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Student Perceptions and Understandings
1919 Echo
Photo of the Echo staff from the 1919 Bonhomie

Student publications provide insight on the public opinion of a variety of issues deemed important enough to warrant wide exposure and in this case circumstances centered on WWI’s impact. Arguably, three of the most consequential publications for conveying this diverse set of opinions in the early twentieth century were The Bonhomie, The Hornet, and The Furman Echo. Each body of literature constituted a perspective tailored to its own identity as a source. The Bonhomie was the name for Furman’s yearbook, and most of its references to the war were either commendation of Furman support, such as when the school dedicated the 1918 edition to the students and alumni that participated in the war, or the recognition of military training in the form of the short-lived Students’ Army Training Corps on the campus in the 1919 edition. This was not the type of source for critical analyses pertaining to the war (1).

By contrast, The Hornet and The Echo commonly deliberated such inquires and presented interesting testimony for what the conflict meant to their writers. The Hornet was a weekly newspaper established in January 1916 with a focus on school athletics and clubs. The European conflict received minute attention in 1916. Moreover, it was not until February 1917 when more news was devoted to the war that the possibility that America would enter became likely. From February to early April, America’s neutrality position was dismantled in favor of pro-war sentiments. Beginning when Congress declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, to the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918, the content of The Hornet expressed a more patriotic and even at times, militant tone. For example, the April 19, 1917, issue in one part states: “…but we will give gladly every drop of our blood, sacrificing every man in America, cast the whole nation into the mouths of cannon, in order that the laws of humanity shall be saved.” This provocative message was succeeded by a poem entitled “When Duty Calls Obey”, which opined that Americans had a mandate to fight the Central Powers to preserve democracy. Although not all Furman students supported American involvement in WWI, dissenting opinion was rarely defended or even adequately presented in the news; none of the editorials that I encountered were pacifistic. Only in the section of news devoted to the Adelphian Literary Society were there debates questioning whether or not the U.S. should declare war on Germany or if Germany’s submarine danger zone should be tolerated. On a different note, advertisements became commonly tailored to the needs of Furman soldiers, e.g. uniforms, only by the latter half of 1918, and the salience of the war as subject matter had declined precipitously by mid-February 1919. A journalistic account was not the type of source for engrossing postwar reflections (2).

The Furman Echo was a monthly literary magazine created by the Adelphian and Philosophian Societies that comprised of poems, short stories, essays, editorials, and occasional digressions in athletics news and book reviews. I examined The Echo from April 1917 to November 1921, though several issues from 1917 and 1918 were unavailable. Therefore, my research here, in contradistinction to The Hornet, was primarily of students’ perceptions of the postwar period, which were the least homogenous. The nature of essays as philosophical and reflective musings tended to nurture one’s most personal thoughts and The Echo’s essays—the crux of my analysis here— were no different. Most students that wrote on the war, itself, contributed patriotic pieces that in some way reinforced the notion that America’s war goals were unselfish and its only political agenda was in preserving democratic governance from imperial encroachment. In addition, the war was frequently supported from a religious perspective, namely that in following God’s plan Americans were able to lead the Allied effort in overcoming the ungodly autocracy of the Central Powers. Many students also wrote freely on the war’s consequences through late 1921, when a decline in topical relevancy started to become apparent. A subject mentioned by several contributors was the rise of Bolshevism stemming from the 1917 Russian Revolution, and students’ reactions to these events were exemplary of how public opinion could change quite quickly. Shortly following the revolution, one essayist was thrilled that Russia eliminated its domineering monarchic rule in favor of what he thought would resemble a more American-style of governance. A year later had another student singling out Bolshevism as the greatest threat to democracy and considered the former Tsarist system less hostile to American virtue. As the postwar period progressed, attitudes toward socialism generally hardened into feelings of denunciation and enmity. The League of Nations was also an oft-repeated subject and opinions ranged mainly on whether it would be successfully implemented as international peacemakers. Some called it “very likely to succeed”, whereas others were less convinced. However, there seemed to be a general consensus that the viability of the League’s usefulness largely depended on it being structured around Christian precepts. The Furman Echo served as the most representative medium for students’ candid opinion about specific issues surrounding the war and its aftermath (3).

Works Cited

1 Bonhomie, 1918-1919, Furman University Archives, Greenville SC.

2 The Hornet, Volumes 1-4, January 1916 – May 1919, Furman University Archives, Greenville SC.

3 The Furman Echo, Volumes 29-34, October 1916 - May 1922, Furman University Archives, Greenville, SC.