Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Chaff was an illustrated monthly humor magazine published by the "Chaff Publishing Company of the University of Pennsylvania" from October 1882 to June 1884. The masthead for the magazine quotes Shakespeare's Twelfth Night: "If I lose a scruple of this sport let me be boiled to death with melancholy." The students who began Chaff saw life at the University of Pennsylvania as an opportunity to make sport and conceived of the magazine as the vehicle for spreading it. Written and illustrated by current Penn students, it published fictional stories, cartoons, poems, dialogues and articles that commented on happenings at "dear old Penn" and captured the life of the average college student of the day.
In the first issue, the editors boldly declare, "[Chaff] has now become a fact, and he hopes to be a very wise, active, prominent, frisky fact." They also address their detractors: "Some growler is heard in the distance: 'What do we want with a new paper, anyhow? What good'll it do us?' Dear growler, Chaff is like Beauty. He is his own excuse for being." When Chaff first appeared in the fall of 1882, the student-run Philomathean Society (popularly known as "Philo") had already been publishing a student monthly called The University Magazine for seven years. The Magazine began in 1875 as a publication venue for student literature and over the years expanded to include university news and coverage of university sporting events; "The Growler" was the section of the paper reserved for complaints. But only Philo members were permitted to edit the publication. Chaff, on the other hand, was started by an independent group of students. Rather than creating a rival literary publication or news magazine, they styled Chaff after existing college humor magazines such as the Harvard Lampoon and the Princeton Tiger, which joked about student life at their particular institutions, conveying university news along the way.
The publication of Chaff touched off something of a rivalry between its editors and the Philomathean Society. Chaff did not hesitate to poke fun at Philo, and in return the University Magazine adopted a sometimes condescending tone toward Chaff. On October 20th, 1883, the Magazine ran the following note: "[Chaff's] wit can be better appreciated by reading the MAGAZINE first, so that the information on college subjects can be obtained, and then the reader will do well to see how our contemporary touches them off. We commend it to our readers." Though Chaff never intended to supplant or even supplement the Magazine, the Magazine is indeed helpful for the modern reader, providing "straight news" about the events and social settings Chaff reports satirically. The University of Pennsylvania Archives has digitized every issue of the University Magazine, and the issues, along with an excellent online exhibit, can be found on their website.
Over the course of Chaff's life, a number of "characters" develop and begin to feature prominently in the magazine, including several editors, the Ancient, a wise counselor for the creators of the magazine, and the character of Chaff himself, depicted as a jester. The opening article of each issue takes the reader to Chaff's offices, where these characters discuss happenings at Penn and the state of the magazine. At the end of the second volume, the issue for June 1884, Chaff dies in the opening article. The Ancient: "Shall I say (what is true) that nearly everything in our paper has been written by the members of the Board, and that we have received positively no help whatever from the college?" "No, don't say that," Chaff replies, "for it will only give my enemies a chance to insinuate that I died laughing at my own jokes." The article is accompanied by a cartoon of Chaff the jester, lying on the floor, while the Ancient, dressed as a classical warrior, looks on in anguish. Apparently, the editors of Chaff had difficulty finding students to contribute to their magazine and discontinued its publication, presumably because creating all the content for, editing and selling the magazine was too much work for a small group of busy Penn students. Soon after Chaff died, the landscape of student publications shifted at Penn: a new student paper, The Pennsylvanian, was organized in 1885 and soon supplanted the University Magazine, and in 1899, a new humor magazine, The Punch Bowl, was first published. Both of these publications proved to be more enduring than their predecessors: The Pennsylvanian became daily and is still the university's student newspaper, and The Punch Bowl continues to serve as Penn's humor magazine today.
The editors of the magazine for 1882 to 1883 included three members of the class of 1883--Edward G. Fullerton, John R. Moses, and Henry H. Poore--together with William MacPherson Hornor, Law '84, and Felix E. Schelling, Law '83. The October 20th, 1883 issue of the University Magazine lists Chaff's editors for the year as Messrs. Bonnell, Schelling, Finletter, Westcott, Falkner, Fithian, Hornor, Earnshaw, Hagert and Shelton.
Penn's Kislak Center holds Vol. I of Chaff, published for the academic year 1882-1883. Another copy of the first volume, along with the second and final volume, is held by the University Archives.
Each issue opens with an article from the editors and contains fictional stories, poems, dialogues, puns, and jokes, mostly related to life at Penn and student life in general. Puns and jokes are often one-liners at the bottom of a page. Many issues of the magazine also contain a section called "Our Chaff," which humorously reports the latest university news. In addition, each issue features cartoons and reports on the latest university sporting news, be it football, rowing, or cricket.
A recurring subject in the library's issues of Chaff is "co-education," the possibility of beginning to educate women alongside men at the university. In the fall of 1882, students were openly debating the issue as the trustees of the university put co-education at Penn to a vote. The conversation about co-education continued even after the trustees voted against it, and Chaff was there to offer its opinion. "An Alarmed Correspondent" contributed a series of scenarios imagining "Co-Education in the University in 1900," including a female Social Sciences professor forcing her male students to admit that the "chief end of man" is to make money for their wives to spend (November, 1882). A month later, the cartoon "The Present State of Co-Education" shows that men and women continue to be separated at the university, to the chagrin of women (December, 1882). A March 1883 cartoon depicts a woman in bloomers angrily pointing her umbrella at a scroll of paper with the caption "Several of our prominent business men have been visited by ladies, who have persuaded them to sign a petition to the trustees, asking for a re-consideration of co-education."
Though women were not permitted to study alongside men at Penn, the search for love is often featured in Chaff's pages. A few examples: "The Bashful Smythe" (October, 1882) is the story of a shy young man's unsuccessful attempts to woo a bride during his summer at the shore. In the same issue appears a poem entitled "A September Soliloquy," written from the perspective of a woman saddened at her lack of prospects after a summer of flirtation. "One Kiss" (April, 1883) laments the fact that a coy young woman refuses to be kissed; the May, 1883 issue has "At Our Private Theatricals," a cartoon recording the conversation between a man and a woman backstage at a theatrical production.
Chaff also comments on the formation of the Inter-Collegiate Press Association in 1882. The editors of the Acta Columbiana, one of Columbia University's student publications, formed the association, as Penn's University Magazine reports in its July 5th, 1883 issue, "to raise the standard of college journalism by admitting to membership such papers only as have attained, in the judgment of the Board of Reference, a certain standard of excellence." Chaff and the humor magazines of other universities, publications which considered their own standards to be high, were angry at not being included. In the February 1883 issue, Chaff reports meeting with the Harvard Lampoon and Princeton Tiger to form the "Spiritual Conference of College Tooters," or S.C.C.T. as an alternative to the I.C.P.A. The April, 1883 issue includes dispatches from a further meeting. Compare the University Magazine's pride at its inclusion in the I.C.P.A. in its January 5th, 1883, issue.
Sporting events also feature prominently in the magazine, with an "Athletics" section at the back of each issue. Chaff's contributors report on university races and games as they occur and also comment on the state of university athletics, especially rowing. For example, the March, 1883 issue gives a history of rowing at the university, while the April, 1883 discusses Penn's rowing rivals and their prospects in contests against Penn. Cricket and football are also discussed, and the January, 1883 issue encourages Penn students to take up canoeing for their recreation. On the final page of Volume I, a student imagines what will happen if he loses the bet he's placed in Penn's favor in a rowing race against Princeton in the poem "If." Chaff's coverage of sporting events tends to be more serious than satirical; in the final issue of the publication (not held by the library, but held at the University Archives), the editors of Chaff encourage Penn students not to give up sport, for sport is an essential factor in the overall success of both students and the university at large.
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources' "Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives" Project.
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This collection is open for research use.
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