By Brian Brennan
With the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, America entered World War II. Youngstown College, like the rest of the country, threw itself into the war effort and would emerge completely transformed.
The war served as the crucible in which YoCo was recast from a provincial school into a well-established institution with a nationally competitive curriculum.
During the late 1930s, most YoCo students and faculty came to look upon the world scene with increasing trepidation as Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan embarked upon the path of military aggression.
World War II itself began with Germany’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. Many felt that it was only a matter of time before the U.S. was drawn into the conflict. Efforts were made to enhance national defense. In 1939, the Civil Aeronautics Authority began offering civilian pilot instruction at YoCo.
Soon after, wartime cadet programs trained YoCo men for service as pilots in both the U.S. Army Air Forces and naval aviation.
After Pearl Harbor, YoCo went on a dedicated war footing. Summer vacations were canceled for the duration. Likewise, the football program was suspended and Coach Dwight V. “Dike” Beede turned to selling insurance in the interim.
Male enrollment declined due to the needs of the armed services, yet female matriculation continued relatively unabated. Nevertheless, the overall decline in student numbers affected both the finances of the college and those of its parent organization, the Youngstown YMCA, to which YoCo remained attached as the educational division.
A Wartime Accelerated Degree program was instituted, where a four-year diploma could be earned in three years. Courses that provided training needed by the military or for government service were highlighted.
The chemistry and engineering departments received special consideration at this time, along with additional federal funding, while vocational courses involving typing, stenography and other office skills were also highly promoted by the college administration.
Interestingly, a nine-week course on the manufacture of munitions was offered throughout the war years. While directly pertaining to the war effort, the course provided a great deal of managerial training, proving valuable to YoCo graduates entering into postwar employment in the steel industry and other similar enterprises.
As the war drew to a close, YoCo was transformed. In 1944, the college’s final ties to the YMCA were severed and all of the courses offered (except for many business classes, which remained vocational), were taught at the college-level.
A massive surge in enrollment on the part of veterans (thanks to the G.I. Bill) facilitated YoCo’s growth. Needs for additional classroom space, a library, and other facilities resulted in the great postwar expansion of the campus physical plant that continues to this day. The curriculum was revamped with an emphasis on science and engineering.
Youngstown College was well on its way to becoming the Youngstown State University that we know today.
For further information, visit YSU Archives & Special Collections (5th Floor, Maag Library) or call (330) 941-3487.