Analysis of the ’40s Rambler

1945 marks an exciting development in the history of The Rambler: the moment it got its permanent name. As you may have noticed, the paper of the ‘30s had many monikers, from the staid Bush News to the dorky Bush Bugle. Fast forward to 1945, and the paper gives us this update: “There have been many changes in the school paper since it was first published. This semester’s staff has changed the name from The Barometer to The Rambler. It has tried to change what was formerly a gossip sheet into an orderly, interesting newspaper.”

This statement perfectly encapsulates something I noticed about the ‘40s Rambler: it’s neater, cleaner, and (somewhat) more substantive than the ‘30s Rambler. It feels less DIY and more, well, like a newspaper. While maybe 60% of the ‘30s paper was pure gossip, that number is closer to a respectable 40% in this decade’s Rambler.

WWII:

Not surprisingly, a prevalent theme in the issues of The Rambler from the ’40s is WWII. Articles urge readers to buy war bonds, donate to war chest drives, refrain from buying unnecessary clothing and makeup, and otherwise support the war effort. While the home front is constantly alluded to, the battlefield is rarely, if ever, discussed. Despite its intention to be an “orderly, interesting newspaper,” The Rambler could still be superficial and light-hearted, making for an awkward contrast between demands that students make significant sacrifices and discussions of the newest fashions. In the article “Rave Raters,” from 1945, these issues come to head in a dramatic way. The piece is, on its surface, a continuation of the fashion column. Yet there’s a lot of politics embedded in its seemingly anodyne discussion of pillbox hats. The unnamed author writes, “Spring, 1945, is a different spring. Realistic. Down to earth. This spring there will be fewer new Easter outfits. Last year’s clothes are the smart things to be putting on our backs. Smart because it is poor taste to look brand new from head to toe in these times. It is the way to insure [sic] everyone of her share.” After this somber beginning, the author tells us that flowery hats are very much in fashion, writing, “Posies are sweet on a sailor, a cloche, a pillbox or any shape that’s best for your face.” The author both describes in cheerful detail the trendiest fashions and also urges readers not to buy new clothes, never once acknowledging this contradiction. Overall, the WWII coverage of The Rambler embodies this strange mix of upbeat patriotism and serious admonitions. 

The necessity of self-control and self-sacrifice is an even stronger theme in an April, 1943 article titled “Plant the Seeds of Victory.” According to the author, “Spring is here and so are all the little gremlins that seem to get in Uncle Sam’s way while he plants his Victory garden.” While this gremlin deviously urges us to spend our money downtown, there’s a good gremlin too, one that tells us to buy war stamps. These good gremlins are “the ones that will win this war.” The author ends with the admonition to “Buy until it hurts–the Axis!” The article’s central metaphor, a weirder version of the devil and angel perched atop our shoulders, typifies a very real dilemma students were facing at this time. An ocean away from combat, students still focused much of their energies on dating, schoolwork, and parties and social events. And yet they were also under constant social pressure to be less frivolous and more selfless. 

Possibly the most substantive article about the war, titled “Editorial,” is from the March 5th, 1945 Rambler.  The author’s tone is somber: “There is not an individual untouched by the current national crisis. With wars come discomforts and sacrifices, and we should all do our utmost to help in the current emergency. In Seattle two of the most critical problems are housing and transportation.” When workers came to Seattle to aid the war in the Pacific, they were often unable to find affordable housing. According to the author, however, there is cause for hope: “It is our duty to assist these patriotic people by every means in our power, and that is why we have been asked to rent every single spare room in our homes.” 

Transportation was also a critical issue: “During the rush hours in Seattle, many war workers are unable to board a bus because women coming home from shopping and children coming home late from school are occupying the much needed space.” The author proposes that women and students alter their schedules to avoid riding the bus during these peak hours. Ultimately, both of their proposed solutions are individualisticthey ask readers to make sacrifices, but don’t demand help from the local government. While this article only gives us a tiny, if fascinating, sliver of the whole issue, it reflects the broader pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps individualism of the paper.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what is probably my favorite article about WWII from the ‘40s Rambler, or at the very least, the weirdest. The 1943 article, titled “Dear Friends,” proves that the homefront could be a source of humor and light. The piece is formatted as a jokey set of instructions for how to reduce your consumption for the sake of the war effort. The author offers some hilarious life hacks: “1. eye shadow, a few late nights. 2. face cream, bear grease (kill your own and melt the fat). 3. scent–garlic and rose petals. 4. Pancake makeup (Powder base) Aunt Jemima’s recipe. 5. powder–Johnson’s Baby, 6. Rouge-Huckleberry juice, 7. Lipstick–mercurochrome.” Almost eighty years after its publication, the piece had me bursting into laughter. 

Meta-commentary on The Rambler:

One reason I loved working with this decade’s Rambler is that I’ve finally read enough articles to draw some solid conclusions. I have my own critiques of the paper, but so did some of the ‘40s-era writers. Besides a few articles from the ‘30s stating goals for the paper (starting a puzzle page, for instance), the ‘40s marks the very first meta-commentary on The Rambler. One piece from 1945, titled  “Editorial,” proudly declares that the paper is so much more professional than it used to be: “In all the years of our school’s existence there has been only one printed edition of the school paper. A mimeographed sheet is all very fitting for an institution in the embryo stage still struggling to make a name for itself.” But now that Bush is far more prestigious and well-known than it used to be, “We feel that Bush is more than worthy of a printed paper, and we are attempting to set that standard for next year’s staff.” “Editorial” encapsulates how the history of the paper is also the history of Bush as an institution. 

A few years later, in 1949, the article “Metamorphosis of The Rambler” perfectly summed up the archives: “Looking over the past issues of the papers, we find that although the names and appearances are different, the material has not changed. H.B.S. readers are always interested in gossip, fashions, gossip, recent social events, who-was-seen-with-whom, themselves, and gossip.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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