Most modern scientists agree that life originated only once. The unique blend of chemicals and energy sources that formed the “hot thin soup” of a younger Earth was the key to the origin and development of life. These conditions have not since been repeated. Similarly, the unique blend of ingenuity, ambition, and intelligence, combined with the infatigable energy that has characterized Yale’s student bodies for nearly three centuries have been the sole birthplace for all types of college publications. With the nation’s oldest college literary magazine, humor magazine, yearbook, daily newspaper, and science magazine, Yale students have been leaders in the founding and production of college publications.
Today, there are about thirty different student publications at Yale, dealing with everything from philosophy to campus news to international affairs. This abundance was not always the case at Yale. In fact, Yale College’s first century passed without seeing any undergraduate publications. The silence was broken on November 15, 1806, when undergraduates created The Literary Cabinet, an eight-page biweekly, to raise money to assist self-supporting students. It lasted only until October 1807. The next attempt was in 1814, with the formation of The Athenæum. This publication lasted only six months, but apparently served as an inspiration for other adventurous students to create their own publications, and many magazines were begun in the ensuing years. Next came The Microscope, and then The Sitting Room, both of which had a very heavy literary tone.
Sensing a need for a forum for humor, satire, and criticism, a group of students put together The Yale Crayon in 1823. The Crayon was neither taken seriously nor found funny. Unappreciated, it did not last long. It was, though, the forerunner of The Record, founded in 1872, and thereafter considered a legitimate forum for criticism through satire by students and professors alike. The Record is still in print at Yale today. Some of the other publications to come out of Yale in the mid-nineteenth century were The Little Gentlemen, The Gridiron, and The Medley.
In February of 1836, campus literary and scholarly heavyweights organized the Yale Literary Magazine, which has stood the test of time. It is still in print today, Yale’s oldest continuous publication. In 1842, Yale students also created the nation’s first college yearbook, and in January 1878, the first college daily. The Yale Banner and Yale Daily News are still eagerly read today. Not until 1894, however, was there a student magazine devoted to the sciences when the senior class of Yale’s Sheffield Scientific School (or the “Sheff”) first published the Yale Scientific Monthly in October of 1894. [The Cornell Engineer was begun in the 1890’s, but had a specific focus on engineering. YSM was restricted only to “contributions of a scientific nature.”]
The Early Years: YSM through 1912
The Monthly was founded in response to “the rapid growth of the Scientific School, and the important position it was attaining in the affairs of the University” which, according to a YSM writer in 1901 “naturally suggested to Sheff men interested in literary work . . . that the establishment of a representative undergraduate periodical in the institution would be consistent with the progress along other lines.” One of its main purposes was to be a comfortable medium in which Sheff students could develop their writing skills, something many Sheff graduates had complained to not have done in their undergraduate years. Senior members of Sheffield 1895 sough the advice of literary instructors, and certain Sheff faculty, and subsequently formed YSM.
The Scientific Monthly was a unique publication, especially for its diverse range of subjects within the sciences. Its first four articles were: “The Sheffield Scientific School,” a history; “Diameters of Stepped Pulleys”; “Something About Bacteria”, and “Some Landmarks in the Life of Chemistry.” The magazine’s policy was to publish both student and faculty articles. Yale undergraduates performed all editorial and managerial work. The cost of the first issue was $0.30, and a year’s subscription was $2.50. The magazine’s stated address was simply: “Yale Scientific Monthly, New Haven, Conn.”
For 18 years, the Monthly was an opportunity for young scientists at the Sheffield Scientific School to act as journalists. In the process they kept the rest of the Yale community informed about important and interesting developments in all scientific departments at Yale, and in the general scientific community. It was of a high quality, and served as a model for the development of college science magazines at other institutions. As a serious scientific journal, YSM’s success was marginalized. Yale College students were seldom to read scientific works to relax. Sheff men needed escapes from and not supplements to their science-packed schedules. Nonetheless, it continued to rise in the estimation of Sheff students.
The staff consisted of members of the Sheff who had “heeled” the magazine. “Heeling” was one of Old Blue’s [Yale’s] many traditions that have long since vanished from practice into lore. Common among many organizations, heeling competitions were held periodically as a means of determining staff members. Heelers were told to purchase a Yale Co-op Heeler’s Notebook, and rent or buy a bicycle for the competition. They were then assigned tasks in every aspect of the magazine’s operation, and were graded on a point system. The point total and general quality of the heeler’s work were the criteria used in judging him as a perspective member. If a member won several heeling competitions, he would be entitled to a “charm.” Board membership was granted upon the attainment of a charm, which was also awarded to select students who consistently contributed quality works to YSM.
The Troubled Years: 1918-1926
The editorial board of the nineteenth volume of the Monthly took an unexpected step by beginning to record the affairs of Sheff students, sports, and societies, as well as printing lengthy student editorials. This move was disastrous. While the publication remained of interest to its writers and readers within the Sheff, its contents were fluff to everyone else. The Board of the twentieth volume changed the name to Yale Sheffield Monthly, solidifying the magazine’s altered focus. The arrogance and self-interest of the staff was clearly reflected in the contents of the magazine over the next few years. It all came to a self-defeating end, however, when the Monthly shut down after its twenty-fourth volume in 1918, due to lack of support from the student body. On its demise, a writer for the Yale Daily News wrote that “the purpose and scope of [the Sheffield Monthly was never fully understood” and its “quality was never what it should have been.” The editors of the Monthly realized their error in documenting collegiate opinions and social activities in a publication intended for scientific writing. They aligned their stated editorial focus with the material they printed and joined forces with the beleaguered Yale Courant, the school’s first illustrated periodical (1865). By February of 1919, the Yale Graphic was being published from the basement of Sheffield’s Byers Hall by former staff of the Sheffield Monthly and of the Courant. In its first issue, Chairman L. Staples explained: “With this issue, the Yale Sheffield Monthly and The Yale Courant erstwhile rivals, unite to publish The Graphic a fortnightly magazine which, we trust, will adequately fill the obvious place in the undergraduate world for an illustrated that will portray campus life as the camera records it.”
The Graphic was well-received at first, but within a few years it became clear that there was no variety to be found in subject matter, though the names of the students were changing. In addition, the quality and quantity of the literary works gradually decreased. Within five years of the publication’s beginning, it had become defunct. The name change proved an insufficient guise for the continued low quality of the content. No trace of the original Scientific Monthly was seen for three years.
In 1926, the Sheff senior class decided to revive the magazine in the manner in which it was originally intended, as a magazine devoted to the sciences at Yale. In 1927, this plan became a reality with the first issue of The Yale Scientific Magazine. In the first pages of the issue, there is a statement from the editors describing the magazine, and its new role at Yale: “The Yale Scientific Magazine, while published in the interest of science and engineering within the Sheffield Scientific School, will include accounts of the scientific accomplishments of Yale graduates. It will not cast its hat into the ring of campus controversies unless they shall lead to significant steps in the development of the school.”
The magazine was received surprisingly well, and 75% of graduate and Sheff students had subscribed by the time the first issue was printed, with a circulation of 1,900 magazines. Yale President James Rowland Angell commented that “The Yale Scientific Magazine is an admirable achievement which reflects great credit on the Sheffield Scientific School, and especially on the Board of Editors.” Sheff Dean Charles H. Warren expressed confidence that YSM would “serve as a medium through which the scientific work which is being done in the various departments of the University will be brought to the attention of a larger audience, receive a wider recognition, and awaken a greater interest in this important field of Yale’s intellectual life.
The YSM Legacy Continues: 1928 until Now
Since 1927, the magazine has stayed continuously in print, with few major changes in format. [The The was eliminated from the title in 1952.] The content of the magazine, however, has changed a good deal. From 1927 until the mid 1960’s, the majority of the feature articles were solicited from Yale faculty members rather than students. Many articles were also written by the chief executives of large-scale technical and engineering companies. There were also articles written by presidents of Yale, deans of the college and the Sheff, military officers, and political figures, such as the U.S. Surgeon General and the Secretary of Health. Yale Students ran all of the editorial and managerial affairs of the magazine and wrote news briefs and editorials.
This gradually changed, and by the later 1960’s, students were writing all the articles and still running the other operations. The focus of the article has varied with the times, and with Yale’s development in the sciences. The late 1920’s and the 1930’s concentrated on applied physics and engineering. The following decade was dominated by war-related sciences. The 1950’s saw a revival of the applied physical sciences, culminating in the feverish space race. The 1950’s also served as a prelude to the burst of biological studies in the 1960’s, fueled by Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine, the elucidation of the DNA double helix by Watson and Crick, and other emerging techniques. In the late 1960’s and early to mid-1970’s, YSM concentrated on sciences related to the Vietnam War and in other heated social issues. This pathway culminated with the exploratory microanalytical studies in the natural sciences encountered in the last decade or so.
Today, Yale Scientific Magazine strives to narrow the gulf between the sciences and humanities at Yale. It is a forum for scientists to develop the art of written communications, and for nonscientists to get a taste of the fascinating research found at this University. More importantly, the magazine hopes to unite the various science departments in a common knowledge of each other, as well as to depolarize the undergraduates who are often obsessed with or aloof from the sciences. Either extreme is antithetical to a liberal arts education.