Countdown to 150

Looking Back: The People, The Places, the Traditions

In Fall 2015, as we celebrated Lehigh's 150th anniversary, we looked back on 150 of the people, places, breakthroughs and traditions that have helped make Lehigh what it is today. Our list is hardly comprehensive—so many more people and places and memories could have been included—but it offers a historic (and fun) snapshot of Lehigh's proud history. 

  • 141. Women enroll as undergraduates

    The first one was an accident.

    Although the 169 women enrolled at Lehigh in 1971 were the first female students to officially join the University as undergraduates, a French woman named Jean beat them to it in 1937. Mistakenly believing that “Jean” was the French version of “John,” the registrar enrolled her. Jean attended classes for several months before accepting President Clement Williams’ offer to transfer her to a coed engineering school.

    It wasn’t until January 1969 that a thirteen-member committee met to “examine the desirability and feasibility of undergraduate co-education at Lehigh.” This group of administrators, faculty, alumni, and students recommended bringing co-education to campus by a vote of 12 to 1.

    The Board of Trustees agreed to admit 100 women for the 1971-1972 academic year. In reality, 169 women enrolled that first year, most in the fields of science and mathematics. 

  • 142. Lehigh Squirrels

    Is Lehigh obsessed with its squirrels?

    The Huffington Post thinks so. In 2013, the online site tagged Lehigh as being among the colleges across the country “most obsessed” with them.

    Consider this:

    • The Lehigh Squirrel has more than 1,100 Twitter followers.
    • There’s a YouTube video!
    • The Brown and White staff devoted a humorous, off-beat column to them, titled “Lehigh’s Little Problems.” 

    “The likelihood of being hit by tree nuts is at an all-time high this time of year,” wrote the Brown and White. “Is it a coincidence that squirrels have also been spotted amongst the trees? I think not.”

    Love them – or fear them – the squirrels seem to be everywhere on the Asa Packer campus.

  • Students wrestling

    143. Wrestling

    Lehigh boasts a proud tradition across many sports, but the university’s wrestling team has enjoyed particular success through the years, establishing it as one of the finest and most successful programs in the country.

    The team first competed back in 1910, and in the years since its members have compiled numerous individual and team honors. As one of the leading private universities competing in the sport, Lehigh has seen its wrestlers win 28 individual NCAA national championships and 203 EIWA championships. More than 130 wrestlers have been named All-Americans through the years, and the team was won the EIWA team title 34 times; 16 times, the team finished in the Top 5 of the NCAA championships.

    The team trains in the new Caruso Wrestling Complex and competes in the Leeman-Turner Arena at Grace Hall. The state-of-the-art complex is named for former Lehigh wrestling great Michael Caruso ’67, Lehigh’s only three-time NCAA champion.

  • 144. A Lehigh pioneer

    Cos Denson ’56 was the first African-American graduate of the university.

    Cos Denson ‘56 arrived on campus in Fall 1951 and would make history as the first African-American student to ever graduate from Lehigh. During his four years on campus, he was a “minority of one.”

    “‘You’re kind of an experiment, we’re not sure how it’s going to go, and so you are going to have a private room,’” Denson recalled the vice president of student affairs explaining his lack of a roommate. He was crushed to realize the challenge that lay before him but was determined to make it work. 

    Denson joined the fencing team, and eventually became captain. After graduation, he went on to have a stellar academic and corporate career, returning to Lehigh in 1968-69 as a visiting professor in chemical engineering. He later created a scholarship for chemical engineering students.


  • 145. Lehigh Choral Arts

    Lehigh Choral Arts, directed by award-winning composer-conductor Steven Sametz and Associate Director Sun Min Lee, includes four ensembles.

    For nearly a century, the Glee Club was Lehigh’s only choral group. Co-education in 1971 brought the founding of the all-female Chamber Singers, which in 1979 disbanded to join the Glee Club in forming the mixed University Choir.

    The Choral Union, founded by Sametz nearly 30 years ago, brings over 130 dedicated townspeople to campus for weekly rehearsals where they sing with Lehigh students, staff, and faculty.

    In 2005, the men of the University Choir revived the tradition of the all-male Glee Club, and 2007 saw the return of a women’s chorus with the founding of Dolce.

    On November 21, 2014, Sametz directed the singers of Lehigh University Choral Arts, Symphony Orchestra, Grammy-winning soprano Carmen Pelton, Metropolitan Opera tenor William Burden, and Lehigh choral alumni in a performance of his choral symphony, Carmina amoris, at Carnegie Hall.

  • 146. Linderman Library Skylight

    The Linderman Library’s stained glass skylight is one of the most enduring – and most photographed – images on campus.

    The spectacular dome was installed in 1878 as part of the original library, designed by celebrated Philadelphia architect Addison Hutton. Though it’s not known who made the skylight, its features are said to have been typical of the high Victorian Gothic architecture popular when the library was built.

    In the late 1990s, the stained glass was removed by DePirey International (the firm also did work on the stained glass at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris) and shipped by air to the company’s studio in Bourges, France. There it was cleaned and its broken pieces mended and the lead bars that held the pieces of the glass panels together were replaced.

    Later the stained glass was re-installed at the library, where it continues to make a lasting impression on all those who see it.

  • 147. Lee Iacocca ’45

    Lee Iacocca ’45 started his career at the Ford Motor Co., made his mark as the “father of the Mustang,” and rose through the ranks to become president of the company. Later, after being fired in a power struggle with Henry Ford II, Iacocca joined the rival Chrysler Corp. There, as chairman, he cemented his place in automotive history by turning around the ailing company.

    Iacocca never forgot his alma mater. As a member of Lehigh’s board of trustees, he led the effort in the mid-1980s to acquire from Bethlehem Steel what later became Lehigh’s Mountaintop campus. And in 2011, he challenged Lehigh alumni and friends to match a $5 million endowment grant that he provided for students to gain life-changing international internship experiences. In the first three years of the program, more than 120 students completed internships in countries as diverse as Malaysia and Kazakhstan.



  • 148. The Marching 97

    The Marching 97 was founded in 1906, the year that 15 men gathered in Christmas-Saucon Hall under the direction of band leader E.E. Ross.

    The band has since established itself as one of the finest in the country. Named for the fact that it has 97 members—12 ranks of eight members each, for a total of 96 musicians, plus a drum major—the band has performed at Carnegie Hall and the World’s Fair and, in 2014, at Yankee Stadium as part of the 150th playing of The Rivalry football game between Lehigh and Lafayette.

    The Marching 97, now under the direction of Al Neumeyer, is one of the few collegiate marching bands in the nation that remains completely student-run, and the spirit that Ross instilled in his group of 15 back in 1906—a spirit of comradery, Lehigh spirit and fun—remains to this day.

  • 149. A church steeped in history

    Packer Memorial Church rises in the heart of Lehigh’s Asa Packer campus.

    The church, built between 1885 and 1887, was a gift from Mary Packer Cummings in memory of her parents, Lehigh founder Asa Packer and his wife, Mary.  Designed by prominent Philadelphia architect Addison Hutton, the Gothic Revival style church is made of quarried gray quartzite stone with sandstone accents. In 1979, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

    Author W. Ross Yates wrote that Lehigh students initially opposed the church’s construction because they saw more of a need for new dorms on campus. The students, however, were eventually won over by then-President Robert Lamberton, who turned a student protest into a groundbreaking ceremony for the church.

    Originally an Episcopalian Church, Packer Memorial Church is now an interfaith space, where Sunday services, weddings and campus events are held. Lehigh’s Founder’s Day ceremonies and the Baccalaureate Service also are held there. 

  • 150. Asa Packer

    Lehigh founder Asa Packer was a true risk-taker.

    Packer came from humble beginnings. He worked as a carpenter and a farmer, but he eventually made his money by building and operating canal boats along the Lehigh Canal.

    Packer took a financial risk in the early 1850s when he financed construction of a new Lehigh Valley Railroad. As the canals withered, the Lehigh Valley Railroad prospered and Packer’s wealth continued to grow.

    Packer was active too in politics and public life: he became a state lawmaker, then Carbon County judge, then a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

    In 1865, Packer donated 57 acres of land on South Mountain and $500,000 – the largest gift to any educational facility at the time – to establish Lehigh University.  

    Packer died May 17, 1879.  That same year, in October, the university celebrated its first Founders' Day. The tradition continues.