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From the Archives: 53 years of The Observer

, , and | Monday, November 4, 2019

Diane Park | The Observer

On Nov. 3, 1966, the very first issue of The Observer was published. In its debut edition, students and faculty expressed optimism for the newspaper’s future.

We’re proud to see The Observer continue into its 53rd year. But we’d be remiss to celebrate the legacy of the paper without acknowledging the more unseemly elements of its past. Newsroom culture in the mid-20th century was notoriously irreverent, and blatant sexism against women was, unfortunately, the norm. We didn’t have to look very far to find it.

But as the decades passed, so too, did the culture. The Observer would see its first female editor-in-chief in 1977, who in a 2006 reflection shared how she used her tenure to improve relations between Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame.

For this special anniversary edition, From The Archives takes snapshots of The Observer’s track record with gender equality.


“The girl is for beauty”: The Observer’s first front page

Nov. 3, 1966 | Maria Leontaras

The Observer was born with the publication of its first issue on Nov. 3, 1966. The front page features a piece discussing The Observer’s origin story, titled “A Promise, A Purpose, A Newspaper Is Born.” 

The Observer came to be after the shuttering of Notre Dame’s previous student paper, The Voice. Notre Dame would not go without student-sourced news for long. Steve Feldhaus, former editor of The Voice, gathered a team of former staffers to continue the work.

“Because we killed the product didn’t mean we were murdering the idea. There was a need for a news-oriented publication then, and there is now,” he wrote.

Feldhaus was joined by Robert Sam Anson, the then-associate editor of the Scholastic, who together formed a new news venture as co-editors-in-chief of The Observer.

Showing off the new staff is the front page photo:

The Observer’s very first staff at work. | Observer archives, Nov. 3, 1966

Here we have male staffers and one woman working on the paper. “The Observer King Pins” are working to create the first 12-page issue while “the girl is for beauty,” the caption reads. Whether it be a sign of the times or just a bad joke, The Observer had a long way to go before it began giving women the respect they deserve.

The girl-of-the-week column, “Observed”

Nov. 17, 1966 | Mary Steurer

In the year of its genesis, 1966, The Observer ran a short-lived girl-of-the-week style column featuring Saint Mary’s students. They called it “Observed”.

Each “Observed” read like a matchmaking profile, with light discussion of students’ personal interests, quirks, what they thought of Notre Dame men, etc. The column ran from issue No. 2 to issue No. 4, after which it was suddenly discontinued.

“Observed” heading. | The Observer archives, Nov. 5, 1966.

“Observed” made a satirical return in issue eight, apparently to quell reader inquiry.

“Everybody asks what happened to the ‘Observed’ girl. People all the time, ‘What happened to the “Observed” girl?’” the column reads in issue eight. “You say good morning to some girl and she asks you, ‘What happened to the “Observed” girl?’ So here it is, the ‘Observed’ girl reincarnated.”

The column introduces another Saint Mary’s student in mock fashion, then abruptly steers away: “As far as we can tell, [she] likes … whoops, that was the pitfall with the old ‘Observed.’ Better ask her yourself.”

The aside does little to explain why the editors did away with “Observed.” One can only speculate: Did they scrap it to make room for other content? Or had they thought twice about the implications of devoting an entire column to ogling women?

First female editor-in-chief reflects on her time at The Observer

Nov 3, 2006 | Marti Hogan Pupillo | Researched by Marirose Osborne

In 1977, Marti Hogan (’78) was elected The Observer’s first female editor-in-chief. A student at Saint Mary’s, Hogan was acting editor-in-chief for the 1977-78 school year. On Nov. 3, 2006, The Observer celebrated its 40th birthday by publishing a reflection written by Hogan on her time as editor-in-chief.

In the piece, Hogan said she believed healthy competition was the “rising tide” that lifted The Observer staff to “to a higher level of accomplishment.” The other women at The Observer proved every day they were “equally prepared to handle the top spot,” Hogan wrote.

A reflection from Marti Hogan Pupillo, The Observer’s first female editor-in-chief | The Observer archives, Nov. 3, 2006

Hogan had two main goals as editor. First, she wanted to diversify the paper with more Saint Mary’s students and underclassmen. Second, Hogan wished to improve the relationship between Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s.

“Becoming the first female editor-in-chief was a great achievement, but bridging the two campuses and representing Saint Mary’s as a student leader meant even more to me,” she wrote. 

To Hogan, it was the united efforts of both campuses that allowed The Observer to reach the full of its potential. As Hogan put it, “we knew that The Observer would tell a richer story with a staff of men and women working together, Notre Dame women and Saint Mary’s women working together.” 

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