“The University needed a newspaper,” Jesse Barrett said, reflecting on his role in founding The Weekly Columbian in 1902. When the Columbian University changed its name to the George Washington University in 1904, the fledgling newspaper followed suit, becoming The University Hatchet.
On October 5, 1904, Editor-in-Chief F.S. Hemmick introduced the first Hatchet, a 24-page weekly in a magazine format. “The present time is the critical period in our University’s life,” wrote Hemmick and his colleagues in the first editorial. “Under a new name and with an awakened vigor, success seems to loom in sight.”
Hemmick, Associate Editor Barrett and Business Manager Otho Ferris comprised the 1904 Hatchet staff. The paper survived on revenue from 10-cent per copy sales at the University Cigar Shop, meager advertising sales revenue and University funding.
In its early years, the paper placed an emphasis on athletics, and sports games often ran as front-page lead stories. Stories about the debate team, club meetings, Greek-letter life and faculty changes were also common. Photos were rare, and when printed, mostly consisted of posed portraits of faculty members and student leaders.
In 1906, the first serious editorial campaign was launched, in favor of a new honor code that punished cheating. A 1915 editorial series championed a compulsory student activities fee to pay The Hatchet newspaper and Cherry Tree yearbook subscriptions. Students voted for the fee in a referendum during the student body elections. An editorial in 1922 demanded that male students tip their hats when passing professors on the street.
The format was altered as time progressed. In 1907 under Editor-in-Chief Robert Moore, the paper’s two-column layout was changed to four columns. Over the years, the paper grew to seven columns of text per page before settling on the current five.
Barrett also solicited advertising for the newspaper. In an interview in the 1947 GW alumni review, he recalled one advertiser in particular: Galt, the jeweler. Galt’s widow would become Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, but Mr. Galt “made a liberal and exciting offer for the back page, but he specified that in every issue ‘jeweler’ must be spelled with two l’s; otherwise he would not pay for that issue. I was most careful each week in my proofreading to see that no compositor had knocked the ‘l’ out of his title and consequently, out of our pay.”
World War I did not stop publication of The Hatchet, but stories about it were uncommon. One notable exception was April 13, 1917, a week after the U.S. joined the war. The Hatchet’s front-page headline read, “War Suspends G.W.U. Athletics.” The paper also reported on student-related aspects of the war, such as on-campus recruiting.
Appearing on newsstands in the 1920s along with The Hatchet were The Colonial Wig in 1920 and The Ghost in 1926. The Colonial Wig was a literary publication and The Ghost was a humor magazine. In 1930, the two publications merged with The Hatchet, and The Hatchet Literary Supplement was born.
The Hatchet offices moved frequently during the 1920s. At one time in a brick townhouse across from Lisner Hall, the paper moved to the rear of Building 3, the site of present-day Stuart Hall. It also occupied an administrative office in Lisner Hall, and then an office in Building Z at 715 21st Street, near today’s Graduate Career Center.
The name of the paper changed, even at one point from 1911 to 1913 to The George Washington News.
Editor-in-Chief Eileen Shanahan, who served in the 1940s, recalled, “Though in its streamlined, modern tabloid form, it looks quite different – the spirit of The Hatchet is the same as that of its infant predecessor of 1902, The Weekly Columbian.”
The Hatchet, in its first 25 years produced few confrontations with the administration, instead choosing to achieve its goals to “unite the student body and stir some college spirit,” as Barrett wrote. However, the passive role the paper took gradually changed. A turbulent relationship soon grew between a paper that had found its voice and the conservative policies of President Cloyd Heck Marvin, who was elected University president in 1927.