Meredith Hall was designed in the early 1960s by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who is considered a founding father of modern architecture and famed for his minimalist aesthetic. His building became the centerpiece of Drake’s iconic mid-century modern architecture.
Today, Meredith Hall is one of the most heavily used building on campus. It is the site not only of classes and student organizations, but also public lectures, movies, meetings, and community events. While Meredith Hall has long been the home of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and generations of students, it has only witnessed about half of the school’s history.
Founded in 1919, the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication is celebrating 100 years at Drake and has launched a year-long celebration of its centennial, complete with events, an exhibit, reflections, and more.
The reason why Drake SJMC was started stood out to Dean Kathleen Richardson.
“The people in the communications industry in Des Moines wanted more training for their employees,” Richardson said. “They needed business communication, they needed advertising, they needed for people to work at the radio stations, they needed people to work at the local newspaper and magazines. So Drake kind of stepped up and partnered with the industry and Des Moines and it created this foundation of very applied, very hands on education.”
When journalism and mass communication education at Drake began in 1919, early leaders of the program included executives from both The Des Moines Register and Meredith Corp., and fledgling pollster George Gallup. The curriculum emphasized professional preparation and internships at the Statehouse and in area media organizations.
Richardson said in the early 1900s, students got their news and practiced their craft by working at the local radio and TV stations. A number of student media organizations at Drake also contributed to the program’s success. The Times-Delphic is Drake’s oldest publication, dating back to the 1880s, Richardson said. Other early publications included Caprice, Foolscap, and Quax, the long-running (1901-1994) yearbook. Both The Times-Delphic and the Quax archives have been digitized and are searchable via Cowles Library’s online Drake University Digital Collections.
Hugh Curtis, a former editor of Meredith Corp.’s Better Homes and Gardens magazine and the first dean of the Drake School of Journalism, characterized Des Moines as a “communications laboratory city.” From the beginning, he wrote, the city’s media professionals developed “a sort of how-to, do-it-yourself brand of journalism, which is a local characteristic and has been echoed everywhere… But [local journalists] wanted more and more formal education in their professions, for their employees and for themselves. Drake’s response to these community wants continues to be immediate.”
An exhibit tracing the history of JMC education at Drake is currently on display in the Collier Heritage Room on the second floor of Cowles Library. The exhibit showcases four key areas throughout the last 100 years that have made up/continue to make the SJMC: Technology, Student Organizations, Places and Spaces, and Our People. It will be open through the summer.
“The one thing that really struck me is how the essential nature of this place has been the same for one hundred years,” Richardson said. “That even though the technology changes, the people change, the culture of the place has stayed the same, which is kind of surprising and heartwarming to me as well.”
Richardson curated the entire display with the assistance of Connor Toedtli, JO’19, Brett Rosengren, JO’19, Kaili Miller, class of 2022, and Doug Wells, JO’76, GR’08.
Miller is entering her second year at Drake and is studying magazine media and graphic design. One of her tasks in assembling the exhibit was to put together a series of lists for Dean Richardson, such as sponsored SJMC organizations and former Deans of SJMC. She worked closely with the archives librarians to shuffle through all the past issues of the Times-Delphic to find all the names of former The Times-Delphic editors-in-chief since 1962.
“While I was flipping through all of the past issues of The Times-Delphic, I documented all kinds of names for my editor-in-chiefs list,” said Miller. “When I got to one year’s issues, I found that it was the year Dean Richardson was editor-in-chief. It was kind of cool to realize how much her love for Drake and the J-school had spanned throughout time.”
In addition to the exhibit, the centennial celebration will be marked by a year of events, culminating in a big party during next year’s Drake Relays on Saturday, April 25, 2020, from 5:00-7:00 p.m. in Meredith Hall. The kickoff for the celebration occurred during this past winter and accelerated at the 2019 Drake Relays with a panel discussion on the future of journalism, featuring area media professionals.
Events will run throughout the year, leading up to the 2020 Drake Relays party. Alumni events in Chicago, Minneapolis, and Des Moines will take place in October. The SJMC will host two “boot camps” for journalists that will bring media from around the country to campus for training. A workshop on how to cover science in the presidential campaign will be held in early August, co-sponsored with SciLine, an initiative of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In September, SJMC is partnering with the Poynter Institute on a political reporting workshop.
Moving forward into 2020, SJMC is hosting three invitation-only workshops that will apply the creative problem-solving concepts of design thinking to reimagining the future of journalism.. A public event is also in the works.
To top it all off, there will be a variety of other on-campus events (guest speakers, film showings, exhibits) that will develop throughout the year and be open to the public. The SJMC centennial will also extend online with social media features such as “SJMC Stories”: videos of Drake alums and highlights of SJMC history throughout the 2019-20 academic year.