Special Collections has recently processed a new transfer from the History Department. The material in this collection is now open to researchers. More detailed information about this collection and its contents can be found in the ArchivesSpace finding aid. Special Collections also houses and has made public the personal papers of Professor Lawrence Henry Gipson.
The Department of History and Government was created in 1924 under the Presidency of Dr. Charles Russ Richards. There is no single document within the collection that explicitly describes the need for a Department of History and Government. Following Lehigh University’s creation by Asa Packer, it became primarily a scientific and engineering college. Nevertheless, the humanities and social sciences consistently grew in size. To accommodate this increased interest in the humanities, the History and Government department was formally established.
In 1924, President Richards brought Professor Lawrence Henry Gipson to Lehigh University to head the newly-created department. Gipson had previously been the head of the History Department at Wabash College in Indiana. Under Professor Gipson’s able leadership the department steadily grew in strength and prestige. In his time, Gipson became one of the world’s great historians. He became a renowned professor after arriving to Lehigh, where his name became intertwined with that of the University. As his prestige as a historian increased, so did Lehigh’s good name. Several other professors in the History and Government Department also helped Dr. Gipson establish and raise the young academic department.
Dr. George Harmon was perhaps the second leading professor in establishing the History Department next to Dr. Gipson. Another key contributor to the early growth of the History Department was Mr. Sydney Brown. Years later, while recommending Mr. Brown to be named the Head of the History Department at Louisiana State University, Dr. Harmon called him the most brilliant man he had ever known. There were other men who contributed to the growth of the Department but these were the early key players. Articles by both Gipson and Harmon can be found together in the March 1937 issue of the Lehigh Review, a magazine published by students between 1927 and 1940.
These professors also faced challenges while trying to grow the History Department. Dr. Harmon produced annual reports for each year, detailing the happenings, successes, and struggles of the Department. As far as happenings are concerned, the professors had quite eventful schedules. All of the professors worked on books, articles, and review that were typically published. Additionally, the professors vacationed and made scholarly trips to other countries when they weren’t teaching. The Department was rather successful. Many of its students went on to graduate school and law school at institutions such as Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Penn. Dr. Harmon also vividly detailed the struggles of the Department. In building the History Department, there were struggles with who would teach which classes, limited office space, Department Budget, and how to recruit the best students. Despite these struggles, the actions of these professors played a pivotal role in starting the History Department and its subsequent success.