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The Cosmos

"Reminiscences of Two Years Editorship of The Cosmos" by John R. Battin (‘18)

[John R. Battin was editor of the Cosmos for a two-year period, 1916-18.  This essay is an abridged version of a recollection written in 1925 on the occasion of the paper’s 35th anniversary.]

There was a loud rattling at the office door.  The frail walls of The Cosmos sanctum shook.  A calendar fell from the wall.

                Ye editor, annoyed, looked up from his work.

                "Well what do you want?" he called.

                "C'mom open the door, I wanta leave my books," came the explanation from without.

It was the same old story, but the editor opened the door.  Three textbooks and a misshapen notebook were thrown on the nearest table, and with a hurried "much obliged, I got to catch the next car", the student dashed out of the door.

Trivial though it may seem now, this was one of the pet peeves of Cosmos editors of not so very long ago.  The Cosmos office, if it could be dignified by such a title was an ex-cloak room, just inside on the east of the southwest door of Old Main.  There barely was room for a desk, a table, two chairs and a wastebasket, but it came to be a transfer point and a storage room for books, notebooks, football suits, umbrellas, rubbers, sweaters and what not.  All because it was so handy for the stream of students that daily went through the lower hall of the building.

A lock was placed on the door.  But it either was forced, or the student would rattle the door until it was opened to stop the noise.  Signs were put up, but of no avail.  And after all it was hard to say no to one's friends in the Williston Hall hashers' union and to the friends of one’s friends and the friends of the staff.

The Cosmos office became more than that.  It was a meeting place for fraternity brothers, a forum for discussion of these many matters over which students love to argue, it was a refuge whenone had a few minutes before class and it would have been a rendezvous for the gang to decide on where they would go, with whom they would eat and what they would do on the next Friday night, if it were not for the fact that what went on inside the Cosmos office was easily heard outside. . . .

Many a student who appeared to be enthusiastic to become a member of the Cosmos staff lost that enthusiasm when he found that the work had to be done on time or was worthless, that it had to be accurate or that it sometimes proved troublesome to the editors and to the college, and that the work had to be marked by a spirit of devotion to the case.

The writer was fortunate to have as members of the Cosmos staff during his editorship, students for the most part, who were faithful, reliable and accurate.  The staff of 1916-17 consisted of Tom Tracey, now in the real estate and insurance business at Manchester, associate editor and sports writer; Ralph Clements, now radio editor and reporter on the Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, who covered chapel speeches, assemblies and assignments; Ruth Johnson of Newton, who was local editor; Harry Nelson, now principal of the Tama High school, who covered religious news; Audrey Bannister, who took care of the faculty and alumni items, and John Baskerville, who covered musical events.  The year was started with Harlie Norris, as business manager, but with the issue of Oct. 17, 1916, Maurice T. Battin, now of Evanston, Ill., became business manager, continuing in that capacity through the next year.

It is with a great deal of interest and some amusement that I perused the files of The Cosmos of 1916 to 1918.  Such problems as student initiative, lack of campus social life, the honor system, military training, war, uniforms for the student companies, chapel desecration, class war, consolidation of literary societies, the point system to limit student participation in college activities, the theory that the college is for the student and not the student for the college - these and many other subjects stand out as those on which editorials were written those two years.  Maybe they were read, maybe not.  Some aroused interest and provoked discussion and some may have helped to crystalize student opinion and hasten action.  We like to hope that they did.

There were many things of importance to the College and to the students and faculty and which were of high news value happening during those two years.  William Jennings Bryan spoke in the Chapel, Oct. 29, 1916 to an audience that packed that building.  Wars and rumors of war were casting their shadows across American colleges.  The critical situation between the United States and Germany was made the subject of a cartoon by Proctor Fiske, Cosmos Cartoonist, when he showed Uncle Sam confronted by a German soldier who had just climbed out of the mud of "Ruthlessness", his hands dripping.  The cartoonist had Uncle Sam say, "Hold on, you smeared it on, but you can't rub it in."

February 1917 saw the consolidation of Eta Theta Epsilon, national journalistic fraternity, of which Coe had Beta chapter, with Pi Delta Epsilon an older and stronger organization with fourteen chapters.  Coe's chapter then consisted of only three members, Ralph Keller, Tom Tracey and myself.

The Iowa College Press association also was organized the spring of 1917.  It was in a small room in the Y.M.C.A. in Marshalltown, the evening of Feb. 26, that the plans for a convention of college and university newspaper workers in Iowa were started.  Five editors and one business manager met at Marshalltown that night, the place having been chosen for its central location which would enable all to return in time for classes the next day.

As a result of that meeting and much correspondence that followed, a convention was held at Colfax, March 23 and 24.  Fifteen colleges and universities in the state were represented and there were two men there from Yankton College, Yankton, S.D., as visitors. [Battin was elected as president of the new organization.] . . . The second annual convention was held at Cedar Rapids, March 8 and 9, 1918, at which time seventy-three students and faculty members, representing nine colleges and universities attended. . . . . Faculty censorship was one of the most interesting subjects under discussion and a straw vote taken at the end of debate showed thirty-six  opposed to censorship, while seventeen favored it. . . .

Events which were played up in the Cosmos of 1917-1918, on which of which there were many stories throughout the year, were the merger of Leander Clark with Coe, the Coe men in military service, the election of President John A Marquis as general secretary of the home mission board of the Presbyterian Church, following his year as moderator; the gift of a flag pole for the campus from Col. W. G. Dows of Cedar Rapids, the adoption of military training, the arguments over uniforms for students in the drill companies and the heating system.

Anent the latter I found this editorial comment in an issue in December 1917: "Won't it be a grand and glorious feeling when the heating plant is finished and the college buildings will be warm forever and a day?"  Those who were in college that winter will recall the steam engines hitched to the steam mains at Voorhees quadrangle and the Science hall, how warm and cozy the Williston hall kitchen seemed and how you shivered in class rooms.

The vesper question was one of the many argued on the editorial page that year and the editor was taken to task by a friend of the college for the bold assertion that because a previous generation of students saw fit to establish vespers, those then in school need not necessarily have to carry it on.  This theory was somewhat warped, but the editor did not then realize to what a great extent the institutions of today are bound up with the past.

With all the worldly experience that goes with seniors looking on at freshman antics, the yearlings were curtly reminded in an editorial in the fall of 1917 that they were out of high school and smart aleck stunts should be dropped as unworthy of their exalted place as freshmen.

The Cosmos staff in 1917-1918 was a bigger, though not necessarily a better one, then the year before.  Ruth Johnson who had been a faithful worker the previous year was made associate editor, Tom Tracey having entered the service.  Harry Nelson and Charles Weber were given the title of news editors, but their numerous other activities prevented them from doing as much as the position indicated.  Oliver Burrows was sports editor, Elsie Pokrantz could always be counted on for the locals and also wrote a department of Red Cross notes; Irma White reported chapel meetings and assemblies; Ronald Kratz, religious activities; Vivian DeFoe, society, and Paul Wood, Paul Driver, Ruth Forward and Hazel Walker, reporters.  Paul Wood was made assistant editor for the last few issues of the year and became editor the next year.

As often is the case there was one behind the scenes, one whose name did not appear on the staff and one whose important position and whose valuable aid probably was little known among the student body.  That one was Miss Ethel R. Outland, professor of English and Journalism, who was faculty censor.  The writer then opposed and still does, the principle of censorship, but recognized then and pays tribute now to the timely counsel, the encouragement and the farsightedness of Miss Outland as advisor, rather than censor, as that word is commonly regarded.

She had the interests of the Cosmos at heart.  Several times she pointed the way when the Cosmos might have stubbed its editorial toe.  She was a willing helper, keeping in constant touch with college events and was a ready source of news tips and suggestions.  The so-called censorship phase of her duties in connection with the Cosmos, which we suspect was thrust upon her years before, was but one part.  With her interest in the journalism department and in The Cosmos, she made the position that of a valuable counselor.

I look back on the associations in connection with The Cosmos and the work which I was privileged to do as the most pleasant of my college course.  No matter what other campus activities there were, The Cosmos came first.


In the Ethel R. Outland papers, stored in four boxes in the Coe Archives, is a remarkable book: a three-ring binder full of letters from alums who had served as editor or business manager of the Cosmos.  The first set of these letters and telegrams were sent to Miss Outland in 1925 to celebrate the college newspaper's 35th anniversary.  Subsequent letters were collected in 1930, 1935, and 1940 for later anniversaries, ultimately resulting in a notebook full of over 200 pages of letters from almost every editor and business manager who helped produce the Cosmos still its inaugural issue in the fall of 1890.  What follows are excerpts from letters written in 1925 as Coe alumni reflected back on their special relationship with this publication.

Stookey (1890-91)

Cock (1891-92)





Calvin G. Stookey, first editor-in-chief,1890-91

It was . . . not an easy undertaking at that time to put into operation the necessary forces to publish and maintain a college paper.  Time, money, and experience were necessary; and we of that day had the minimum amount of these requisites.  About this time two men from Monmouth College entered the senior class at Coe.  A paper was being published by the students of Monmouth College at that time, and the Littell boys were strong for it.  I believe they had some experience on the Monmouth paper and that their influence had something to do with precipitating the undertaking at this time. . . .

One of the serious problems confronting the promoters of the undertaking was of course financing the project.  But when I recall to your memory that ex-congressman James W. Good was our first business manager you will know that that end of the undertaking was well cared for. . . .

One of the momentous problems to settle was the deciding upon a name worthy of the paper which was to represent the student body and their activities in not only Coe College and Cedar Rapids, but in Iowa, the U.S. and the whole wide world.  And there you have it!  The world-Cosmos!  However, it was not as easy as that sounds.  There was discussion and oratory and satire.  My impression is that W. H. Jordan as a representative of the classics, proposed the name Cosmos.  I also believe that Jordan was aided and abetted by Miss Alice King, in selecting this name.  This very name brought to mind Greek, Latin-the ancients.  This brought a division, for our scientists, led by W. T. Jackson, desire a name more modern, something to express the present day needs and opinions.  What is cosmos, they asked, but reference to a dead language?  What more appropriate replied the upholders of the classics, than Cosmos-the world-the universe as an embodiment of order and harmony.  And so that name was adopted, and seems to have sufficed to the present time.


Elizabeth Cock, second editor-in-chief, 1891-92; school teacher in Cedar Rapids

. . . What an amateur [the Cosmos was] in those days!  How far removed from your present sophistication!  Even your habiliment seems to belong to the era of GODEY'S LADIES' BOOK.  Didn't you affect a good deal of yellow in those days and incline to a sort of sturdy stoutness in your make-up?  Now you are smooth and cool and correct and wise.

But there is something to be said for you in the old days.  How you could exist at all is a wonder.  Fewer than forty students on that sand-burr strewn campus!  Or were you born after Prexy Marshall sowed it down to oats?  And yet those students wanted you, quite insisted on having you.  I remember the difficulty of keeping you up to weight and how few there were to help feed and sustain you.  The man who had charge of your finances, the Honorable James W. Good, used to come and rap me out of class,-my recollection is that it was most often Prof. Stookey's geology class where my record was already noon too good,-demand "copy".  The printer who was responsible for your somewhat irregular appearances in college circles gave you his attention only when out of other work and that seemed always at inopportune moments.  But you somehow survived rough treatment.

It is to your credit that way back when the feminist movement was at least unnamed, if not unstarted, your destinies were directed equally by men and women.


Howard E. Moffett, business manager and editor-in-chief, 1892-94; publisher of the Eldora Herald

The students were very proud of the first issue of the Cosmos [Moffett was local editor during the paper’s first year] and it had a loyal support among the students of that day.  It was quite a remarkable publication, with a high brow literary production each month as well as reports of the athletic activities and the college literary societies.

There was some attempt made on the part of the faculty to censor the publication but Mr. Good always managed it so that the censoring came too late or the official censor could not be found at the right time.  But after a while no attempt was made to criticize the work of the editor-in-chief and I do not recall anything that was objected to seriously during the four years of my connection with the Cosmos. . .

The great problem of the business manager was to get sufficient advertising to pay the expense of printing the Cosmos.  While the subscription price was but $1.00 per year subscribers were hard to get and especially so among the alumni.  The printing cost between $30 and $40 for each issue and it was up to the business manager to either get enough advertising to make it pay or to pay it out of his own pocket.  Jim Good was quite successful and I know that I did not lose any money while I had it.  But it took a lot of coaxing each month and the down town merchants were what would be called in these days somewhat hard boiled.  We could always depend on Sam Armstrong and Oscar Soloman, the two clothing merchants. The old Golden Eagle clothing store was also helpful at times.  But there were a number of institutions in the city to whom we felt that we had a right to turn for assistance who turned us down cold.  The Sinclair Packing Co. of course always had an ad and often a whole page.

When Mr. Good was business manager he received from an agency an advertisement of some cigaret.  He needed the ad and ran it.  But a banker in the city help up his hands in holy horror when he saw what was in the Cosmos helping to defile the students and sent for Good to come and see him.  Mr. Good explained the situation and offered to discontinue the cigaret ad if he would give him an ad from his bank to equal the cigaret ad.  This he refused to do and the cigaret ad continued through the year.


James M. Knox, editor-in-chief, 1899-1900; physician in Cedar Rapids

I am tremendously impressed with the high class journalism which characterized the Cosmos last year.  Compared with that year my editorship now seems to have been the most simple country paper, and last year's Cosmos a city journal. . . . The age of kip-stick, cosmetics, Shieks and Sheebas, and abbreviated skirts, no doubt has speeded up life a little and is reflected in College Journalism.  In our day there was no Department of Journalism with a competent Professor at the head of it.  We had no experience and little direction.  We did have a Censor who functioned not at all as I remember in a constructive way, but only as a soft pedal.  The management of the Cosmos at the present time seems to have a very free hand and the independence of thought and freedom of expression seem to go with the modern College Journal.  I am inclined to wonder sometimes what the Faculty and Trustees of our time would think of the Cosmos of today.  I can not specify in this matter as it is only a very general feeling.  And I think I have changed in my attitude on certain subjects so that what once would have injured my tender sensibilities, no longer does so.  Perhaps the old Faculty members would have changed also with this new generation.


D. D. Wagner, editor-in-chief, 1906-7

The editorship was "wished on me" because they could find no other fool who would rush in where angels fear to tread.  There had been keen but more or less friendly strife between the literary societies over the editor-ship of the Cosmos, but the paper had fallen on such evil days that the honor of the editor’s chair was double zero.  The Cosmos board, composed of representatives of the four college literary societies of that ancient time and of which I was a member, persuaded me to try my hand and assured me every moral support.  I never had reason to doubt their moral support but that did not always cover financial and literary aid.

"Deacon" Elliott was business manager.  No one needed to tell us we had to do something to improve the paper, so as to get sufficient subscriptions together with advertising to make a financial go of it.  "Deac" asked me what I wanted for my services.  I told him I did not care for any remuneration just so we put out a decent paper.  At the end of the year he gave me $20.  "Deac," of course, had the financial worries but he worried along pretty well for the Junior Annual of that year seems to have listed him with other college fugitives from justice in stating he was wanted for filling the Cosmos with advertising.

Prexy Smith realized the importance of a good college paper and gave us every support.  Once in Chapel he made a strong appeal to the student body to take the Cosmos.  He admitted the paper had not been very good but I quote I believe his almost exact words: "Buy the right to criticise it."  I believe his plea had some effect.

My literary troubles were many.  Not only was copy often late, important happenings neglected, matter having to be rewritten, though Prof. Bryant as censor was very considerate, but I had at times to be society, sports and literary editor as well as write editorials. . . .

Charles D. Kirkpatrick, Editor-in-Chief, 1909-10; farmer.

In 1909-10, the Cosmos, like almost everything about Coe, was at home in the Main Building.  In the west end of the basement, Charley Jones turned out "printing of the better grade".  The "Bigger, Better Cosmos" which Clyde Minard financed was seventeen pages, six by nine inches in size and seventeen numbers during the year.  The circulation was guaranteed to be less than 100,000.  We claimed to print personal news items about every body on the campus on the average of once a month.

Glenn Jackson, Editor-in-Chief, 1912-13

. . . Coe Cosmos, "magazine or newspaper?"  Well do I remember the day, or night, (for as a matter of fact the battle of newspaper vs magazine was won at 2 A.M. in the morning) when a little group of us met in the old famous Book Store to decide the "To be or not to be".

The hero part in this play must be assigned to Buddie Burrows, the bombastic, brazen, battle-scarred boy who dared mention that the beloved magazine style was passe, out-of-date, former century stuff.  To which the villains all parried, "but think Buddy of the expense of putting out a weekly newspaper",-the magazine was but a monthly production then.

To which the hero replied, "You pikers, I'm not talking about a weekly newspaper, I'm talking about a daily.  A publication that comes out once a week isn't a newspaper, it's a history."

"Well then," said they, "are you prepared to finance a daily?"  "Yez verily," quoth the young entrepreneur, "for finances are nothing in my life so long as Dad's clothing business keeps its doors open."

All members of the cast brightened.  Except the culprit over in the corner lately elected Editor-in-chief.  Yours truly loved progress.  He admired courageous enterprise.  But, and he spoke forth, "where in the name of Williston Hall et al can you find enough news to fill a daily?"  "And supposing that scandal did sweep o’er our campus daily, who, do you think, has the time to do it justice.  I came here to go to College not to edit a second New York Sun."

And so the argument waxed hot.  The plot thickened.  Enter finally the sage-a sage being a man who lets people rave, then utters the obvious; to wit, a compromise.  Enter the sage, Jay Urice, he of former Cosmos days.  "I should like to suggest," says he, "that a paper of newspaper style and get-up, issued once a week would give us all what is practicable and progressive."

So it was.  And Buddy got the ads, Jack got the news, Jones (bless his soul) turned up the presses, and out came the new Cosmos.  It looked like a daily.  I tread like one.  But it came out daily once a week.  And the fastest of all occurred when the famous Cornell game came out play by play to be delivered to the cash customers as they left the game.

Excerpts from Letters Submitted for the Golden Jubilee of the Coe College Cosmos, October 15, 1940.

Earle A. Munger, Business Manager, 1901-2; Minister in Waterloo.

The Coe College Cosmos was controlled by a board of twenty.  During that period of Coe’s history fraternities was [sic] prohibited and in their place we had four literary societies.  The Alpha Nu for men, the Sinclair for women, the Olio for men and the Carleton for women.  These societies were paired as brother and sister societies.  The Cosmos Board was made up of five representatives from each of these societies and every year there was a contest for control of the paper.  We played politics with all the skill we possessed.  In the election of an editor and manager for the college year of 1901-1902 the Alpha Nu-Sinclair combination was successful in electing Ward Van der Pool as editor.  He was a senior, an out-standing star as an athlete, a 100 yard man in track and Captain of the baseball team.  I was nominated for manager of the Cosmos on the plea that my being a resident of Cedar Rapids with a wide acquaintance among the merchants of the city I would be able to make the paper a paying proposition.  (Some years it had run into red ink.)  I have never been successful in politics and despite our best efforts I failed of election.  We then nominated Lowell Daniels the incumbent and put over his election.  He was unwilling to continue as manager but after our group held a conference he announced his acceptance with the additional statement that I would serve as his personal representative.  As a result I took over the management of the Cosmos.  The paper paid both the editor and the manager good salaries and when the year closed we were still using black ink.

Herbert Heebner Smith, Editor-in-Chief,   ; editor and newspaper publisher.

Why I was ever given the post [of editor-in-chief], or whether I took it by default, I do not now remember.  We printed articles and poems, rather than news–and my chief interest probably was in news, as for the four years I was in Coe I wrote all the college news published by the Republican-then the leading paper in the opinion of many.  But it now has gone the way of hundreds of morning papers.

Remaining impressions of work in those days is the afternoon when some bully of a team to the south laid for Chet Armstrong, our foot ball captain, and broke his leg.  Those were the days of real sport.  I tore to the Republican office to write the story before supper, and had typed about half a page of copy when Fred Lazell, city editor, came into the city room and glanced at my lead.  He had heard of the accident, and when he saw that I had opened the story with that he said: "You'll make a newspaper man all right."  That was high praise indeed.

. . . . [George Knott, the business manager] and I were most happy when we were able to get enough money from subscribers and advertisers to pay the printing.  I recall that when the spoils of the season were divided in June before commencement, or just afterwards, the total compensation of the business and editorial staff was a new hat which Knott's mother got from one advertiser.  Trade was more popular with merchants than cash.

Frederic W. Mahlke, Business Manager, 1908

When I was nominated by the student body as Business Manager of the Cosmos, the paper was a monthly, which I changed to a Bi-weekly getting out a copy twice a month.  The previous year there had been financial difficulties but this was remedied, so that there were sufficient funds left to present the editor Miss Essie Hoag with a gold watch for her efficient editorial work, suitably engraved.

 During those horse and buggy days, "working your way through college" took ingenuity-and while I usually got a "D" in English-I was a good trader-and how I did trade!  Everytime I needed suits, shoes, shirt, ties, white vests for banquets, etc., etc., I added an extra page of advertising and stalked the downtown business men.  In fact, I took out so much in trade for advertising that Charley Jones, our printer, often waited for his money. . . .

One things stands out in my mind about getting the student body to subscribe.  Before the graduating class left in June 1907, I got their dollars for the Cosmos, on the plea that no alumnus should entirely sever all connections after leaving Coe.  Then in September, I got a table in the old chapel and automatically delegated myself as a committee of one on matriculation.  As the Freshman came through the door, I was the first one to greet them, and as a solemn senior took their dollars for the Cosmos as part of the regular routine.  How many freshmen rooming together had two or more copies in their rooms I never found out, but I know during that fall, my life was threatened several times—

Harold Leonard Bowman, Editor-in-Chief,

A friend of mine with a deficient sense of humor, at a dinner was to introduce as the chief speaker, an editor.  He planned to get a laugh by saying, "Did you hear about the terrible accident?  An editor dropped six stories–into a wastebasket!"  But he actually said, "An editor dropped six floors into a wastebasket," and was puzzled because he got no response.  Any remarks of a forgotten editor, thirty-two years past, would be equally flat.  So I simply send congradulations and best wishes for the second half of the century!

Clarence Clyde Minard, Business Manager, 1909-11.

Did I make any money out of the Cosmos?  I wonder.  Pay for the advertising space was taken in merchandise, for the most part.  When I left Coe I recollect that I packed about 40 shirts, a couple dozen pairs of socks, about a gross of handkerchiefs, and ties enough to supply the whole tribe of Iggorotees ["i go rot"] with wearing apparel.  I could [have] easily started a haberdashery store.  But I was in debt to Charley Jones to the tune of about $100.00 and I couldn't get him to take merchandise on the a

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