For a better experience, click the Compatibility Mode icon above to turn off Compatibility Mode, which is only for viewing older websites.

Echo of Things to Come: Drexel's First Literary Magazine

April 16, 2012

To mark the Libraries' new exhibition, Inventing the Page: Student Literary Magazines at Drexel, the Archives' blog will feature a series of essays about past literary magazines by Drexel alumna and Archives volunteer, Martha Cornog. The new exhibition opens Wednesday, April 18, with a reception from 5-7 p.m. at Hagerty Library.

Echo of Things to Come: Drexel's First Literary Magazine by Martha Cornog 'We propose to entertain and be entertained,' wrote The DrexelEcho's fledgling editors, 'to encourage and be encouraged, to be instructed, and, if possible, to instruct.' Drexel's first campus publication with literary content, Echo blossomed from the student body in 1907, a mere sixteen years after the institution was founded. By then, college literary magazines had become academic standbys. The Columbia Review claims to have been the first in the nation as of 1815, but then Columbia University itself was founded in 1754. The much older Harvard, first U.S. academic body as of 1636, dates its own Harvard Advocate magazine to 1866. So while ever so much younger, Drexel's Echo was certainly faster off the mark. Actually, the monthly Echo resembles more an all-purpose campus magazine than a literary journal. While a handful of creative efforts--prose and poetry--open each issue, a 'School Notes' section of news items follows with brief notes about class officers, faculty changes, news of the Library School, and the perennial sports updates. Reports on goings-on among student organizations and a jokes section close out the first issue. And on the back cover linger four paid advertisements: for a meat market, two photographers, and a sporting goods store.

Let us compare with the last issue of Echo, five years later. In addition to the original components appear an editorial, an Alumni Notes feature, a full athletics section, several more pages of ads, and quite a few attractive, posed photos of student groups. Still, at the moment we are looking at Echo mainly for its literary content. Though many pieces remain unsigned or credited only to initials, we get a sense of what Drexel students were writing about over a hundred years ago. A tall-tale from an innkeeper about a nearby precipice where a deranged hermit met his accidental doom reveals an expected fascination with adventure lurking just at the edge of normal life . A Dickens-like drama about street waifs scrambling for pennies flung by the well-fed audience of a sports match gives a glimpse of social consciousness directed to the have-nots lurking around the familiar ritual of college football. A number of stories capture the mating dance in myriad forms, with an amused sense of too-much-experience. In one story recalling the sort of flirtatious verbal fencing perfected by Jane Austen, a study clique of gal-pals conspires for pseudonymous revenge upon a particularly offensive young alumnus, with his 'eleven-foot-three of conceit, vanity and devilishness.' Of course, the alumnus and the most outraged among the gal-pals find each other irresistible by the end.

Throughout, a lively comedic sense permeates both prose and poetry. One junior engineer, for example, published a satiric poem about a water meter, compelled to confound its human keepers when unusual matter enters the water supply:

When it happens that a carcass of an infant alligator Plays the mischief with my vitals in its efforts to get through, I record the strange occurrence on my brass-bound indicator By the fraudulent addition of a hundred feet or two.

How marvelous to turn up that persistent urban legend about alligators in the sewers within a 1908 Drexel literary magazine!