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Penn State History As Told By La Vie

Penn State’s yearbook, La Vie, has documented snippets of student life in the Nittany Valley since 1889. Through its pages, we can get a brief glimpse of what life must’ve been like here across time. I was able to go through the La Vie archives and pull out a few meaningful pages that help us understand the storied history of the university.

La Vie, 1890: The first yearbook
Life at Penn State in its early days must have been a little more affordable than it is today, given the free tuition and low cost of room and board. (From La Vie 1890.)
La Vie 1890: Penn State football
Football players back then looked a little different from how they do today. Pictured above is the 1890 Penn State football team — the first to wear some of the most iconic uniforms in college football history. (From La Vie 1890.)
La Vie 1892: Chemistry
Pictured above is Penn State’s chemistry department, which has long been one of the best in the country. (From La Vie 1892.)
La Vie 1892: Lady's Cottage
Penn State first began admitting women in 1871. They lived in separate housing from the men at the college — and, if the photo above is any indication, housing wasn’t too shabby at all. (From La Vie 1892.)
La Vie 1897: Faculty
TOP LEFT: Benjamin Gill, Dean of the School of Language and Literature; TOP RIGHT: George G. Pond, Dean of the School of Natural Science; BOTTOM LEFT: Louis E. Reber, Dean of the School of Engineering; BOTTOM MIDDLE: George W. Atherton, President; BOTTOM RIGHT: Magnus C. Ihlseng, Dean of the School of Mines. (From La Vie 1897.)
La Vie 1897: Class of '99
Each Penn State graduating class had its own seal in La Vie. That of the Class of 1899 is pictured above. (From La Vie 1897.)
La Vie 1921: University Park
The University Park campus has had its share of changes over the years. For one, the “old” Old Main, as it appears in this 1921 photo, would be replaced in 1930 by the current “new” Old Main as it stands on campus today. (From La Vie 1921.)
Page 467 of La Vie 1921
I’m guessing this “frosh advice” is a little outdated. (From La Vie 1921.)
Page 4 of the WWII edition of La Vie
As was the case with life at many universities across the country, life at Penn State in the early 1940s was disrupted by the onset of World War II. (From the WWII edition of La Vie.)
Page 218 of the WWII edition of La Vie
(From the WWII edition of La Vie.)
Page 5 of La Vie 1954
In 1953, Penn State president Milton Eisenhower — brother of U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower — changed Penn State’s name from the Pennsylvania State College to the Pennsylvania State University. (From La Vie 1954.)
Page 5 of La Vie 1954
The various university seals of Penn State over the years. (From La Vie 1954.)
Page 29 of La Vie 1955
The corner of Allen and College has weathered the years without changing significantly. (From La Vie 1955.)
Page 102 of La Vie 1962
Scheduling, on the other hand, has changed tremendously. Though we might hate scheduling on eLion for all of its glitches, I’d say it’s a step up from the circus of physical scheduling. (From La Vie 1962.)
Page 467 of La Vie 1962
The then-Suzanne Pohland, now known as Sue Paterno, graduated from Penn State in 1962 and was a member of Gamma Phi Beta. (From La Vie 1962.)


Page 4 of La Vie 1969
Shortly after she graduated, Pohland would marry this man, who, in 1968 — his third year as Penn State’s head football coach — led the Nittany Lions to an 11-0 season and an Orange Bowl victory. It was Paterno’s first of five undefeated seasons during his tenure as head coach. (From La Vie 1969.)


Page 132 of La Vie 1973
The 1970s brought a spirit of rebellion to Penn State. Pictured above are students protesting the Vietnam War on the steps of Old Main. (From La Vie 1973.)
Page 10 of La Vie 1975
“Weekends are for partying at Penn State,” according to the 1975 edition of La Vie, “whether the high originates from a keg or a joint.” I guess some things never change, eh? (From La Vie 1975.)
A glimpse of Penn State sports in 1979. (From La Vie 1979)
A glimpse of Penn State sports in 1979. (From La Vie 1979)
Pictured above are a few scenes from Sigma Chi's Derby Days, circa 1979. (From La Vie 1979.)
Pictured above are a few scenes from Sigma Chi’s Derby Days, circa 1979. (From La Vie 1979.)
An impressive dorm room setup in Simmons Hall in 1981. (From La Vie 1981.)
An impressive dorm room setup in Simmons Hall in 1981. (From La Vie 1981.)
LEFT: Unfortunately, the Nittany Hot Springs are no longer a weekend night option for Penn State students. RIGHT: Nights out on Cafe’s patio don’t seem to have changed all that much. (From La Vie 1985.)
Page 68 of La Vie 1985
RIGHT: Gary Cattell, better known as the Willard Preacher, has been spreading his gospel since Nov. 1982. He is pictured above, preaching down the streets of State College. (From La Vie 1985.)
Page 396 of La Vie 1987
In 1986, the second-ranked Nittany Lions defeated the first-ranked Miami Hurricanes in the Fiesta Bowl, 14-10, for Penn State’s second national championship in five years. (From La Vie 1987.)
Page 12 of La Vie 1991
In 1990, THON added “Panhellenic” to its official name, the Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon. Dancing for 48 hours in the White Building, 536 THON 1990 dancers raised $671,572.92 for the Four Diamonds Fund. Two years later, THON would break seven digits for the first time in its history, raising $1,141,145.38 on its 20th anniversary in 1992. (From La Vie 1991.)
In 1999, THON moved to Rec Hall from its previous home in White Building. Under the theme “One Step Closer,” THON 1999 raised $2,530,142.48 for the Four Diamonds Fund. (From La Vie 1999.)
La Vie 2013: THON
In case you were wondering, La Vie is still around — and it continues to chronicle the life of Penn State students. (From La Vie 2013.)
La Vie 2013: O'Brien
La Vie devoted a section of its 2012 yearbook to telling the story of Penn State students after the revelation of the Sandusky scandal. They also dedicated several pages of the yearbook to Joe Paterno’s contributions to Penn State. In its 2013 yearbook, La Vie highlighted the many changes at the university moving forward from the scandal. (From La Vie 2013.)

All photos from pre-2000 editions of La Vie were obtained from the 100 Years of La Vie project through the Penn State University Archives. The spreads on Bill O’Brien and THON from the 2013 edition were provided by La Vie.

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About the Author

Bobby Chen

Writer and photographer, helping tell the many stories of the Penn State community.

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