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The Freshman Folio

In the 1920's, the freshman class was required to take one English course: Constructive English. Taught over a period of two semesters, the lecture focused on training in the art of writing, intensive study of the sentence and written and oral compositions and themes. It was the best of these themes, small writing assignments done on a particular subject, that were collected and published in a new literary publication known as the Freshman Folio.  

The Folio began in December of 1923 under the guidance of the English department and was printed by a select number of students from the freshmen class. As the sole purpose of the publication was to encourage freshmen writing, each issue's editors made sure to preface the collection by stating that "it is not a collection of masterpieces; just an interesting cross-section of daily work of the freshman class," as stated by the December 1928 editors. Each edition was edited by four or five freshmen and was published three times a year (December, March and May) under the supervision of a rotating English faculty advisor until 1926 when Prof. Ogburn became the permanent faculty advisor.

Although definitely not a collection of masterpieces, each issue's editors plunged into the job with enthusiasm, as they took great pride in seeing their works in print. Early issues, from December of 1923 to 1927, were printed in newspaper format; two columns of pieces on a page with the words "Freshman Folio" headlining in Victorian lettering. The Folio was also quite small; debuting at eight pages, each approx. 6' by 8' inches. By March 1928 it had doubled to 16 pages and was bound by a stiff green cover with the words "The Freshman Folio" written on the outside in the same Victorian lettering.

The editors of each issue took a great deal of pride in the Folio, which was evident by the professional presentation of material. Each class was aware, however, that these pieces were not masterpieces, but they were proud nonetheless. The editors in December of 1929 wrote:


"Hear ye! Hear ye!

Betwixt these covers ye shall find the select fruit of our labor, labor often long and diligent. For the past months we have tried earnestly to "absorb" and put into practice the suggestions of our professors in order to improve our attempts at creating themes. We really do hesitate to call our work literature, but our aim at least was to make it 'effective'. Judge our efforts with charity, for we are not yet fully naturalized in the realm of literature. And we remember with hope the old adage of little acorns and mighty oaks. Therefore, see what we have compiled for

your perusal - and possibly, approval."

A variety of themes were collected for each issue, usually along the lines of personal experience or memoir. The March 1928 edition included thirty-three pieces: four short stories, including one by Eliza Hickok, three pieces on childhood memories, eighteen pieces describing either a place, a  person, or a certain time in nature, six pieces on college life and two pieces on a specific word definition. 

It is these small themes on college life and characterization that provide insight into freshmen life in the 1920’s and 30’s. In Elizabeth Bridgeland's essay, "A College Girl", the protagonist is a young woman who consistently fails to complete her Latin assignment. Her use of slang is quite clever.

            "Oh, say, who told you all that bunk?" she throws jestingly over her shoulder to the young man following her into the room. "I sure did feed her a line about him, but I didn't tell her that."..."Where are you going to sit today, Bob? Me for the open spaces in the back of the room. She can't see me very well back there."...

            "I don't know what my sorority is going to do with me. I simply can't get the dumb stuff, and I can't expect my guardian angel to keep me safe from being called on many more days."

                                                                                                Freshman Folio, March 1927.

Most pieces printed were autobiographical in nature with the author being the speaker throughout the piece. Dealing with everything from a lad's first pair of trousers to the death of a young woman's grandmother, these pieces gave freshman an opportunity to share a bit of themselves and to explore different means of telling stories. These pieces also give considerable insight into the life and times of these young students. Homer Jones, a freshman in 1923, recalled the hack he rode to secondary school in.

            "In the morning one could not gauge the time of arrival on the hack within a half-hour and in the evening we dilly-dallied along, stopping here and there until most of the daylight hours were gone. As further proof of the undesirability of this hack I might mention the numerous runaways, upsets, and so forth that befell this hack and its occupants. Once a part of the wagon started bumping the horses on the heels rendering them uncontrollable, and away they ran down hill and up for nearly half a mile. But as every thing has its bright side that ride did also. That was the only time I ever rode half a mile homeward in the gypsy hack…"

                                                                                                Freshman Folio, December 1923

Although the Folio published works of now accomplished authors such as Eliza Hickok and even some poetry by Conger Metcalf, Paul Engle, who was editor-in-chief for the December 1927 issue, never had a piece published. Composed primarily of short essays, a few editions included poems, as one can assume they were covered in freshman English that term. Of the 28 entries in the May 1928 edition, 19 were poems. The final issue in May of 1933 was composed entirely of poetry except for one two-page piece entitled "Why?" by Ilda Dorothy Mikulas about her preference for longer, thick books over short ones.

After ten years and twelve volumes, the popularity of the Folio began to fade. This was due to the fact, as reported by the May 19, 1933 edition of the Cosmos, that as this was solely a collection of freshman work, it was difficult to obtain pieces that were well written and that varied in style. The Caravan, a publication of student writing published by the Writer's club, may have provided freshman with a more diverse means of expression, as it published works from all students at Coe.

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