One of the most recent digital collections to go up on Virginia Tech Special Collections Online is Alice, an underground student newspaper published by The Blacksburg Free Press between 1968 and 1970. The 26 issues of the newspaper available here are a fascinating look at the progressive movement of the late 1960s and how those sweeping social changes played out on Virginia Tech’s campus and in the views and activities of Virginia Tech students.
The idea of a free press newspaper serving the Virginia Tech community came about during the 1968 Spring Break by a group of liberal-religious students headed by Everett Hogg. Alice’s creation was spurred by several events that had taken place recently on campus, the most notable of which was a scandal surrounding the disciplinary action taken against four students in January 1968 after they attempted to conduct a student opinion poll on the university’s dress regulations, which included prohibiting women from wearing pants. The official student newspaper, the Virginia Tech (now known as the Collegiate Times) had been publishing front page news articles on the developing scandal, but when a petition was created to be presented to the student government senate to reverse the disciplinary decision of the dean’s office, all mention of the scandal and the petition suddenly disappeared from the newspaper’s next issues.
The sudden, suspicious absence of a story so important to the student population caused many to worry that the university administration was pressuring the newspaper to suppress information that put them in a bad light. Because the University Publications Board controlled the Virginia Tech’s funds, the administration effectively controlled what they could and could not publish. As Bryan Ackler, one of Alice’s founding editors, wrote in a 1969 essay about Alice: “The Virginia Tech as it was structured in the Spring of ‘68 was not suited for the liberal communities’ needs nor was it open to the type of news that needed to be presented.”
The actual physical work of setting up the paper began in a secretive atmosphere. As Ackler writes: “If the university could bust four students for taking a dress poll we didn’t know what it would do about an unapproved newspaper.” Surprisingly, the administration’s reaction to the paper was quiet, and the Alice staff were able to publish with only minimal harassment from the administration for the entirety of the paper’s run. The first issue of Alice was published on May 18, 1968. A justification and kind of manifesto for the underground newspaper was written by Everett Hogg in the front page editorial in the first edition: “V.P.I. is undergoing the metamorphosis from small college to large university….the fact that this campus is beginning, and must fully face the issues on our campus has demonstrated that there is a definite need for a focal point of free expression and presentation of ideas at V.P.I. Thus, the conception and birth of Alice.”
The first two issues of Alice in the Spring of 1968 were immensely popular with the student body and quickly sold out. Despite this popularity, Alice did not garner the kind of responsive involvement from the student body that the staff had been hoping for, and the focus quickly shifted from creating a forum for dialogue between students and the administration to an open-ended presentation of various political issues and opinion pieces. As Ackler writes: “we promised to print anything as long as it was well written and was of short enough length to make it printable in a newspaper.”
Over the course of the next year, the small staff of Alice began to struggle with the realities of running an underground newspaper. As Ackler writes: “shop keepers throw you out of their shops while you are soliciting ads, hate notes are nailed to your door… and a lot of people call you a communist, even though they don’t know what one is, they know what he looks like.”
“In other large schools there are other groups that do all of the organizing in the community. Here in Blacksburg until just last month there has been only one agency for any liberal action at all, that has been Alice. Where the general rule is that there is an organizing group and no media, here we had media and no organizing.Any action that the liberal community felt had to be taken, fell on the shoulders of the paper staff.”
By the Fall of 1969, the frequency of Alice publications started to dwindle, and in early 1970, the paper went defunct. Despite its short run, Alice gives us an interesting snapshot of an important time in our history, a time when many things were in transition both on Virginia Tech’s campus and around the world. Check it out!