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Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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PAUL closes in Western Market
By Ella Mitchell, Staff Writer • April 22, 2024

Century-old student-run magazine ‘The Ghost’ resurrected for class project

Raphael Kellner | Staff Photographer
Co-Editors-In-Chief Cathy Pickett, left, and Caroline Moore, right, of The Ghost.

Students resurrected a century-old, controversial satire magazine in an online edition that features relatable GW student moments, book reviews and original cartoons.

During its original stint as an independent student-run publication in the 1920s, The Ghost was popular with student audiences but met with hostility from University officials and the D.C. community for pushing the boundaries of female expression of their sexuality in the 1920s. Sophomores Caroline Moore and Cathy Pickett, the co-editors in chief of the magazine, said they decided to revive a digital, biweekly version of the magazine to spotlight GW history through excerpts from the original publication while serving as a modern-day humor platform with relatable “only at GW” jokes.

The pair published the magazine’s first edition Sunday.

“We just want to show exactly what the students are going through, and we just want people to read this and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, yeah, that’s so me,’” Pickett said.

Moore and Pickett said they first learned about The Ghost in GW, Slavery and Race, a class that looks through University archives to analyze the controversial history of the University like the original Ghost, a magazine that featured racist cartoons and jokes. When brainstorming for the class’ final public engagement project, Moore and Pickett said they initially joked about reviving The Ghost but eventually settled on it as a serious idea. They plan to continue publishing their version of the magazine beyond the end of their course.

Pickett said she admires the original Ghost because she thought it portrayed a more “authentic” student life experience, unlike other GW-sponsored mediums like the GW Cherry Tree yearbook. Pickett said their version of the magazine will serve as a platform for students to joke about relatable student experiences, like how long it takes to pay with GWorld at CVS, while also including some analysis of the instances of racism and sexism in the original editions.

“We want them to not only have a little laugh, we also want them to learn about the past and really think critically about the fact that GW does have a history,” Moore said.

Moore, who is also a writer for The Hatchet, said The Ghost will feature an “Overheard at GW section” to report funny conversations from other students and a quote of the week that includes excerpts from the original publication. Pickett said their first edition featured a book review of “I Didn’t Know I Needed This” — a woman’s coming-of-age story in modern date life — and a mock letter from University President Ellen Granberg about students posting photos with the cherry blossoms.

“This is an important moment for us to come together as a GW community, and I encourage you to show your support for each other by continuing to comment on people’s posts,” the letter said.

Pickett said the edition featured cartoons from the original publication from one of their favorite student cartoonists, Winifred DeVoe, who was a student at GW in the 1920s. Pickett said the cartoon depicts a female student choosing between fraternity brothers she wanted to go on a date with for the evening.

“That’s just kind of Winifred DeVoe’s way of saying that women should be able to date as many or as few people as they’d like,” Pickett said.

The Ghost originally released its first issue in 1921 but was taken over by the University in 1928 for pushing the boundaries of women’s sexual expression in the 1920s. Former University President Howard Hodgkins and former Director of Student Activities Bryan Morse pulled the publication’s holiday issue in December 1921 hours after it had been released over concerns that the cover art, which depicted a flapper wearing a short skirt and bra, was “extreme.”

“In some ways, it’s a really good thing they did get shut down even though I think they got shut down for the wrong reasons,” Pickett said. “I’m quite certain they weren’t shut down for the racist content. It was more women being too controversial.”

Pickett and Moore said they were drawn to The Ghost because of its “cutting-edge” approach to topics like women’s sexuality, which they plan to continue with cartoons from past editions and contemporary student contributions. Pickett said The Ghost empowered female students to talk about experiences that were “taboo” in the 1920s, like dating and bodily autonomy.

“We really want to convey, especially through some of the content from the original Ghost, that women specifically shouldn’t feel ashamed about, whether, it’s their love lives or what they wear or really anything because I feel like men have been unapologetically being themselves for generations,” Pickett said.

Moore said in their effort to refresh The Ghost, they looked at current humor magazines, including the University of Virginia’s The Yellow Journal and Harvard University’s National Lampoon to inspire their formatting and design.

Moore said any student can contribute content through a form on The Ghost’s Instagram account, which garnered three submissions for the first edition. Pickett said The Ghost is looking for anything from one-line jokes to long-form essays.

Pickett said readers can subscribe to The Ghost by signing up for the newsletter through their Instagram. Once subscribed, they will receive a new edition every other Sunday. The pair said they hope to grow the publication by hiring a staff of writers and eventually become a registered student organization.

Phillip Troutman, an assistant professor of writing and history and the professor of Moore and Pickett’s history course, said The Ghost attracted negative attention from “matrons,” or wealthy women in the D.C. community, who were outraged with cartoons that depicted women’s “sexual power.” Troutman said pressure from these groups contributed to the publication’s shutter. He added that the majority of the original Ghost’s writers and cartoonists were women.

Troutman said other institutions like the University of Virginia and the University of Tennessee-Knoxville devote more time to researching the past and addressing it publicly. He said he admires that Pickett and Moore are bringing the magazine back to take ownership of GW’s history and present it to a new generation of students.

“I think humor about serious topics is something that often students seem to avoid because they’re worried about the reaction that they might get,” Troutman said. “And so I think it’s a very brave thing, what they’re doing.”

Fiona Bork contributed reporting.

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