History & Traditions
Since 1846, Bucknell University has pushed the boundaries of undergraduate education and actively shaped the world outside Lewisburg. It's a tradition that continues today, with our distinct mix of liberal arts and professional programs giving students almost unlimited options to pursue their intellectual interests and passions.
We're also proud that we've fostered a diverse, inclusive, supportive academic community throughout our history. From the opening of our Female Institute in 1852 to our first international student's graduation in 1864 to our first African American student's graduation in 1875, we've been opening doors to education from our earliest days.
Bucknell Traditions Video Tour
The History of Bucknell University
Founded in 1846 as the University at Lewisburg, Bucknell traces its origin to a group of Baptists who deemed it "desirable that a Literary Institution should be established in Central Pennsylvania, embracing a High School for male pupils, another for females, a College and also a Theological Institution."
The group's efforts for the institution began to crystallize in 1845 when Stephen William Taylor, a professor at Madison University (now Colgate) in Hamilton, N.Y., was asked to prepare a charter and act as general agent for the University's development.
The charter for the University at Lewisburg, granted by the Legislature of Pennsylvania and approved by the governor on Feb. 5, 1846, carried one stipulation — that $100,000 be raised before the new institution would be granted full corporate status. More than 4,000 subscribers ultimately contributed, including a small boy who gave 12 cents.
In 1846, the "school preparatory to the University" opened in the basement of the First Baptist Church in Lewisburg. Known originally as the Lewisburg High School, it became, in 1848, the Academical and Primary Department of the University at Lewisburg.
In 1850, the department moved into the first building completed on campus, now called Taylor Hall. Built for $8,000, the building housed both women's and men's studies until the opening of the Female Institute in 1852. While studying together, women were required to face east while men faced west.
The school's first Commencement was held Aug. 20, 1851, for a graduating class of seven men. Among the board members attending was James Buchanan, who would become the 15th President of the United States. Stephen Taylor officiated as his last act before assuming office as president of Madison University. One day earlier, the trustees had elected Howard Malcom as the first president of the University, a post he held for six years.
The description that the University was carved out of the "wilds of Pennsylvania" is no exaggeration. From Philadelphia, the journey in those early years involved traveling by stagecoach, canal boat and unheated train and averaged 25 hours.
From the outset, Bucknell developed traditions that have strengthened and sustained its mission as a teaching institution. The first of these traditions, and perhaps the strongest, is the sturdy independence of mind of those individuals who have served Bucknell.
Howard Malcom, the first president of the University at Lewisburg, had resigned as president of Georgetown College (Kentucky) because of his strong opposition to slavery. A decade later, virtually the entire Bucknell student body, seven faculty members, and President Justin Loomis demonstrated their opposition to slavery by enlisting. As the Confederate Army approached Gettysburg in 1863, the college closed its doors, and practically the entire male student body marched off to defend the state.
One of the casualties of the war was Andrew Gregg Tucker, Class of 1862, who was killed at Gettysburg and buried in the shadow of the campus.
Although the Female Institute began instruction in 1852, it wasn't until 1883 that college courses were opened to women. Bucknell, though, was committed to equal educational opportunities for women.
A striking instance of this commitment occurs in the words of David Jayne Hill, Class of 1874, president of the University from 1879 to 1888: "We need in Pennsylvania, in the geographical centre of the state, a University, not in the German but in the American sense, where every branch of non-professional knowledge can be pursued, regardless of distinction of sex. I have no well-matured plan to announce as to the sexes; but the Principal of the Female Seminary proposes to inaugurate a course for females equal to that pursued at Vassar; the two sexes having equal advantages, though not reciting together."
Within five years of opening, enrollment had grown so sharply that the University built a new hall — Larison Hall — to accommodate the Female Institute. Women could venture into town only in the company of a female teacher, one who had a minimum of six years' experience in handling girls.
In 1881, facing dire finances, the University turned to William Bucknell, a charter member of the Board of Trustees, for help. His generous donation of $50,000 saved the University from ruin. For the remainder of his life, Bucknell gave generously to the University. In recognition of that generosity, in 1886 the trustees voted unanimously to change the name of the University at Lewisburg to Bucknell University.
Bucknell Hall, the first of several buildings given to the University by Bucknell, was initially a chapel and for more than a half century the site of student theatrical and musical performances. Today, it houses the Stadler Center for Poetry & Literary Arts.
Since its founding, 17 presidents and eight acting presidents have served Bucknell. Under their leadership, Bucknell has grown from a "Literary Institution and Female High School" to a University of more than 3,600 undergraduate and 60 graduate students and more than 350 full-time, tenure-line faculty.
Significant achievements mark the growth of Bucknell — from modest origins to its stature as a top national institution offering more than 50 majors and 65 minors in its three colleges — the College of Arts & Sciences, the College of Engineering and the Freeman College of Management.
The 40 years from 1890 until 1930 showed a steady increase in the number of faculty members and students. When the Depression brought a drop in enrollment in 1933, several members of the faculty were "loaned" to found a new institution: Bucknell Junior College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Today, that institution is a four-year university, Wilkes University, independent of Bucknell since 1947.
The University has preserved its commitment to the liberal arts, but it has also integrated other kinds of learning into the curriculum. The first elective course in civil engineering, for example, was offered in the academic year 1893-94. Bachelor of science degrees in education were awarded for the first time in 1925. The first computer on campus was installed in 1957.
In 1962, building on its long-standing programs in chemical, civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, Bucknell formally established the College of Engineering, naming Herbert Eckberg its first dean. Today the college also offers degree programs in biomedical, computer and environmental engineering, as well as in computer science & engineering.
The 1970s were characterized by a strong interest in interdisciplinary studies, including the establishment of the College Major and the initiation of Freshman Adviser Seminars and the Freshman Humanities Semester.
New programs in computer science and computer-aided design were introduced in 1979-80 and in 1982-83. The 1990s saw great advances in general education when the faculty adopted the Common Learning Agenda, a broad-based curriculum for all students in the College of Arts & Sciences; and the Bucknell Plan for Engineering Education, a new curricular plan for all students in the College of Engineering.
In 2008, building on a history of management education at Bucknell that goes back a century, Bucknell launched a new School of Management within the College of Arts & Sciences. In 2017, the school became the University's third college, with Raquel Alexander named its inaugural dean. The college was named the Kenneth W. Freeman College of Management in 2018 in recognition of a philanthropic commitment of more than $25 million by Kenneth W. Freeman '72 and his wife, Janice.
Today, Bucknell has more than 50,000 living alumni who form a close network of loyal Bucknellians around the world. Their successful lives and personal achievements are a testament to the vision and perspicacity of the University's founders, who were dedicated to the pursuit of excellence.
As President David Jayne Hill observed in 1879, "For myself, I make no promises. I only hope that the University may crown a useful past with a glorious future, and that it may be a spot hallowed by your best wishes and your prayers."
Annual Events & Traditions
At the end of their first day on campus, first-year students gather for the Matriculation Ceremony to mark their official welcome to the Bucknell community. During the ceremony, they receive a pin to commemorate the event and to recognize their fundamental responsibility of being a contributing member of the community.
Following the ceremony in Rooke Chapel, the students process along a pathway of luminarias and through the Christy Mathewson Gates to symbolize their entrance into the Bucknell community. The gateway procession is repeated in the opposite direction during Commencement.
The night before classes start, the campus community gathers to mark the beginning of the academic year. The evening provides a context for the intellectual challenges that students will face over the course of the year.
Following Convocation, first-year students and faculty parade to the Malesardi Quadrangle, where the students stand side-by-side along the quad's outer edges. The president lights a candle — representing the "Light of Knowledge" — and spreads that light to all the students, forming a circle of light.
The candlelighting ceremony comes to a close with faculty, staff and students joining together to sing the alma mater, "Dear Bucknell." The ceremony is repeated the night before Commencement.
Each fall, Bucknell invites the entire campus community together to celebrate the rich history and bright future of Bucknell. The weekend is replete with academic, social and athletics events.
First Night is a celebration for each class to mark the upcoming completion of their first semester and the beginning of their lifelong journey as Bucknellians.
In preparation for the event, each first-year class selects class colors and a motto and designs a class crest incorporating these symbols. In addition, each residence hall floor creates two pages with photos, drawings and quotes to reflect their lives as first-year students. The ceremony includes the presentation of the crest, the submission of the hall pages into the class book, and the singing of the alma mater to the University president at his home.
Bucknell's Commencement ceremony is held on Malesardi Quadrangle, weather permitting.
The night before Commencement, graduates gather on the quad for a candlelighting ceremony similar to the one in which they participated as first-year students.
The next day, graduates process through the Christy Mathewson-Memorial Gateway, marching in the opposite direction that they processed on their first night at Bucknell, marking the end of their student experience and the beginning of their role as graduates. The graduates process from the gateway to the Malesardi Quadrangle for the Commencement ceremony.
In late May or early June, Bucknell invites alumni to return to campus to reconnect with their classmates and their University. It is a fun-filled weekend for alumni and their families.
The Alma Mater, “Dear Bucknell”
The Burma-Bucknell Connection
Bucknell's long connection with the Southeast Asian nation dates to the enrollment of Maung Shaw Loo at the University at Lewisburg in 1858.
Bucknell’s First African American Graduate
Edward McKnight Brawley, Class of 1875, was a minister, religious scholar journalist and president of Selma University and Moore College.