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About penn state


Penn State Myths

Myth: The word "Nittany" is derived from Princess Nita-nee, a member of the Native American tribes who once lived in central Pennsylvania.

Fact: Princess Nita-nee was "invented" by author and publisher Henry W. Shoemaker and has no basis whatever in fact. Shoemaker’s mention of the princess first appeared in print in 1903. At that time he attributed the tale to "an aged Seneca Indian named Isaac Steele." Shoemaker, a well known Pennsylvania folklorist, later admitted that both Steele and Nita-nee were "purely fictitious."

To learn the REAL origins of "Nittany", go to "All Things Nittany"

Myth: Penn State is state-owned and operated.

Fact: Penn State is "state-related." It was incorporated in 1855 as a private entity but the Board of Trustees included representatives of state government, including the governor. The state legislature in 1863 named Penn State the Commonwealth's sole land-grant institution, a designation that gave the University a broad mission of teaching, research, and public service. The legislature only occasionally granted funds to Penn State during the early years but since 1887 has made appropriations on a regular basis.

Myth: Old Main burned down.

Fact: The original Old Main -- Penn State's first academic and administrative building -- was completed in 1863. A fire partially destroyed the roof in 1892, which resulted in remodeling the upper floor and the bell tower. Age and heavy use took their toll, and the building was torn down in 1929. The current Old Main was opened in 1930.

the original old main The Original Old Main

Myth: Penn State began as a high school.

Fact: Penn State was incorporated in 1855 as an agricultural college having the power to grant baccalaureate degrees. Its aim was to encourage the application of science to farming. But many farmers distrusted the traditional college curriculum that emphasized the study of rhetoric, ancient languages, philosophy, and other "classical" subjects. To allay these suspicions, the University’s founders named the institution The Farmers’ High School, a designation that lasted until 1862.

Myth: Land-grant education means agricultural education.

Fact: The Land-Grant Act, passed by Congress in 1862, called for states to select and support colleges and universities that would include agriculture and engineering in their curricula, without excluding science or classical studies. Their goal was "to promote liberal and practical education..." So Penn State, as a land-grant institution, offered a wide range of studies from its earliest years. Only a small fraction of the student body majored in agriculture.

Myth: The sun dial on the Old Main lawn is the geographic center of Pennsylvania.

Fact: The sun dial is a gift of the senior class of 1915 and was presented that same year. It holds no geographic significance. The geographic center of the Commonwealth is in Centre County, but the latest calculations by Penn State cartographers place it near Fisherman's Paradise along Spring Creek, near Bellefonte. For many years, based on older methods of calculation, the center was thought to be near Aaronsburg, along Route 45, about 25 miles east of the University Park campus.

Myth: Penn State’s University Park campus is located in Happy Valley.

Fact: That may be the popular assumption in some quarters but in truth there is no geographic place in Centre County formally designated "Happy Valley." Happy Valley is generally used in an informal or even a slang context, often by journalists, and is not part of the University's official style. The University Park campus and the community of State College are located in the Nittany Valley, near its confluence with Penns Valley. The origin of the name Happy Valley as applied to this location is murky. There seems to have been some local usage as early as the 1950s, but the term apparently became far more widely used and recognized starting in the late 1960s, about the time when network telecasts of Nittany Lions football games began, and thus might be attributed to sports writers and broadcasters.

view of nittany valley The Nittany Valley

Myth: There are no sorority houses at Penn State because of an old Pennsylvania law that defined a dwelling that housed a certain number of unrelated women as a brothel.

Fact: Sorority houses did exist on the University Park campus, and there is no such state law nor any University prohibition against sorority houses per se. The first sorority house on campus was Stone House (a former faculty residence), which in 1928 became home to a women's social club, Nita-Nee, which became Kappa Alpha Theta in 1930 and occupied the house until 1949. Other sororities also had campus houses but, like KAT, moved out of these aging structures soon after World War II and into newly available suites in residence halls. The sororities rented the suites from the University -- as they continue to do today. The advantages of residence hall suites and the high cost of private housing in the post-war era discouraged off-campus sorority houses, although the borough of State College, in its zoning laws, makes no distinction between sorority and fraternity houses.