The Freshman Edict

By Brian Brennan

Once upon a time, first-year students at Youngstown College experienced an ordeal called Initiation Week and fell subject to the Freshman Edict. This was a rite of passage imposed by a special committee and enforced by YoCo’s upperclassmen.

The Edict was seen as character building. Today, we would call it hazing, even though harm was neither intended nor reported.

College initiation traditions were common in the United States in the early to mid-20th century. The intent was to build college spirit through shared hardships. Once students got through the initiation period (hopefully with a certain sense of satisfaction and humor), they achieved acceptance by their peers and saw themselves as full-fledged students.

Getting to that point was far from pleasant, however.

The earliest form of the Freshman Edict may be found in the Youngstown College student handbook for the academic year 1928-29. All freshmen (both male and female) were required to wear a green tam (replaced in later years by a red and white “frosh beanie”).

Women had to wear green bows in their hair. Men donned green ties. Freshmen could not enter campus buildings through the front door, nor could they speak with students of the opposite sex. Tobacco products were forbidden, but all freshmen had to carry matches — for the convenience upperclassmen.

During the week, men were forbidden from shaving; women could use cosmetics, but only on one side of the face.

In time, the terms of the Freshmen Edict became more outlandish. All upperclassmen were to be treated as royalty; men had to bow to them and women were told to curtsy.

In addition to cigarettes, gum was prohibited. Freshmen were not permitted to sit in soft chairs. Copies of the Alma Mater and YoCo’s history had to be in each freshman’s possession at all

times and presented upon request. Cardboard nameplates (bearing one’s name, address, and telephone number) were worn around the neck.

Men had to don their green caps, knickers or short pants (with garters visible at all times), one galosh on the left foot and red nail polish. They could shave only one side of the face. Along with their green headwear, women were instructed to wear aprons, ankle socks with high-heels and black nail polish.

As before, females could only wear facial makeup on one side. All jewelry was forbidden. In addition, all freshmen had to bring firewood each day to a specified location for an end-of-the-week bonfire.

Severe penalties for infractions of the Edict were threatened. In later years, a demerit system was used in order to assess punishment, which was never described.

The Freshman Edict quietly ended during World War II. With so many veterans enrolling at YoCo through the G.I. Bill, the tradition no longer made sense.

A freshman who previously spent a great deal of time dodging German or Japanese bullets could never be expected to look upon an upperclassman with fear or trepidation. Undergoing initiation became a matter of personal choice, as such rituals were now limited to fraternities and sororities.

For further information, contact Archives & Special Collections at 330-941-3487.

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