More than 100 years ago, one student at Pasadena High School had a dream of a student-run newspaper. He began discussing his plans with teachers and students who were interested. Kenneth Fuessle’s dream not only came to life, but it now carries on a 100-year-old legacy.
It’s a tale lost in time, unknown to many students until today’s journalism students finally opened the archives and fought through the cobwebs and dust of the last century. This is the story of the Courier’s predecessor, the Chronicle.
It all came about when Fuessle picked up his English teacher’s alma mater newspaper, “The Aegis,” and was inspired to make something better.
“With fear and wobbling knees, I took my ideas to the English office…” Fuessle explained in a 1-year anniversary edition of the Chronicle. “The Aegis was something tangible. It was a prospectus. I borrowed a number of papers from [English teacher] Claire Soule and showed them to my friends…”
Fuessle and his friends put together a petition, a petition that would ensure the paper’s birth. He got his teachers to allow him to pass the petition around their classrooms so that his fellow students could sign off on the idea.
After the students lent their approval, it was just a matter of ironing out the details of how the paper would be run. Fuessle, with the help of teachers, put together a list of “prospective” staff members. Shirley W. Owen was elected as the first editor-in-chief and Fuessle, who later became the second editor for the paper, signed on as his managing editor.
The reasoning for Owen becoming editor above Fuessle is unclear. But in his last editorial as editor, Owen made a recommendation to appoint Fuessle as the next editor-in-chief of the paper, stating that it should always fall to the managing editor to become the next leader of the paper.
On Feb. 4, 1915, Owen ran down the hall with a bundle of fresh newspapers from the press with excitement. The first paper was distributed to the school and the Pasadena High School Chronicle was born.
“A dozen eager staff members met Owen at the door of the office and relieved him of sundry copies,” Fuessle described in 1917 in a letter to the editor. “Wild whoops, mutterings, giggles, groans—all these, as different embryo scribes saw their first attempt.”
Sophomore journalist and future editor-in-chief Herbert Popenoe also described what it was like.
“What I didn’t know about journalism would have undoubtedly have filled several tomes of considerable volume,” Popenoe said about his first year on the staff. “However, I decided to learn in time. So when Fuessle made me a tentative offer of a job, I took the bait.”
Popenoe went on to talk about his first time walking into the Chronicle’s newsroom, describing the staff as “the noble editorial,” also recalling learning the newsroom jargon and his first assignment.
He wrote about a school assembly and spent about three hours typing away in the office. He turned it into the copy editor’s desk, as he said, with a bit of pride and a feeling of accomplishment.
“And about five minutes later, it flew into the air in about seventeen pieces… I found that it needed rewriting,” he wrote. “I accordingly rewrote it and handed it in. The editor, in despair, wrote it himself.”
Although Popenoe had a terrible introduction into the field, he ended up sticking with journalism and produced articles that got past the “Demon of the Desk.”
“I thought I was at last a real newspaper man,” Popenoe said. “It was a great life. To sit around the office and tell of your journalistic experiences was unbeatable. I formed at that time the opinion that there was something to the journalistic profession that kept me interested when nothing else ever had.”
Throughout the first year, the Chronicle had financial issues and was constantly printing editorials about how the paper might not live to see the end of the first year. Editorials that placed blame of students for their “lack of student support.”
“Subscriptions for the first month have expired and must be renewed before next week. As stated elsewhere, unless every one of them is renewed and a great many more are forthcoming, as well, the Chronicle will cease to publish… We at the Chronicle have done our job and a great many teachers have subscribed, but students haven’t done their part in keeping the paper afloat,” the Chronicle wrote in 1915.
But with the help of his staff (and probably the efforts of those pushy editorials), Owen was able to see the Chronicle through the first year of print.
“We realize that the paper could have been better,” Owen said in his last editorial as editor-in-chief. “But we have done as well as we could under the circumstances and we hope that students will support paper much better…”
How could he resist one last jab at the students, before departing?
He also talked about the expectations of each issue that they had worked on that first year and though these words were written over one hundred years ago, they seem to remain true to this day.
“We have had to fill nearly 200 inches of space each time, which takes several words to do,” Owen said. “We have all made plenty of mistakes but we saw them just as well as anyone else, so don’t worry.”
His statement could not have been truer. The fact is, this is a student publication, just as it was then. Mistakes happen and the students of this publication have to live with them. But we learn and grow from these mistakes.
Shirley Owen, Kenneth Fuessle and Herbert Popenoe held this legacy together for the first three years and made sure it was left in good hands.
To the first leader of the paper, the student who had a vision of a student-run newspaper, and to the youngster who had his first story torn into seventeen different pieces: Thank you.
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