The Other 'Co' of 'Coeducation'

A letter from the assistant vice president for Alumni Relations

As we were thinking about naming the celebration to commemorate the 50th year since Lehigh agreed to allow women into the undergraduate programs, we selected “50 Years of Coeducation” over “50 Years of Women,” partly because hundreds of women were already part of the Lehigh community—as graduate students, alumnae, faculty, staff, parents, wives and daughters—and partly because we wanted the name of the celebration to reflect that the change impacted the men of Lehigh, too.

I am highlighting a few men who were here for the all-male, then coed campus, and who embraced the change. (To be honest, over the years I’ve heard plenty from men who didn’t agree with the decision, and still don’t!) The submissions have been edited for space, but you can find their full story at go.lehigh.edu/soaringtogetherblog.

I recall that going coed was a controversial decision, much more so among former graduates who wanted to preserve tradition than among students: Virtually all of my friends supported Lehigh becoming a coed institution. 

I came to Lehigh drawn by its academic reputation, despite the male-only environment. From the perspective of a Gryphon, the freshmen men’s experience interacting with women was generally wanting, unnatural, and uncomfortable, to say the least. They tended to meet women “up on the hill” at frat parties, but those encounters were often one-time contacts with non-Lehigh women. Observing and interacting with the students today confirms for me what a positive step the transition to coeducation has been for Lehigh: Men and women students have the opportunity to cultivate the types of meaningful professional and personal relationships that weren’t very likely when I was a student.John O’Hara ’73

Soaring Together Logo

To me, the admission of undergraduate women to Lehigh changed and enhanced the thinking, the experience and the nature of our university. I remember well that the first day of undergraduate women on campus was more like some newsreel I had seen of the celebration of Victory in Europe in 1945: If that chaos were an indicator, the overall result would not be what I had hoped for.  I was wrong.

Normality began to emerge even while I was still on campus. I became close friends with women in that first class and we remain friends today. I engaged in projects and taught with “coed” classmates; experiences which highlighted their capabilities and allowed me to hear different viewpoints—in all subjects.

My experience still forms a major part of my focus on the value of differing thoughts and views.  It was powerful enough for me to strongly encourage my niece to apply. Her passion for her alma mater is a testament that what was billed as an “experiment” was the first step to the normality of a more complete university.
—Larry Miller ’74 

I hadn’t thought much about what the atmosphere would be like, but it quickly became apparent how unnatural and unpleasant the all-male environment would be. I was embarrassed for the comments a girlfriend or sister would receive during a weekend visit; the classroom environment was strange, missing the different points of view that women could bring to any conversation; the social life on campus was bizarre.

I was, therefore, encouraged that there were serious discussions about going coed. At the same time, it was appalling that many alumni, and even some students and faculty, were opposed to admitting women. 

I don’t think any of us knew what to make of the first group of women that arrived. I thought they were incredibly brave and wondered what spirit of adventure would draw them to be among the pioneers at Lehigh.—Jim Spinner ’73

From the perspective of someone who attended an all-male prep school and then Lehigh, which was all-male my first two years, I feel I missed out on a well-rounded education. There was a definite social awkwardness that stayed with me—and I think the frat atmosphere still holds a lot of men back in their social development. I did go on to a coed graduate program and a coed law school, and appreciated the difference.  

My daughter graduated from Lehigh in 2018, and I got an up close and personal view of Lehigh today—it has certainly changed!
—Gary S. Goodman ’73

In the fall of 1971, I was entering my junior year at Lehigh and was a member of the Gryphon Society. There were six women Gryphons with whom I had regular business meetings and social interactions, and they were important to me. As a man who had attended an all-boys Catholic high school, my previous experience with women was limited mostly to social settings such as dances and dates. 

Working together with women in pursuit of common goals was one of the most important benefits of my time at Lehigh. It enabled me to see women not as possible romantic partners, but as colleagues and friends. This was a great gift to me and has served me well in my personal and professional life after Lehigh.
—Jim Duane ’73

A special thanks to Jim Duane, member of the 50 Years Advisors, former Trustee and LUAA President, for identifying a few classmates to profile here. I invite you to submit postings about 50 Years of Coeducation for consideration here: go.lehigh.edu/mysoaringstory.