The magazine was founded in spring 1909 as Froth, filling the humor void left after Penn State’s first humor magazine, The Lemon, published its final issue June 10, 1908. (The Lemon had been an influential part of student life on campus; the birth of Penn State’s Nittany Lion mascot lied in the pages of the publication.) A. W. Fisher, editor of the State Collegian, a predecessor to The Daily Collegian, served as editor of the inaugural issue of Froth.
Froth’s mascot, a jester named Frothy, eventually began making appearances along with the Nittany Lion at Penn State football games. This initial run of Froth lasted until 1943; the magazine stopped production during World War II due to a lack of staff members.
During the 1920’s Froth was sold not only on the Penn State campus and in State College, but also in 17 other Pennsylvania towns and cities as well as Washington, D.C., Providence, Rhode Island and Syracuse, New York. This popularity led to Froth being named the Best Managed Humor Magazine by College Humor Magazine for 1930-31.
Froth Magazine v. President Walker
After World War II, in 1946, Froth resumed printing, but was again stopped in 1962 when deemed too vulgar and offensive by the University. After accumulating five written warnings in 10 years for accusations of being libelous, vulgar and offensive, charges were filed to revoke the magazine’s charter by both the Dean of Men and of Women and the University Senate Committee on Student Affairs. The case was handed to a sub-committee on on Student Organizations who revoked Froth’s charter effective October 13, 1962. One of the controversial parodies that led to these filings was an article from 1959 that ‘quoted’ Penn State President Eric A. Walker as saying, “I am always interested in student problems. Sometimes I tell someone to do something about them, like raising tuition so we will not have any poverty stricken students around.”
This shutdown was short-lived and in 1965 Froth again began printing. The new incarnation of the magazine struggled to gain popularity with students and production was scarce during the late 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. The sordid history of Froth is best described in a masthead reading: “Founded 1909, unfounded 1962, re-founded 1965, confounded 1969.”
In 1977, a group of Collegian writers led by Robert “Sudsi” Carville began producing Froth from a dorm room in Hartranft Hall. The first issue, a parody newspaper called “The Daily Collusion” was printed in February 1978. Because Froth and the Collegian shared so many staffers, the parody looked very authentic and while it was well-received, a wide misconception that it was produced by the Collegian prevented Frothers from gaining acclaim for their work.
During the late 70s and early 80s, the staff embarked on many PR campaigns, including a softball game against campus police, an “arduous” mountain climb up Pattee Mall and a widely promoted homecoming float that turned out to be nothing more than a shopping cart filled with garbage.
Their most successful campaign grew from their best-remembered publication, the 1980 issue, “The 80s, a Look Behind.” In that issue, the magazine predicted events in the coming decade from the perspective of a 1990 writer such as a news item from 1987 explaining that a retirement at the university had left Penn State ìwithout a single English speaking mathematics professor.
One article featured a Gerbil named “Wimpy” being elected as University Student Government president. The parody soon gained real-life backing from the Monty Python Society and other student groups and was the focus of writers for the Collegian and other newspapers. This press coverage, along with a heavy propaganda campaign from Frothers (posters and buttons reading “WHY NOT?”) resulted in a second place finish for the gerbil-candidate in 1981’s USG elections. The parody became such a campus-wide success that at one point, Froth writers were contacted by NBC with promises of an interview on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson had Wimpy prevailed.
The success for Froth was short-lived, however. As the last members of the 1977 team graduated in 1981 and 1982, the magazine suffered staffing and leadership issues, and eventually collapsed.
For a more complete telling of the history of Froth from 1977-1981 click here.
Froth becomes Phroth
In 1999, the magazine was ready for another go-around. The publication’s spelling was changed to Phroth to outwardly represent renewal. From spring 2003 until 2008, a nominal fee of $1 has been charged for each issue and until recently, the magazine operated in deficit and in order to continue publishing, supplemented revenue from issue sales with funding from the University Park Allocations Committee (UPAC). To offset recent cutbacks in this funding, the organization increased the density of advertising in its publications and conducted fund raisers to continue publishing.
This new incarnation features between 2-3 glossy magazines and 2-3 Phaily Phollegian newspaper parodies. Phroth has regularly included a pull-out centerfold poster, recurring features such as the Phroth “How To” and special features lampooning both topical and timeless subjects related to Penn State and popular culture. Phroth is available in several drop boxes around campus, as well as routinely distributed at the HUB tables. Phaily Phollegians are distributed in early morning air-drop campaigns and are available throughout the distribution day.
On January 25, 2007, a surprise issue of Phroth’s Phaily Phollegian parody newspaper was released to campus-wide acclaim; however, it seemed to catch the student-run newspaper at Penn State, the Daily Collegian, off-guard. The Collegian’s Editor-in-Chief reacted to the parody with a column explaining to readers, many of whom had thought the parody was a real Collegian publication, that there were consequences to parody newspapers. The issue had fallen the same week of a controversial issue of Princeton’s school newspaper, which contained a racially offensive column.
The following Monday, Phroth fans and writers reacted to the editorial with three rebuttals, striking back against the Editor’s explanation.
Annually, the group also writes and produces Phroth Phest, a sketch comedy show executed each spring with the assistance of No Refund Theatre. In 2008, the Phroth team launched Phroth Philms, a sketch comedy endeavor available on YouTube (although the project has been cancelled recently). Phroth has also leaked its juices into Facebook and Twitter.
In 2009, Phroth celebrated its centennial by dedicating a large portion of its spring magazine to alumni submissions and essays. The effort was mentioned in a Daily Collegian cover story and an article in The Centre Daily Times.
Recognition and Notoriety
In 1915, Froth writer G.L. Hemminger wrote the following poem for the magazine:
Tobacco is a dirty weed; I like it; It satisfies no normal need; I like it. It makes you thin; it makes you lean; It takes the hair right off your bean; Its the worst darn stuff Ive ever seen; I like it.
The poem proved to be one of Froth’s most famous pieces. First published by Collier’s Weekly under the title An Unregenerate Moment, Hemmingers poem has since been reprinted countless times, including appearances in Time Magazine (They Like It, January 5, 1959) and Bartletts Famous Quotations; the poem is the only thing ever written by a Penn State student to appear in the book.
Longtime New Yorker cartoonist Michael Maslin featured Froth’s March 1947 “The Noo Yawker” issue at a New Yorker cartoonists gallery showing and luncheon. Nearly half of the edition’s content was dedicated to parodying the longtime New York-based publication.