History of The Willistonian
The Willistonian is in its 135th year of publication, which makes it the “oldest continuously published high school newspaper in the U.S.,” according to Williston Archivist Rick Teller. The newspaper, however, did not just start on some random day in 1881.
Says Teller, “One can’t really talk about the early [history of The] Willistonian without talking about the Adelphi and Gamma Sigma Societies, who published it.” When Williston published its first edition of The Willistonian, there were two literary societies that, as Teller puts it, had “a tradition of not liking each other much.” Williston was essentially two schools in one. One was the classical side in which students took classes about Latin, Greek, and philosophy – “the type of classical education that had been around for centuries,” as Teller says. These students were preparing to go on to careers in law or the ministry. They were members of the Adelphi side.
The other side had students who took classes to learn professions like engineering and surveying. These students were trained in professions that did not require a college education, so they were able to hold jobs right out of high school. There is an “argument that could be made that we were one of the country’s first technical high schools,” says Teller. This side was named Gamma Sigma, which means “know thy self” in Greek. The name was ironic because these students weren’t supposed to know any Greek.
Each side of Williston believed it was getting a better education than the other. The two groups had weekly debates that were open to the town and were very well attended. The two societies also published their own magazines which included poetry, essays, and opinion pieces.
Meanwhile, there had been many attempts to start a campus newspaper, but none survived very long. In his book, A History of Williston Seminary, Joseph Henry Sawyer wrote that these attempts “incurred the disapproval of the teachers.” The oldest campus newspaper dates back to 1860 and was named The Williston Sharp-Shooter. There was only one edition of this paper and not much is known about it other than that it had a conservative political edge. In the 1870s, another effort was named Campus & Hall. Today, there are only a few editions remaining of this newspaper. It is said to have been published by the Gamma Sigma society.
“In 1881, someone had the bright idea that the two societies ought to get along better and one of the things they could do was publish a campus newspaper,” as Teller puts it. Williston saw that Harvard and Yale had campus newspapers, so people at Williston thought they should, too. At the time, Williston looked up to top notch colleges and universities instead of other prep schools like Deerfield. In the first edition of The Willistonian there are notes about Amherst, Yale, and Harvard, but little about other prep schools.
The first edition of The Willistonian was published in March of 1881. The masthead read, “Published by the societies of Williston Seminary.” However, as Teller puts it, “all of this good feeling lasted for exactly one issue.” At some point between March and April 16, Adelphi and Gamma Sigma must have gotten into “a shoving match or worse” as Teller describes it. The second edition of The Willistonian stated it was published by just the Adelphi Society of Williston Seminary. Adelphi and Gamma Sigma eventually merged along with the school’s curriculum. In 1894, The Willistonian became independent and no longer had the name of one or another society on it. From then on, it has been published by the students of Williston.