For Your Mental Improvement

The first literary mag in the West marks a major milestone. Born as The Owl and rechristened The Santa Clara Review, it’s now (probably) in its 100th volume. Plus, some 19th-century archives have just been digitized for you to explore online.

The owl 1869

The first literary mag in the West marks a major milestone. Born as The Owl and rechristened The Santa Clara Review, it’s now (probably) in its 100th volume. Plus, some 19th-century archives have just been digitized for you to explore online.

Highlights from the narrative history “Who is The Owl?” by Linda Larson ’78 with a new addendum by Stephen Layton ’13. The journal was founded well over a century ago, but given 50-plus years of hiatus, most experts agree that 2013 is when volume 100 went to press. And onto iPad.

December 1869. A literary monthly “Devoted to Mental Improvement,” and “Edited by the Boys of Santa Clara College, S.J.” is hatched. The name: The Owl. Why? “We said to ourselves: ‘We’re owls, conning our books of lore in the night …’ Thus it is, and not through a superabundence of wisdom, that we have assumed the name of Minerva’s sober bird.” Among the “original matter” of early editions: scientific and historic essays, dramas, poetry, and humor. “Idle Notes,” the editorial column, tackles women’s suffrage and other topics.

1875. A series “Is the Monkey Father to Man?” declares Darwin’s theory of evolution absurd: “A certain class of naturalists, of this enlightened and highly civilized nineteenth century, flatly refuses to believe that man was created directly by Almighty God, pretending on the contrary, that he is the offspring of anthropomorphous monkeys; in other words, that our ancestors were not Adam and Eve, but a he and she chimpanzee, gorilla, or orang-outang.”

October 1875. A black oval-framed lithograph on the cover bodes ill: The Owl announces it will cease publication. What happened? Historian Gerald McKevitt, S.J., points to student riots in September 1875, after which 20 students are expelled—including the author of the article announcing the end, H. M. Hughes. But the editors pass down a legacy: “After payments of all our debts we have between three and four hundred dollars of surplus gold left, wherewith to erect our tombstone; which is to take the form of An Owl Prize, Annually For Ever.

1903–1920The Redwood sprouts as the campus literary magazine, then in 1923 morphs into the yearbook.


December 1931The Owl is born again—as a monthly literary supplement to The Santa Clara, the student newspaper. James Pike ’34 is responsible for the resuscitation. His aspiration: a journal again devoted to mental improvement and to recording “our college doings, to give proof of college industry and to knit together the boys of the present and the past.” Santa Clara, he writes, “has demonstrated the ability to conceive ideals and attain them. She has created for herself a name that is emblazoned forever in the historic annals of California.” Pike later founds the department of religion at Columbia University and is appointed Episcopal bishop of California. In 1969, while on a religious expedition in Judea, he gets lost in the desert; a search party doesn’t find him in time.

September 1938The Owl takes flight from The Santa Clara and becomes a bird on its own wing.

The owl 1938 Cover
The owl 1940
October 1940—featuring “An Experiment in Adjustment” by  Guido Morengo ’40

May 1943. With the majority of Santa Clarans having “set aside their pens to take up the sword,” publication is suspended until 1946, when The Owl returns, “lacking a few of its familiar feathers and proud of a few new ones.”

April 1953. Biology is the theme. On the cover: a linoleum cut of a dissected owl. Inside: “The Abominable Snowman and the Ecologist.”

Winter 1955. This issue is dedicated to the recently deceased Edward Shipsey, S.J., who served as Owl advisor for 20 years. Richard Schmidt ’79, one of Shipsey’s former pupils and a member of the English department faculty, establishes the Shipsey Poetry Prize. The prize, along with the McCann Prize for best short story, established in honor of Daniel McCann 1884, is awarded annually.

Spring 1957. “Provoked Owl” edition: “If this issue contains an article or book review which causes your intellectual adrenalin to flow, then we are succeeding in our endeavor.”

December 1963. “In Passing,” a photo essay from the Philippines by Jorma Kaukonen ’64, who regularly contributes photos and essays to the journal, is featured. Kaukonen goes on to become lead guitarist for The Jefferson Airplane and to found Hot Tuna.

Spring 1976. “Who is The Owl?” appears in the same edition as “The Great White Way,” a prize-winning story by Michael S. Malone ’75, MBA ’77. Some 35 years later, the prolific author and television producer returns to teach professional writing for SCU’s English department.

The Santa Clara Review 1989

Spring 1983. Storm clouds brew: Christine (Long) Brunkhosrt ’83 pens “The Student-Athlete Hoax,” an article describing NCAA rule infractions at collegiate athletic programs. Use of the word “crooked” to describe a University of San Francisco alumnus involved with infractions that led to suspension of USF’s basketball program brings an $80 million lawsuit for libel. With an apology issued, the suit is dropped.

1988. A new title is introduced: Santa Clara Review. Editors’ rationale: “The Owl as a name has outlived its effectiveness, and we wished to adopt a name which would both attract better submissions and identify the magazine more closely with the University and the community.” Contributions are solicited from around the country. But a Jesuit who teaches religious studies at SCU laments, “The new name seems a foolish attempt at prestige … Will the Santa Clara Review end up another of the numerous unread dumps for fourth-rate authors who can’t get published elsewhere or for academics with their dull articles on the dreary road to rank and tenure? The Owl has flown. Alas.”

2013. Volume 100. What will you find? Art, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from near and far. Editors deny the Review’s predicted slide into a dump for fourth-rate authors, but this judgment is ultimately reserved, as always, for the reader. Note that the iPad edition is recommended for folks ages 12 and up.


Explore a digital archive of the 19th-century issues of The Owl.

Santa Clara Review Volume 100
Sc Review Vol.100(2)
post-image An Owl who’s who: In the 1930s, editors editing by daylight. Photo from The Redwood
Drumroll, Please!

Santa Clara University’s renovated jazz studio gives music majors and non-majors more space to find their sound.

A Plan For Tomorrow

Santa Clara President Julie Sullivan unveils a new strategic plan, Impact 2030, with a focus on increasing access and opportunity, and, of course, SCU’s Jesuit values and Silicon Valley location.

Hoops of Hope

From pink socks to non-profit outreach, Santa Clara Women’s Basketball hosted their annual Pink Game to honor families impacted by cancer.

Flight and Food

Birds can be the key to understanding the environment and SCU students are taking a closer look.