Blast from the Past: Student Life in the 1950’s

One element of this project that I enjoyed was getting glimpses into social life at the Lehigh in the 50’s and early 60’s.  There were several interesting clues into the mystery of the 1950’s student.  Largely, these were snapshots of the lives of engineering students at work.  And no doubt, this was a big piece of life at Lehigh–well over half of all enrolled students at that time called the College of Engineering their home.  

Blast from the Past- Student Life in the 1950sA dive into the lives of engineering students provides a glimpse at, largely, their most stoic and disciplined behavior.  However, while there were plenty of pictures of students working busily on projects and interacting with employed engineers, there were also moments that captured the mood and identity of the student.  There was a rather humorous picture of a student, posing in front of the Baldwin Universal Testing Machine with the column specimen label pinned to his shirt.   This photo, along with others offers a glimpse into the life of students at Lehigh.  Certain hallmarks of the 50’s show up, like the flat-top haircut in this image, while other images exhibit hints of students who may not look out of place today– sporting short sleeves, canvas high tops, or a rolled-up pant leg.

Perhaps my favorite view into student life is catching a glimpse of a bulletin board in the background, adorned with posters advertising campus events as well as laboratory related signs.    One poster in particular caught my eye and had me digging through old issues of the Brown & White.  The poster was advertising a concert given by Libby Holman, a blues singer whose tumultuous life was splattered across tabloid pages in the 30’s as she became one of the first white singers to adopt the sound and songs of the blues.  Lehigh was a stop on her 1954 “Ballads, Blues, and Sin Songs” tour.  According to the Brown & White, her concert was challenging for the audience even 20 years later.  Though she was received well enough for two encores, “her voice and mannerisms were too unusual to be accepted by curious students.”

Blast from the Past- Student Life in the 1950s2

By Tim Morgan


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