Pitt in the making: How did WUP become Pitt?


Pitt’s old name — Western University of Pennsylvania — was nearly resurrected this month as Pennsylvania Western University, the new moniker for a combined California, Clarion and Edinboro universities.

Although we haven’t needed the old name since 1908, Pitt almost wasn’t called “Pitt,” for a while there, when the name change was first suggested. True, “University of Pittsburgh” was the top pick of many, but not the only possibility.

Frick University anyone?

Our athletic teams could have been the Frickers. After all, when we were WUP, the sports pages of the daily newspapers chronicled the competitions of “the WUPs,” and the Cap and Gown Club was happy to put on a play titled “In Wupland.”

The movement to de-WUPify the University took off with the move to consolidate all its scattered buildings in 1906. The impetus was the city of Pittsburgh attempting to annex Allegheny City and turn it into the North Side.

In May 1906, WUP Chancellor Samuel B. McCormick, from his offices on Wood Street downtown, was busy raising a million bucks for the new campus — wherever it might end up — and announcing: “It is only a matter of time before it will come to be named the University of Pittsburgh.”

By October, there was already talk of an East End site for the campus, and of one reason for its likely success: Carnegie Tech, also in the East End, failed to offer courses in those subjects that make a major institution of higher education, such as philosophy, literature and languages.

Not so fast, said a group of professors, students and alumni, meeting in February 1907 in the Hotel Schenley. They wanted the University of Greater Pittsburgh — since the effort to add the North Side was already known widely as the “Greater Pittsburgh” campaign.

“One speaker,” reported the Pittsburgh Gazette-Times, “said … that some rich man be appealed to with the proposition to name the university after him if he would provide an endowment fund.”

Henry Clay Frick wasn’t such a farfetched target. Just a few years earlier, in 1902, when the Boston Home Journal reported Frick was planning a “residence, stable, automobile barn and servants’ quarters” right there in Boston, also noted that “Frick … is to give Pittsburg a big university. A friend of Mr. Frick’s says that Mr. Frick’s university will make Andrew Carnegie’s much-talked-of ‘tech’ look like thirty cents.”

But the find-a-rich-benefactor proposal “brought Prof. John A. Brashear to his feet with a rush,” said the Gazette-Times. “‘Let us do nothing of the sort,’ he exclaimed. ‘That would indeed be a disaster.’”

Whatever name was chosen, WUP officials were disinclined to go along with the H-less spelling of Pittsburgh, even though the city was in the midst of its 20-year H-less period (1891-1911).

The naming decision still had far to go, the press opined. “Renaming it the University of Pittsburgh means more than appears on the surface,” said the Gazette-Times. “There is the necessity for a new college yell, for instance.”

And some trustees were resistant to renaming the University at all.

Then, in December 1907, WUP bought 43 acres in the Schenley Farms/Bellefield area, next to, and now part of, Oakland. Still, McCormick was not ready to decide on the name change.

“The buildings are the thing, and the name does not matter,” he said, busy displaying mockups of Greek-pillared buildings. Other officials were already discussing “a gigantic stadium or athletic field” at the top of the property, and the press noted that “no buildings will be too massive for the foundation rock found in the hillside,” since 30 feet below the surface lay sandstone 90-feet thick. “As much excavating will be done to level off the campus, the bedrock will be only a few feet from the surface, and will provide an ideal base for foundations,” said the Pittsburgh Post.

Everyone forgot about the new name for a moment as new digs were envisioned. One new feature of the campus would be dormitories, the Post predicted, “rare except among the largest universities of the country.” WUP, said the Post, should follow the Oxford plan — putting students from each college into their own dormitories — rather than the Princeton model, in which students were allowed to stay anywhere.

Although dining clubs were possible, “a common hall, under the direction of University authorities, is regarded, in some quarters, as the best solution,” the Post speculated. Of course, it added, “in reality there would be two halls, one for those students working their way through or forced to economize and another for sons of wealthy families.”

Don’t worry if the new campus hillside is not exactly levelled off, the paper added: “Physicians assert that the stiff climb necessary to reach the campus from Fifth Avenue will have a beneficial effect on the health of the student body. It will provide conditioning for athletes, and bookworms … will be forced to take much-needed exercise. A winding driveway will ascend the hill at an easy grade, but a more direct flight of steps broken by terraces will be utilized by hurrying undergraduates.” (Students may just gain the latter feature next year, at least from O’Hara Street upward, as part of the new recreation facility replacing the LRDC.)

And why worry about a name change when WUP might just move again? “Twenty-five years from now a site farther in the suburbs might be more desirable,” McCormick said.

With this major development, the Pittsburg Press offered “Pittsburg University” as a name candidate.

By May 1908, Pittsburgh Mayor George W. Guthrie, WUP alumni president, stirred the pot further: “The only objection I have to University of Pittsburgh as a name is that the initials are the same as University of Pennsylvania, and this may cause some confusion. I believe, however, that in time our school will be known simply as ‘Pittsburgh,’ just as Princeton stands for the university of that name.”

On July 11, 1908, a Common Pleas Court judge “granted the petition of the board of trustees of the Western University of Pennsylvania to amend its charter and make the name of the institution University of Pittsburgh,” reported the Gazette-Times. “Pittsburgh is to be spelt with an ‘h,’ as is proper, and the article ‘the’ is not to be used before the word University.”

Pitt was on its way. More than 1,100 students were enrolled. And by that fall, the cornerstone was to be laid for the first building of the campus of tomorrow: The School of Mines.

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at martyl@pitt.edu or 412-758-4859.


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