A Little Bit of England

By Brian Brennan

She was a poet, a teacher and an administrator. She was a well-traveled intellectual, a respected lecturer and a published author. The students at Youngstown College saw her as a “little mother” to whom they could address their problems and concerns.

Scholarly and professional, Eleanor B. North was both an English instructor and the dean of women at Youngstown College from 1929 to 1937. She was one of our institution’s most interesting personalities.

North was born in Mercer, Pennsylvania, and she earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from the Pennsylvania State University. Later, North was awarded graduate scholarships by Cambridge and Oxford universities in England and by Harvard University. Prior to coming to Youngstown, North taught Shakespeare and poetry at Juniata College in Huntington, Pennsylvania.

While at Youngstown College, North instilled within her students a love of English literature and poetry, while also sponsoring “literary pilgrimages” to Britain. North was a founding member of the Youngstown chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, the international English honor society, and usually spent her summers in England, lecturing and pursuing further study.

During one of these trips, North obtained some ivy cuttings from Pembroke College at the University of Cambridge, and soon thereafter replanted them in front of Jones Hall. The vines grew over the years, giving the front towers an elegant, Old World appearance.

As dean of women, North was a source of wise counsel. She encouraged mentorship and urged students to never underestimate their abilities. Her office was poetically referred to as “Friendship Village” where she hosted “friendship circles” serving up “a little bit of England” through tea and conversation.

In her day, North was a bit of an oddity; she was a “free spirit” with an Oxbridge view of the world. Sadly, this romantic outlook may have clashed with the more conservative, pragmatic views of the YoCo administration. Smokey Youngstown was not idyllic Cambridge.

During its meeting in April 1937, the Youngstown College Board of Governors was informed by President Howard Jones that North had been terminated. The reason given was that the College was “contemplating the hiring of a man or woman holding the Ph.D. degree” for the English Department.

Soon thereafter, Karl Dykema was selected to replace North, despite the fact that his doctoral work remained incomplete at the time. Later, he would become dean of YSU’s College of Arts & Sciences. Catherine Semans, already an instructor at YoCo, succeeded North as dean of women.

Fortunately, there was life after YoCo. North landed a position with the English department at Berry College in Georgia, from which she would later retire. She taught, lectured and established various scholarships. Just prior to her death in 1982, North was awarded a research grant and continued to submit poems to various publications. Her legacy lives on today through her poetry and the “Eleanor B. North Scholarship” offered by Sigma Tau Delta.

Regrettably, the ivy North planted no longer graces Jones Hall. It was removed a few years ago during one of the building’s many renovations.