OLD GOLD--Frivol magazine Laughing all the way to the 8 a.m. lecture

“They call Iowa City the Athens of Iowa. Why stop there? Why not call Athens the Iowa City of Greece?” A guaranteed rim-shot from the premier issue of Frivol, December 1919.

The one-liners—some clever, some trite, always ink on paper at the very least, filled the pages of Frivol, the State University of Iowa’s longest-running humor magazine. From the start, Frivol was a project of the campus chapter of Sigma Delta Chi, the professional journalism society, or the School of Journalism. Always a student-produced magazine, it enjoyed a 32-year run from 1919 to 1951.

Campus humor magazines were gaining popularity across the U.S. at the time of Frivol’s debut, and their numbers and circulation peaked during the 1920s and 1930s. The Octopus at the University of Wisconsin, Dodo at the University of Colorado, Iowa State’s Green Gander, Dartmouth’s Jack-o-Lantern and, of course, Harvard’s Lampoon were part of the national maelstrom of collegiate humor in the early to mid 20th century. At one point, in the mid-1930s, more than 400 college humor magazines, including Frivol, were members of the Midwest College Comic Association, a clearinghouse and syndicated comic service.

Actor 1: How did your dramatic tour succeed?
Actor 2: When we played tragedy the receipts were a farce, and when we played farce the receipts were a tragedy. (From Frivol, v. 15, no. 2; October 1933)

Frivol’s emphasis was always humor, but its style evolved over time, often reflecting the nation’s mood and mores. A serious article, “On the Homefront,” appeared in the February 1942 issue shortly after the U.S. entry into World War II. Following the war, its approach to humor became more social-reform themed. Its final issue, December 1951, included “Round ’n Round,” an article ridiculing the student body’s apparent apathy with regard to social and political matters of the day.

In its last two or three years, Frivol lost readers either as a result of its increasingly serious tone, or its ribald nature, depending on who was complaining. A file in the University Archives, “Frivol Magazine,” in the Subject Vertical File Collection, Journalism category, includes references to such complaints. Perhaps its time had come, since similar humor magazines around the country were also shutting down in droves.

“Are you free tonight?” he asked. “No,” she replied coyly, “but I’m inexpensive.” (From Frivol, v. 29, no. 6; March 1948)

For more about the history of Frivol and other UI student humor magazines during the 20th century, consult Jerry Levine’s article in the March 1968 issue of Iowa Journalist, which is available in the Main Library’s periodicals area (third floor) and in the University Archives’ cataloged area (staff assistance required), call no. PN 4700 .I63.

—David McCartney, University Archivist

Frivol cover, February 1948Frivol cover, February 1948 [University of Iowa Archives, University Serials and Journals Collection (RG 01.09.02)].

Frivol cover, April 1935Frivol cover, April 1935 [University of Iowa Archives, University Serials and Journals Collection (RG 01.09.02)].

Cover of Frivol premier issue, December 1919Cover of Frivol premier issue, December 1919 [University of Iowa Archives, University Serials and Journals Collection (RG 01.09.02)].

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The best-laid plans:
Grandiose designs and
sputtered schemes in
campus planning

Proposed South Hall on the Pentacrest, 1960

Source—University of Iowa Archives, Campus Buildings and Grounds Vertical File Collection, Folder "South Hall Proposed" (RG 01.15.02)

If you’ve got memories to share, please send them to Spectator and we’ll run some next month.

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