Female Students walk on campus

The decision to open up Lehigh to female undergraduates was a significant step forward in Lehigh’s storied history.

Soaring Together: Celebrating the Women of Lehigh

The campus community begins a celebration of an institutional milestone with unique events, programs and projects.

Story by

Mary Ellen Alu

Fifty years ago, on May 29, 1970, Lehigh’s Board of Trustees voted to accept female undergraduate students at the university for the first time, a decision that would forever transform the university. The first group of 169 female undergraduate students arrived some 18 months after the vote, in Fall 1971. 

Though women have been taking classes at Lehigh since 1902, and have been accepted as graduate students since 1918, the decision to open up Lehigh to female undergraduates was a significant step forward in Lehigh’s storied history.

Ultimately, it made the institution stronger, too. 

Logo for Soaring Together, Women of Lehigh

“The advent of women has made a positive and profound difference in the quality of university life,” former President W. Deming Lewis would say a decade after the first class of women enrolled. “Their presence and contributions have enriched our lives together in many waysacademic, social, cultural and athletic.”

From now through spring 2022, which marks the 50th anniversary of undergraduate women’s first year on campus, Lehigh will celebrate the contributions and the impact of the Lehigh women whose talents and tenacity have changedand continue to change—their fields of study and disciplines, their companies and institutions, their communities and the world.

The celebration will include events, programs, talks and student projects and provide a platform for scholarship, research and discourse around issues of women, gender, society and more.

“We are taking advantage of this milestone anniversary to celebrate all Lehigh women and the contributions they have made to the university,” said Lehigh President John D. Simon ’19P. “This is not about one moment in time or a single class, but about the strength of our dynamic and diverse community. We are at our best when we work together.”

Among the women who have graduated from Lehigh are leaders in the fields of science, engineering, finance and the arts, among other disciplines. Many have broken barriers, such as Stacey Cunningham ’96, the first female president of the New York Stock Exchange, and Cathy Engelbert, the first commissioner of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). 

In 2011, Lehigh alumni, faculty and staff worked together to celebrate 40 years of undergraduate women with a host of activities and events.

“We’ll be engaging alumni of all genders to celebrate co-education at Lehigh," said Assistant Vice President for Alumni Relations Jennifer Cunningham. "We won’t necessarily be creating new alumni programming, but we will intentionally develop content for existing activities that highlights amazing alumnae and how they’re contributing to their industries, their communities and GO: The Campaign for Lehigh.

"We have asked a group of faculty, staff, students and alumni to serve on an Advisory Committee, whose purpose is to help identify other alumni that want to be involved; host, attend, and publicize activities; guide staff on planning; and help set engagement goals."

The logo was designed by University Communications and inspired the tagline “Soaring Together,” capturing the idea that the women of Lehigh continually elevate the institution, and that our entire community and alumni network are strongest when we are together.

Members of the Lehigh community interested in connecting a new or existing event or program with the celebration should submit their project and  visit the university's intranet site for more information.  

Do you know an accomplished Lehigh woman or a great story about coeducation at Lehigh? If so, let us know. Submissions can go here.

Advisory Committee members to date are:

  • Mayra Juarez Gutierrez '15
  • Drew Gill '05
  • Karen Stuckey '75
  • Julia Pardee '20
  • Gabrielle Jenkins '91 '24P
  • Mary Jo McNulty '22P
  • Roseann Corsi - Staff
  • Robin Albing '76
  • Kerry Mallett '15
  • Susan Yee '82
  • James Duane '73
  • Rita Jones '24P - Staff
Story by

Mary Ellen Alu

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