What’s in a Name?

By Brian Brennan

One of the lesser-known oddities in Youngstown State University’s history involves the evolution of its name. At one point, the institution was known by three names — all at once.

Eventually, a single moniker was agreed upon, one that was based upon common usage rather than any other intellectual or political considerations.

Our university has its origins with the Youngstown chapter of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA, or simply, the “Y”). In addition to the promotion of physical fitness, the YMCA also promoted mental fitness chiefly through various class offerings designed mostly for self-improvement.

Dale Carnegie, whose famous book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” (the grand-daddy of all modern self-help books) got his start by teaching his method at the YMCA in Chicago.

Locally, the “Y” taught English to immigrants and provided classes on automobile mechanics, office skills and other types of courses. In 1908, the YMCA offered a course in commercial law, its first on the college level. This is considered to be the actual beginning of Youngstown State University.

By 1916, both college and high school courses were taught, and the institution was designated as the Youngstown Association School of the YMCA. Eventually, demand for college-level courses increased. More space was needed. To meet the demand, two mansions along Wick Avenue were leased by the “Y.”

In 1921, the YMCA Board of Trustees renamed the school the Youngstown Institute of Technology, a name favored by trustee James Wick — a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Even so, confusion reigned.

Those in the know referred to it as “The Institute,” while others never ceased calling it the Youngstown Association School (or YMCA School). The vast majority incorrectly called it “The College” or “Youngstown College.”

To make matters worse, the liberal arts section became known as “Youngstown College,” while the Youngstown Institute designation was applied to the others (including the Law School).

By 1931, the students had had enough. At any given time, three different names appeared on official letterhead and other business transactions. This made actions like the transfer of credits difficult or even impossible. A petition was drawn up and submitted to the Institute’s director, Homer L. Nearpass, demanding the standardization of the institution’s name.

Later that year, the YMCA Board of Trustees bowed to both popular usage and student demand. The Institute was renamed Youngstown College. The students would come to refer to it affectionately as “YoCo.”

The YMCA’s connection to Youngstown College would be severed in 1944, when separation was required before the school could become a fully accredited institution. By 1955, the college grew to the point where it was a university in all but name, so it was renamed The
Youngstown University.

In 1967, YU joined the system of state-supported institutions of higher learning in Ohio and became Youngstown State University.

For further information, visit YSU’s Archives & Special Collections in Maag Library. Also recommended is Alvin Skardon’s book, “Steel Valley University: The Origins of Youngstown State” (Maag Library Call No. LD6373.S53).