Strausbaugh writes the history of Mercyhurst

Mercyhurst is a university that takes pride in its rich and vivid history. This is especially evident in the Ambassador’s program where students are tasked with the responsibility of knowing and repeating that information to prospective incoming students and their families.

Up until just recently, though, there was no comprehensive written history. Roy Strausbaugh, Ph.D. has changed that.

Strausbaugh received his Ph.D. from Case Western University and was a tenured professor of history at Edinboro University until his retirement in 1993. In 1994, he came to Mercyhurst, served in various positions and now holds the title of Visiting Professor of History.

Six years ago, Strausbaugh approached President Tom Gamble, Ph. D., noting the lack of a comprehensive history of Mercyhurst. Having already written a history of Edinboro University, Strausbaugh proposed that he do so for Mercyhurst as well.

“It needed to be done,” Strausbaugh said.

The book covers many aspects of Mercyhurst’s history, from the founding of the college by the Sisters of Mercy to going co-ed in the 1960s and up to the year 2000.

Strausbaugh noted that he chose 2000 for the cutoff because he wanted to remain distanced from the current life of the university.

“I have a very firm opinion that for historians to do their jobs, there has to be some time passed. We’re not journalists and we don’t want to be journalists,” Strausbaugh said.

The founding of the university is especially interesting, according to Strausbaugh, because of “the tenacity of the pioneer sisters, the ones who developed the dream to develop a college in Erie and how they did it without any money. To start out from scratch to build a college, they had to be very, very committed to the enterprise.”

The superior of the Sisters of Mercy in Crawford and Erie counties, Mother Borgia Egan, worked to establish a college that would allow young women to continue their education. The name “Mercyhurst” was chosen as a combination of the word “mercy” with an Anglo Saxon word that approximately means “grove of trees.”

Though Mercyhurst was originally intended as a college for young women, the institution became coeducational in the late 1960s after the change to the trimester system created complications in student exchanges between Gannon and Mercyhurst.

A decline in enrollment at Mercyhurst influenced this change heavily. Financially, the change was necessary because women were increasingly transferring to and enrolling in coeducational institutions.

Over time, the college began to change and grow, responding to students and community alike. Strausbaugh’s book ends on the coming of the college into a new century and the regaining of the Catholic heritage that had built it from the ground up through the Sisters of Mercy.

Mercyhurst has expanded its influence greatly and become one of the top institutions for higher education in the United States. It has an ever-growing impact on the experience of university education.

When asked how he thinks Mercyhurst may shape higher education in the future, Strausbaugh said that it depends on how the university responds to the larger questions that are being asked of higher education.

“As an institution, Mercyhurst is committed to student success. As a liberal arts university, I think it’s in a sweet spot,” Strausbaugh said.