Lehigh will kick off a year-long celebration commemorating the 40th anniversary of undergraduate women at Lehigh with events this weekend and the launch of a new website.
A series of special programs, talks, and events organized by the Women’s 40th Anniversary steering committee will take place throughout the year.
“Women have had a powerful and important impact on Lehigh and we are inspired by those who preceded us,” Lehigh President Alice P. Gast says. “Today we see the great leadership of women students across campus. The successes of our students and alumnae have been our successes as an institution.”
During the fall semester, highlights include:
"The committee of women and men from throughout the Lehigh community has been working together on the celebration since last April,” says Kathy Calabrese, chair of the committee and director of Lehigh’s child care center. “This collaborative effort has resulted in a number of academic, arts, athletics and theater events and programs in tribute to 40 years of Women.”
For a full list of upcoming events, plus videos, photos and more, visit the special 40 Years of Women at Lehigh website. New content will be added to the website throughout the year.
The decision to go coed
Although women had been accepted at Lehigh as graduate students since 1918, the period leading up to the Board of Trustee’s 1970 vote sparked a lively debate around the issues and benefits of co-education, much of which was inspired by a study that appeared in 1969 called the Harvard-Radcliffe Coeducation Plan Report.
The report discussed admission implications, financial planning, and curriculum benefits, all of which were carefully considered by Lehigh’s faculty, board members, and alumni.
To help facilitate and analyze the discussion about coeducation, the Joynt Committee (named for Professor Carey B. Joynt), a 13-member committee made up of faculty, staff, alumni, and students, was established in January 1969. Their mission statement was to “examine the desirability and feasibility of undergraduate co-education at Lehigh.” By a 12-1 vote, the committee recommended to President W. Deming Lewis that Lehigh open its doors to undergraduate women.
The decision also coincided with a strategic plan to strengthen departments in the humanities and social sciences, emphasizing the premise that Lehigh’s strengths in engineering and the sciences are enhanced by exposure to a broad array of academic subjects. In a 1971 letter to alumni, M.J. Rathbone, then the president of the Board of Trustees wrote that “new and better capabilities provided by the coed expansion will tend to enrich the entire undergraduate experience.”
A continuing legacy
Jim McIntosh, chair of the Sociology and Anthropology Department, was a new professor when Lehigh transitioned to a coed institution, and he affirms Rathbone’s belief, saying that the decision’s effects are still apparent.
“Positive changes to Lehigh are found in the talent of the women that have been admitted. They have become class officers, award winners, leaders and outstanding academic students,” he says. “It comes down to the simple fact that all that was needed was opportunity. Women at Lehigh have prospered, and Lehigh as an institution has prospered by the decision to admit women.”
While members of the first coed class look forward to commemorating their experiences by reflecting on Lehigh’s transition through the events and activities of the year, many are also honored to pass the torch to a new generation of women leaders and students across campus.
Jane (Palestine) Jamieson ’75 was one of the 169 women admitted in the first coed class. She went on to a successful career in finance and marketing and retired as executive vice president from Fidelity Investments in Boston, Mass. She is currently a member of Lehigh’s Board of Trustees.
“I think being a trustee and now being able to spend a lot more time back on campus and to spend time with the faculty and the administration, to be able to meet students, is really fun. I think you get an appreciation for how much Lehigh has changed, but also how its values and approach are really consistent, and I think that’s a great thing to see. I love spending time with the kids and seeing what they’re doing and the issues and the struggles that they’re having, and how they contribute to the university and how the experience they have here gets them ready to go out and be successful in a whole range of ventures.”
“I hope that the women who are at Lehigh and are studying today will at least hear the message that, yeah, there are others that came before you, but you have a responsibility to continue and show that we are the strong women and we’re the strong Lehigh,” says Barb Turanchik ’75, another member of the first coed class and Lehigh’s current director of club sports.
The stories of Jamieson and Turanchik, along with others, will become part of another project associated with the celebration, a video archive meant to record the experiences of Lehigh’s community members, both male and female, past and present.
The video project, which will become a permanent addition to Lehigh’s archive, is part of a broader effort to commemorate and recognize the contributions of women at Lehigh.
For more about the first class of women at Lehigh, read: 40 Years Ago: They Broke the Coed Barrier