the whatever by themselves, but there was a thought that we wanted to have it [be] something uniquely Jewell-like. So, we worked in the Hilltop part. I remember that being a portion that we wanted to work in; something that seemed that was in the Jewell parlance.” And just like that, The William Jewell Student was rechristened as The Hilltop Monitor we know today. 

As is to be expected with any shift in tradition, there was indeed some pushback for a few months after the new name was made official. For 92 years, the paper had been known under the same title, and it ruffled some feathers among current and former cardinals to see it renamed. The 1987 Tatler described The Hilltop Monitor’s first year as beginning “in a heat of controversy,” which Paulter says the staff at the time had not anticipated. “There was a period of time,” Paulter said, “where there were a lot of letters to the editor” from students and “old alumni who had written in and expressed some displeasure.” Laughing, Paulter admitted his greatest regret is that he was a bit flippant in his responses to the letters. Like so many chief editors before (and after) him, the paper was a significant part of his Jewell career. “To be honest,” he said, “I look back with a lot of pride for the newspapers we put out for those couple of years. We did a good job and put forth some good papers.”

Having been continually in print for 130 years now, The Monitor owes its longevity to the fact that it is exceptionally flexible, always adapting to the changing needs of its students. In the first issue of the 1912-1913 school year, a letter from the editors reads, “The Student is an enterprise in which the whole school is bound up. It will depend upon the whole school for success, and its success will largely depend on how the school responds to this dependence. […]

“The Student, if it is the paper it ought to be, is an assembling of a number of ideas. The more and varied these ideas, the better the paper. The staff, of course, intends to put the best brains it has into the publication, but the staff doesn’t think for a minute that alone, it can produce a periodical that will do justice to William Jewell College.

“Any newspaper, particularly a college newspaper, must progress, must change in order to be vital, to be interesting and of value, and to perform properly its function.”

While so much else has changed—the name, the staff, the frequency of publication, the subject matter, the method of delivery—this message continues to be true. Let us hope that for as long as Jewell stands atop her hill, The Hilltop Monitor will persist alongside her, informing the Jewell community and granting students the opportunity for their voices to be heard.

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