Unlike most communities its size, Swarthmore has had a continuously operating newspaper covering both borough and college news for nearly 125 years. These historic newspapers, which soon will be available online, contain a detailed social history of daily borough life from the late 19th century through the present day.
The earliest paper in our possession is from July 7, 1894; its masthead notes July 25, 1893 as the day The Swarthmore was first entered at the Post Office. The editor and proprietor of The Swarthmore was the Rev. John A. Cass, who at the time was the secretary and treasurer for the College Tract Residence Company located in Swarthmore. He was also the pastor of the United Evangelical Church, the only church in the borough in 1893, and a member of the first Borough Council.
In the early 1900s, several public-spirited local businessmen, Frederick Simons, J.E. Ramsey, Clarence Scott, Mr. Joyce and Dr. William T. Ellis (who acted as editor) took over the paper, recognizing that it had already become an important communications venue for the growing community.
After a time, The Swarthmore became too much of a burden for these men and they negotiated the sale of the paper to Mrs. Edwin A. Yarnall.
Mrs. Yarnall, who purchased the paper in 1909, changed its name from The Swarthmore to The Swarthmore News, and incorporated it under the Swarthmore Publishing Company. Mrs. Yarnall edited the paper for many years and sold it around 1914 to Mrs. Julia Hazard.
Mrs. Hazard took her editorial responsibilities seriously, and actively promoted the paper in Swarthmore and Delaware County as a good advertising medium. Around 1923, she sold her controlling interest in the paper to G. Vincent Butler, who then created several small community papers in Delaware County and incorporated them all, including The Swarthmore News, under the name of Community Newspapers, Inc.
After five years, Community Newspapers, Inc. went out of business, thus ending The Swarthmore News, whose final issue was published the last week in December of 1928. Swarthmore resident Robert Sharples recognized how important a local newspaper was to the community and immediately launched a new publication in January 1929 named The Swarthmorean.
With little gap between the demise of The Swarthmore News and the birth of The Swarthmorean, a local community paper has existed in the borough since the late 19th century. Moreover, from 1929 to the present, it has had only five owners, all Swarthmore residents: Robert (1929-1933) and Ann Sharples (1929-1935); Charles and Mary T. Ervin Parker (1935-1937); Peter Told (1937- 1976); Lewis and Kay Rinko (1976-1989); and Beth Gross and Don Delson (1989-present).
The Swarthmorean and its predecessors contain an evolving record of daily life in a small town. Its success in a large part has been due to the owners and editors who understood that the paper was an essential part of the town’s identity. Beth Gross, who with Don Delson purchased The Swarthmorean from Lewis Rinko in 1989, perhaps summed it up the best when she said: “… although we own the paper, we feel the paper really belongs to the community.”
UPDATE: Upon further investigation — which was a bit challenging since the only newspapers in our possession are: one each from 1894, 1909, 1924, 1928, and two from 1926*; plus one copy of a paper called, The Borough, from 1903 — it has been discovered that a resident of Swarthmore, Mr. Eugene L. Pratt, took over as editor and publisher of The Swarthmore when Rev. John A. Cass relinquished the paper to him in 1897.
Mr. Pratt, a world renown breeder of queen bees, published the paper until his untimely death from pneumonia in March of 1909.
At this time a group took over The Swarthmore Publishing Company. They were: J.B. Garwood (business manager), William T. Ellis, J.R. Hayes, Albert N. Garrett, R.P. Logan, Roy B. Pace and Ella Roberts Young (editorial staff).
* The Swarthmorean office has bounded books containing the years 1914-1921 and 1929 to the latest issue.
Help Us Open a Historical Treasure Trove
The Swarthmore Historical Society, in partnership with the Swarthmorean, is pleased to launch the Swarthmore Collaborative History project. As we prepare to make a century of Swarthmorean archives available online for anyone to browse, we invite readers of all ages to take part in a monthly contest.
Beginning next week, we will run an article, advertisement, or letter from a historic Swarthmorean. Your challenge will be to find that article, answer a few simple questions, and e-mail your response to firstname.lastname@example.org. One entry chosen from among the correct answers will win a prize as our readers get involved in exploring Swarthmore’s community history.
Join the friendly competition, and help us build the bridge from our past to the present and future of Swarthmore.