Puzzling over the Reformer's motto


Regular readers may have noticed that every day, in the "masthead" of this newspaper (the listing of key personnel in the top left-hand corner of the editorial page), there appears the following slogan or motto: An independent newspaper, dedicated to conservation and progress in public and humane affairs.

For years, I've wondered exactly what it means, and why it's there. So last year, when the Reformer marked the 100th anniversary of daily publication, I promised the editor, Tom D'Errico, that I'd look into it.

Much busy-ness intervened, so I did not manage to tackle the task during the anniversary year, but finally I managed to visit the library's microfilm room, and by trial and error to zero in on the date this slogan first appeared. I did so in the hope that perhaps the editors published a word of elucidation when they first printed the slogan. This turned out not to be the case.

At first, I thought perhaps the motto had been in use as far back as the commencement of daily publication in 1913, or earlier. But it wasn't in the paper then, and it turned out -- a dozen rolls of microfilm into the hunt -- that the words first appeared atop the editorial column on Friday, June 7, 1963.

Until that day, the paper had never published a masthead at all. The names of the editors were not published on a daily basis. (And, in fact, reporter bylines were rare as well -- most stories appeared without them.) Editorials were signed by initials, without a clue as to what the initials stood for. Only columnists consistently had bylines.

But on June 7, 1963, without fanfare, a masthead appeared, containing the motto, along with the following staff names: "John S. Hooper, editor; Howard Rice, Jerry Fenn, Victor Harrison, Robert L. Dubuque: Editorial Writers; Haydn S. Pearson, Contributor." (At the time, Howard C. Rice, who was Hooper's father-in-law, served as publisher, a post he yielded the following year, at the age of 85, to Hooper.)

Below the new masthead was an editorial supporting the establishment of the Vermont Department of Mental Health (signed by "V.H." -- Victor Harrison), but no explanation of the new motto or the new personnel listing. (On the front page, there was news of the commendation of a young attorney, Timothy O'Connor, as Man of the Year by the Jaycees, at a "sweltering" awards banquet held at the Hotel Latchis.)

In recent correspondence with D'Errico, Hooper's daughter, Mary Ann Hildrew, related that in reaction to the excesses of Republican Senator "Joe" McCarthy, Hooper at switched the paper's politics from a longtime Republican orientation to "independent," which explains "an independent newspaper."

(One might reasonably question the Reformer's independence today, now that it's part of a nationwide chain that operates 75 daily newspapers. But in fact, the choices of stories that are featured, and the editorial positions that are taken, are still left up to local editors and are not dictated from on high.)

But what to make of "conservation and progress in public and humane affairs?" Especially, "humane"? Was it a misprint for "human affairs"? But what's the difference between "public" and "human" affairs?

About this question, Hildrew wrote: "My brothers don't know why it was ‘humane affairs' either. I did a Google search on usage, etymology etc., wondering if the two words had a similar meaning fifty years ago, but they have had the different meanings since the early 19th century -- before that, "humane affairs," meaning human affairs, was common. Maybe it was meant as humane, eg. affairs marked by compassion. Maybe it was a mistake and no one noticed until it was too late."

Indeed, there are few instances after 1750 of "humane" being used to mean "human." Since then, "humane" has principally meant "compassionate," as in the Humane Society. But earlier, "humane" clearly meant "human," and in the phrase "humane affairs" it was particularly intended as a contrast to "divine affairs," for example in the 1705 Francis Fox sermon entitled "The Superintendency of Divine Providence Over Humane Affairs."

But then, Hildrew circled back: "I think we've come up with a better explanation. Apparently my father got an honorary doctorate from UVM in Humane Affairs and liked the term."

Actually, the UVM archivist confirms that Hooper's honorary degree was a Doctor of Humane Letters, bestowed in 1958. In this context, the Oxford English Dictionary defines "humane" as: "Applied to those branches of study or literature which tend to humanize or refine, as the ancient classics, rhetoric and poetry."

Does this provide any insight into the meaning of "public and humane affairs"? I think that while Hooper used "humane" as a classical allusion, he really meant "human" or "individual." So "public and humane affairs" could be rephrased as "issues that are in the public realm, as well as the concerns of individuals." It's the kind of contrast Francis Fox drew, except between public and private matters, rather than between human and divine affairs.

What about "conservation and progress," which are ideals that might well be in opposition to each other? I think Hooper meant conservation in the environmental sense, not "conservatism" in the political sense, and that he took his inspiration from President Theodore Roosevelt, who had energized the conservation movement as a counterbalance to the progressivism of his era, with the help of conservationist leaders like John Muir and Gifford Pinchot. In their view, natural resources like forests or rivers should be conservatively managed so as to yield benefits in a sustainable way, and should not be destructively consumed. Today, a melding of conservation and progress still seems to make eminent sense.

I don't think the Reformer should consider removing the E from "humane" to clarify the motto -- if it slows readers down and gets them to think about the meaning, it's doing its job. To me, the meaning of the full motto could be understood as follows: "This newspaper is locally edited and makes up its own mind. We care about matters large and small, public and personal. We want to see economic progress, but that progress must not come at the cost of our natural environment."

Martin Langeveld is a former publisher of the Reformer who lives in Vernon.


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