By Jennifer Johnson
Walking into the American Antiquarian Society of Worcester, MA, most are shocked by the size of the reading room —not at how grandeur it is, but quite frankly, how it doesn’t even begin to represent the true size of the exterior structure.
This isn’t because the space is poorly organized —quite the opposite. What isn’t seen in plain sight, back in “the stacks,” is that the library houses the largest and most accessible collection of printed materials from Contact through 1876 in what is now the United States, the West Indies and parts of Canada, as stated on the library’s website.
I had the pleasure of becoming a member of this unique library and was able to handle artifacts that were over 200 years old. My initial reasoning for joining the society was inspired when I found that a lot of students, professors, and even some heads of the university didn’t know why we named our publication the New Worcester Spy when it was founded about six years ago, with an emphasis on the “New” aspect. The online format was a voice for students to express themselves through different forms of writing, from news, opinion pieces, and essays.
So, I delved into a type of research I haven’t done a lot of: historical. After speaking with professionals in the field of historical journalism, professors who had studied the era, and doing online research, I discovered a lot about our father publication, the Worcester Daily Spy. Formerly known as the Massachusetts Spy, it was founded by Isaiah Thomas in 1770 in Boston, MA.
Thomas was an anti-British radical and journalist who openly opposed the Revolutionary War. It began when he reported on the profound Battle of Lexington and Concord while based in Worcester, thus becoming the leading printer and publisher in the United States.
People like Thomas are one of the reasons I have been inspired to stay on the journalism track I find myself on today. I have always had a soft spot for people who speak the truth and are not afraid of going after something they want, especially someone like Thomas, who came from nothing and took an opportunity and ran with it.
Thomas’ family grew up so incredibly poor that he and his siblings had to be separated and put into foster care by the “Overseers of the Poor,” which can be compared to the Social Services we have today. Thomas was lucky enough to be fostered by a printer, and eventually he would take over the printing press. He turned it into an empire and worked closely with other revolutionary leaders, using his publication to voice the party’s opinions and inform the people.
The paper, though much more radical than the New Worcester Spy, became iconic. Newspapers of that era were often of a very focused view and typically one-sided. The Worcester Spy was no different, but when not reporting on aspects of the war, the publication reported weekly updates on government races, covered different happenings in the community, received readers’ opinions, and advertised much like current newspapers.
As seen below, we can see the Governor and Senator Race being tallied and updated in the weekly publication during the April 3, 1788 edition:
Though this newspaper precedes our publication by more than 200 years, we find a legacy in continuing it after its decease in 1904 due to the new direction journalism was taking, called “yellow journalism.” This highly clashed with the Spy’s “proper and sedate coverage,” as quoted from an article written by Albert B. Southwick in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, “Bringing News to Worcester,” a recount of where the T&G came from historically.
Worcester State University has not had an established newspaper or publication in some time. Being a part of some type of history like this relates us to our ancestors and those before us who took the steps that got us to the point where we are now. We are able to voice our opinions openly and freely in society, something that has been recently been challenged and criticized in the media.