All the members of my family are Chaney High School graduates. Both my mother and father graduated from Chaney in 1938, attending the “old” Chaney High School that later became West Jr. High School (which I also attended). My siblings and I graduated from the “new” Chaney on South Hazelwood Avenue. You might say we are a Cowboy family.
I don’t know about my parents, but I never learned the history of the man after whom our high school was named. It turns out that N. H. Chaney was both a local and statewide education leader, presiding over one of the greatest periods of growth of the Youngstown School system, serving as Superintendent from 1902 to 1920.
Novetus Holland Chaney was born in Highland County in southwest Ohio on March 4, 1856. He received Bachelors and Masters degrees from Wilmington College, and completed a Ph.D. at Ohio Wesleyan University in Philosophy and Ethics in 1893. His school leadership career began with four years as a principal in Clarksville, a short stint as superintendent at Blanchester, twelve years as superintendent at Washington Court House and four years in Chillicothe, before coming to Youngstown in 1902.
The Youngstown schools went through a great period of growth in programs, enrollments, and buildings. According to Howard C. Aley, in A Heritage to Share, “manual training, hygiene, special classes for handicapped children, medical inspection, the school nursing system, kindergartens, domestic arts and science and humane and safety first programs were introduced into the schools” (p. 229).
Enrollments and teachers tripled under his tenure, resulted in cramped facilities requiring new construction. High school enrollment quadrupled and South High School was opened and 20 classrooms added to Washington School, where I attended for elementary school. At his retirement, 20,411 students were enrolled. He initiated construction of Grant Elementary as well as plans for junior high schools, an innovation to relieve crowding in the high schools on the north, south, east, and west sides of town.
He also was a state leader in education serving as President of the Central Ohio Teachers Association and the Ohio State Teachers Association. In 1908, he was appointed a State Board School Examiner, the body that granted teaching certificates in that era. He served a five year term ending in 1913, not untroubled when his own credentials were questioned, and settled when he mailed his own certificate to Columbus.
After retirement in 1920, he went on to run for Clerk of Courts in 1922 and 1924. The one possible taint on an otherwise sterling career may have occurred during this time. According to William D. Jenkins in Steel Valley Klan, “East High was downsized and a high school built on the west side named after N. H Chaney, a former superintendent of schools in Youngstown, and a successful candidate for Clerk of Courts on the Klan ticket in 1924.”
The years of 1923-25 were a dark time in Youngstown history. A Klan Konclave drew over 100,000 to the city in 1923 and in that year a number of Klan endorsed candidates were elected, including four Klan candidates to the school board. There was a strong reaction in this period to the number of southern and eastern Europeans moving into the Valley as well as African Americans. The pressure on office holders to accept an endorsement that represented a significant block of votes was great then as now. From what I can learn, some candidates refused such endorsements. I find no evidence apart from the Jenkins quote that Chaney was a Klan member, or received a Klan endorsement. In the November 5, 1924 Vindicator, giving election results, where other candidates are identified as Klan endorsed, there is only this reference to Chaney:
N. H. Chaney died the next year, in 1925, with a number of the schools he had planned under construction. As mentioned above, the one under construction on the west side, originally West High School, was re-named in honor of Chaney. If William Rayen was the pioneer in Youngstown education history, N. H. Chaney was the education leader who developed a school system to serve Youngstown’s rapidly growing population. And that is how my high school alma mater got its name.