History of Lake Erie College

Lake Erie College is one of the oldest institutions in the Western Reserve. From the pre-civil war era to today, the College continues to be a cornerstone for progress. Lake Erie College was one of the first colleges with a female president and an all female faculty body when it first became established - something that was unusually progressive at the time.

From humble beginnings as an all-female seminary in Willoughby, Ohio to a private liberal arts college in Painesville, Ohio, Lake Erie College has been a leader in higher education for over 165 years.

Beginnings as a Women's College

Lake Erie College started as the Willoughby Female Seminary. The Seminary was founded in 1845, with its articles of association stating “The Object of this institution shall be to promote a thorough and complete female education.”

The Willoughby Female Seminary was the only women’s college in the Western Reserve and its enrollment grew to 211 students before it was destroyed by a fire nine years later. The women’s college reopened as Lake Erie Female Seminary in 1859 at its new location in Painesville, Ohio with classes taking place in what is known today as College Hall.

Six women from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts served as the seminary’s original teachers. Over time, the seminary had become known for its upstanding principles and discipline. The seminary graduated its first class in 1860 - two female students by the name of Mary Elizabeth Burton and Mary Strong.

The Founders and Moving to Painesville

A phoenix does not always have to arise in the same place as its fiery death. Thus, when the Willoughby Female Seminary in Willougby, Ohio - once called Mount Holyoke's first godchild of the West - burned down in 1856, it was resurrected as Lake Erie Female Seminary in Painesville, fifteen miles to the east. The father of one of the students - Aaron Wilcox - partnered with five other businessmen to bring the seminary to Painesville, Ohio in 1856.

These Founders became the first trustees of the school as it transformed from Lake Erie Female Seminary into Lake Erie College. Founders Day was created in 1894 to recognize these men and their contribution to the college:

  • Timothy Rockwell served as trustee of Willoughby Female Seminary and Western Reserve College. He produced pig iron at the Concord Furnace Company.

  • Silas Trumbull Ladd ran a general store with Rockwell and moved to Hudson in 1842 to serve as treasurer of Western Reserve College.

  • Reuben Hitchcock was a trustee of Willoughby Female Seminary and a Lake County common pleas judge. He served as president of the Cleveland and Mahoning Railroad and president of the Willoughby Medical College.

  • William Lee Perkins was a trustee of Willoughby Female Seminary. A long-time lawyer, he had served as a prosecuting attorney for Lake county.

  • Aaron Wilcox served as mayor of Painesville several times and secretary-treasurer of the board of trustees.

  • Charles Austin Avery supervised the construction and was largely responsible for securing the grounds on which the College stands. He was a self-made man who came to Painesville from Connecticut by canal boat, lake boat and covered wagon.

LEC A Cornerstone for Change

Many graduates went on to become huge activists for women's rights, and Lake Erie College even hosted people like Susan B. Anthony.

Lake Erie College and the Suffrage Movement 

Women associated with Lake Erie Female Seminary went on to become active participants in the women’s suffrage movement in the 1850s and onwards. The institution's first presidents and faculty were women, and members of the campus community had a powerful impact on the suffrage movement. Lake Erie College is currently on the National Votes for Women Trail as one of 250 historical markers that tell the story of the women's suffrage movement.

Protests were held on campus and notable graduates went on to become advocates for women’s rights, including:

The institution drew highly acclaimed visitors, including Jane Addams and Susan B. Anthony. Recently Lake Erie College discovered a hand-written, personal letter from Susan B. Anthony to then-President Mary Evans was discovered in the College archives. Dated May 21, 1885, the letter thanks Lake Erie Seminary's first president, Mary Evans, for the opportunity to visit and sums up with this heartfelt show of gratitude: "give my kindest regards to the teachers and the students alike -- I enjoyed that morning's look into the faces and talk with the heads and hearts of those dear young girls...very much." The letter was signed affectionately, "With great respect & love, Susan B. Anthony."

On Lake Erie College campus today, there are dedications to Mary Evans and the suffrage movement. The belief that women should be treated equal and have the same rights to education as men became the foundation and driving mission of the institution as it grew into Lake Erie College years later.

Garfield Senior College

In 1970s, Lake Erie College partnered with Garfield Senior College to offer education to men for the very first time.

Expanding Curriculum and Garfield Senior College 

By 1898, the coursework had expanded, allowing graduates to earn a college degree instead of a seminary diploma. This was a huge development for a women’s school at the time and as such, the name was changed to Lake Erie Seminary and College.

Just ten years later, the state of Ohio would grant a charter to establish Lake Erie College - one of the first all women’s colleges at the time. Lake Erie College would continue to be an all women’s college until the 1950s, when the Garfield Senior College was developed.

The Garfield Senior College offered bachelor’s degrees to male junior college graduates. Named after president James R. Garfield, this center opened in 1972 as a way to grow the student population while still keeping men and women separate.

In 1985, the college became a co-educational institution with the merger of Garfield Senior College and Lake Erie College. Lake Erie College’s growth as a private university led to expanded course offerings including majors in education, science, arts and more.

Lake Erie College Campus Today

Today, Lake Erie College has over 30 undergraduate majors and offers a wide variety of subjects for students to study.

LEC Today

Today, Lake Erie College prides itself on offering a well rounded liberal arts education to students from all backgrounds. Partnerships with the City of Painesville, Lake County, community colleges and more expand the horizons of students, giving them opportunities to make an impact in their communities.

Over 10,000 alumni have graduated from this fine institution, and all have left their mark in some way. Many have contributed to the campus as faculty, staff or friends. This community has made Lake Erie College what it is today--a beautiful, vibrant campus of individuals dedicated to learning and growth.

Lake Erie College Presidents

  • Lydia Sessions 1859–1866

  • Anna M. Edwards 1866–1868

  • Mary Evans 1868–1909

  • Vivian Blance Small 1909–1941

  • Helen Dalton Bragdon 1941–1950

  • Alfred T. Hill 1950–1951 (interim)

  • Paul S. Weaver 1951–1976

  • Paul Newland 1976–1977 (interim)

  • Charles E.P. Simmons 1977–1984

  • Marilyn S. Jones 1984–1985 (interim)

  • Edward Q. Moulton 1985–1986

  • Clodus R. Smith 1986–1992

  • Hal Laydon 1992–2005

  • M. Sue Dreitzler 2005–2006 (interim)

  • Michael T. Victor 2006–2015

  • Peter M. Gerhart 2015–2016 (interim)

  • Brian Posler 2016–present

Traditions

The students, faculty and staff take an active role in celebrating and recognizing the traditions that have shaped the College throughout the years. Some of these traditions include:

  • Founders Day was first celebrated on November 8, 1894. This event takes place every year in November and is borrowed from Mount Holyoke College in order to honor the Founders who helped bring LEC to Painesville. The event usually includes a notable speaker and is an opportunity to share important college announcements. 

  • Mountain Day serves as a day of rest and service. Students are excused from classes and encouraged to use the day to rest or give back to the community. Mountain Day is usually announced with a bagpipe alarm call at 6:00am that wakes up all residential students. 

  • New Student Convocation. New students are welcomed to campus during a formal ceremony the first few days of the academic year. Mirroring the tradition of Honors Convocation and Commencement, which are formal closing events, the New Student Convocation marks the beginning of your time at Lake Erie. 

  • Honors Convocation This ceremony takes place a few days before the end of each school year in Morley Music Building. Honors Convocation features a motivating speech by a top faculty member, annual awards presented to top students in each area and recognition given to those in the Scholars Program and those receiving Latin Honors.

  • Senior Week takes place the week before commencement, and allows seniors to unwind and relax with their friends. College-sponsored events include cookouts, trips to the Cleveland area, parties, cocktails at the president's house and tours of area wineries.

  • Tracy Dickinson Day was created to honor Tracy Dickinson, an alumna from the class of 1978. She supported the college generously through her philanthropy and helped establish four separate scholarships, as well as the restoration of facilities. In her honor, students wear purple and donate to local community organizations.

  • Alma Mater The Class of 1957 set the words of their Senior Class Song to the Welsh tune "The Ash Grove." From 1972 to 1990, each graduating class would sing their own lyrics to the Senior Class song at commencement. The alma mater was officially changed to fit the tune of The Ash Grove in 2006 and has been sung at each Commencement since 2007. The College Hall bell tower chimes the alma mater at 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. each day.

Lake Erie College Alma Mater

We sing of Lake Erie, the green and the white / The friendships we make here will never grow old / The memories of Lake Erie, ideals and traditions. / As we grow together, horizons unfold. / Our goals ever nearer, our loyalties dearer, / Endeavors rewarded in our college days. / Too soon we will leave you, but always remember / The halls of Lake Erie, the green and the white.

Mascots and College Staples

Lake Erie College has had a variety of mascots throughout the years including a dog statue named Tiberius, a lightning bolt and a unicorn. In the winter of 1994, the College held a contest for a new mascot for the 1994-95 academic year. As a result of this contest, the current mascot of the College, Stormy, was born.

Tiberius

Tiberius is the name of a dog statue, the quiet sentinel guarding Lake Erie College. He has been through a lot in past years as the four-foot-high canine mascot of the College. Originally, Tiberius was believed to be a dog that lived around campus. When Memorial Hall burned down, students claimed to be woken up by a dog barking - even though there weren't any dogs around. Thus, the legend of Tiberius was born.

The original Tiberius was a gift to the College from Harriet Young around 1910 in order to honor the legend of Tiberius. It was installed east of College Hall. In the early 1950s, some fraternity men from Case Western Reserve University "kidnapped" Tiberius, and the statue was never seen again.

Tiberius II was brought to the College after Mrs. Jane White Lincoln discovered a duplicate of the statue in an antique shop in upstate New York. However, the statue met its demise in May 1984 when late-night vandals removed the statue's head and smashed the remainder of the campus mascot.

In October of 1984, 10 student members of the Mortar Board formed a sit-in by the site of Tiberius II in an effort to raise funds for a new statue. In 2004, graduating students gave the college a small Tiberius III statue that was placed next to the gazebo in the center of campus.

In 2008, Tiberius IV was donated and placed next to College Hall; this Tiberius was placed upon the same base as Tiberius II. Each season before the first Storm football game, the team gathers around the statue of Tiberius and pets him for good luck. Lake Erie College Ambassadors are inducted annually into the Order of Tiberius and pose around the statue.

Have a Memory You Want to Share?

We love hearing from our alumni and friends of the university. If there are any memories you want to share about Lake Erie college, please reach out to us.