In 1921, Bessie Edna Kast, Mary Alice Schwaninger and Edna Grace Tatnal become the first women to receive master’s degrees from Lehigh.
Women continue to pursue master’s and doctoral degrees across Lehigh’s colleges and intercollegiate programs: arts & sciences, business, education, engineering. Currently women represent 46 percent of those enrolled in graduate programs.
Among those pursuing advanced degrees, Diana Hammerstone ’20 (first row, far right) conducts research in the Chow Lab, which focuses on designing and synthesizing modular biomaterials for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine applications. Hammerstone was awarded the prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship in 2020. Her research involves characterizing the chemical and physical properties of peptide-functionalized scaffolds for osteochondral tissue engineering.
In 1943, Margaret Lams, a graduate research assistant in chemical engineering, becomes one of the first women to ever receive an industrial fellowship at Lehigh. Her research focuses on the various uses of leather in industrial processes.
Female faculty and students are an integral part of the research under way in myriad fields that include evolutionary biology, public health, bioengineering and materials science. Lehigh’s international community of scholars approaches the world with curiosity, seeks answers to the most challenging questions and works to inform others.
Among the researchers, Hannah Dailey ’02 ’06G ’09Ph.D., an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and mechanics, seeks to bridge the gap in clinicians’ ability to predict how quickly bones heal. She designed a virtual mechanical test that uses engineering tools—including the same kind of analysis civil engineers use to simulate what happens to a bridge when a load is applied—to predict the healing timeline of a shinbone.
Lehigh offered admission to more women than men for the Fall 2021 semester. Currently, women represent 46 percent of Lehigh’s undergraduate population, with the Class of 2024 being one of the most diverse classes welcomed to campus. Today, Lehigh women are deans, professors, entrepreneurs, artists and more. Additionally, 36 percent of the faculty are women.
Serena Walker Jean ’21, as a diversity peer educator, is among those who work toward the greater good by providing fellow students with a place to speak about diversity and affect meaningful change. “It’s important for groups to know that racism and the issues surrounding it aren’t just a one and done conversation,” she says. “They continuously happen. And once the conversation is started, it’s a lot easier to keep it going.”
In 1973, swimming and field hockey become the first women’s varsity sports. Basketball, volleyball and tennis are soon added.
Women compete in 13 varsity sports: Division I basketball, field hockey, rowing, lacrosse, swimming and diving, cross country, indoor track and field, outdoor track and field, soccer, softball, tennis, golf and volleyball. The tennis team captured the university’s first women’s conference championship in 1982 and since then, women athletes at Lehigh have taken home 37 conference championships.
Women athletes continue to make their mark in the sports arena and other enterprises. They include athletes such as Cathy Engelbert ’86, who was captain of both the women’s basketball and lacrosse teams in her senior year at Lehigh. She went on to make history—as the first woman to lead a major U.S. professional services firm (Deloitte), then as the first commissioner of the WNBA. She continues as one of the most influential leaders in women’s sports.
In 1973, women musicians are allowed for the first time to join the Marching 97. During the Lehigh–Delaware game that fall, seven women musicians take off their hats as the band plays “There is Nothing Like a Dame” to reveal that the gender barrier is broken.
Women remain an integral part of the Marching 97, a beloved and ever-present student-run marching band that pumps up the Lehigh spirit at football games and myriad campus events. About 37 women are now part of the band, and their numbers continue to grow. A highlight of Spirit Week, the band marches through campus buildings and serenades the community.
Marching 97 members such as Alexandra Viscosi ’11 ’12G continue to lead and build teams in varied careers. A clarinet player, Viscosi was part of the Marching 97 for four years and its student conductor (StudCon) her senior year. She says she learned to manage her time and work with different types of individuals—skills that serve her well in her fast-paced job as demand planning consultant at The Chemours Company. She also continues to perform.
In 1975, Lehigh’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers is chartered. The chapter aims to provide a support network for female engineering students. It also is dedicated to inspiring young women to consider a career in the field of engineering.
In collaboration with the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science, the SWE chapter hosts CHOICES (Charting Horizons and Opportunities In Careers in Engineering and Science), bringing sixth- to-eighth-grade girls to Lehigh for fun engineering and science-related activities. The program, which has included one-day experiences, week-long camps and virtual events, is designed to introduce middle-school-age girls to engineering.
Lehigh engineers help to provide solutions that address societal problems. Among initiatives, an interdisciplinary team of Lehigh students set out to develop a way for women in regions of the world with high rates of violence against them to quickly access emergency response services, without a cellphone or the internet. Its solution was Soterra, a device that uses Bluetooth mesh networking technology and GPS. The team won $500,000 in the Anu and Naveen Jain Women’s Safety Prize competition to further develop the device.
In 1991, Lehigh establishes the Women’s Center, which is founded in response to the commissions on women and minorities and dedicated to the interests and needs of undergraduate women. The center’s first director also founds the Lehigh University Child Care Center.
Renamed in 2017 as the Center for Gender Equity, the center provides faculty, staff, students and alumni with the tools needed to build a gender equitable and socially just world. The center is celebrating its 30th anniversary in September 2021. In 2017, Lehigh also created the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity, which CGE is part of, with the hiring of the inaugural Vice President for Equity & Community Donald Outing.
In 2021, as part of Lehigh’s efforts to continue to build a more inclusive and equitable university, Lehigh adopted two new policies that allows members of the university community to identify their chosen name and gender identity in university systems. Additionally, the Lehigh Alumni Pride Association (LAPA) brings together alumni who are members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and allied (LGBTQA+ and allies) community in an effort to foster an inclusive environment for all gender identities and sexual orientations.
In 1996, Alpha Phi becomes the first sorority to obtain a permanent home on the Hill, establishing a lasting foothold on what was a section of campus previously reserved for men.
The Lehigh Panhellenic Community consists of eight residential sororities that promote community service, academic excellence and leadership.The sororities do a significant amount of direct service and philanthropy.
Among initiatives: Several sororities and fraternities host “Walk A Mile in Her Shoes” event to raise awareness about gender awareness and sexual violence. Alpha Phi hosts a "red dress gala" fundraiser for heart disease. Gamma Phi Beta (members shown at left) focuses on "building strong girls" with Girls on the Run. Alpha Gamma Delta works with middle school children at the Cooking Club and helps the Hispanic Center organize its food pantries. Zeta Tau Alpha raises funds for breast cancer research.
In 2006, Alice P. Gast is named Lehigh’s 13th president. A world renowned researcher, she is the first woman to serve in that position at the university.
Women continue to hold key leadership positions across Lehigh, in the Colleges and among the senior administration, Board of Trustees, faculty and staff. In 2014, Patricia A. Johnson joined Lehigh as vice president for finance and administration. In that role, she oversees all aspects of Lehigh’s financial resources, and is a strategic advisor to the senior leadership team and trustees.
Among the women leading Lehigh, two are deans. Georgette Chapman Phillips (pictured) is the Kevin L. and Lisa A. Clayton Dean of the College of Business, and Beth Dolan is interim dean of the new College of Health. Also on the senior team, Kristin Agatone is chief investment officer, and Cheryl Ann Matherly is vice president and vice provost for international affairs. Additionally, Jackie Krasas ’87 is deputy provost for faculty affairs, and M. Kathy Iovine, professor of biological sciences, is chair of the Faculty Senate.
In 2017, Tom Gillis ’15P ’17P ’19P works with Professor Dan Lopresti and Samantha Dewalt to develop a Women in Tech course that connects Lehigh students with guest speakers at the Lehigh@NasdaqCenter, one of its first programs connecting Lehigh east and west.
Lehigh’s Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity, and Innovation launches RISE (Rightful, Inclusive, Student Entrepreneurship), which provides tools, resources and a network to level the entrepreneurial playing field for underrepresented communities, including those experiencing gender-related biases. Other Baker initiatives include the Hatchery, an immersive learning experience where participants can test business ideas.
Guest speakers for Lehigh’s Women in Tech class have included Ann Lewnes ’83 ’22P and Kathleen Egan ’90 (pictured). Lewnes, an appointed Lehigh trustee, is chief marketing officer and executive vice president, corporate strategy & development of Adobe. She also has been very active each year in the Baker Institute’s LehighSiliconValley (LSV). Egan is CEO of ecomedes, a startup she co-founded in San Francisco that aims to help designers and builders save time and money in their search for more sustainable building products. Ecomedes has been a host company for Lehigh’s Startup Academy and the Silicon Valley Innovation Internship.