For 43 years, one man held sway over Columbia and helped it continue its expansion as a university. Active in Republican Party politics and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931, Nicholas Murray Butler was a giant in American higher education.

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President Nicholas Murray Butler

Nicholas Murray Butler (Columbia College 1882, PhD 1884) becomes Columbia's 12th President. He will serve for 43 years, the longest tenure in Columbia's history and one of the longest in the history of higher education.

Daniel Chester French's Alma Mater statue

Daniel Chester French's Alma Mater statue takes her seat in front of Low Library.

William Barclay Parsons

The New York City subway system, engineered by Columbia trustee William Barclay Parsons (Columbia College 1879, Mines 1882), opens.

The Spectator on the abolition of football

Columbia abolishes intercollegiate football to protest the game's violence; the ban lasts until 1916.

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt (Law 1882) becomes the first Columbian to receive a Nobel Prize (for Peace).

Trustee listing

First alumni-selected candidate is elected to the 24-person Board of Trustees; by 1916 there are six such members.

Joseph Pulitzer

The School of Journalism is founded with an endowment from publishing magnate Joseph Pulitzer.

Thomas Jefferson statue

The statue of Thomas Jefferson is unveiled between Journalism and Furnald Hall; it matches that of Alexander Hamilton between Hamilton and Hartley Halls.

University Hall, located behind Low Library, burns to the ground.


Columbia Business School is founded; it does not become a strictly graduate program until 1949.

Columbia's School of Dentistry opens; it becomes the School of Dental and Oral Surgery in 1923.

The New York Times

The University awards the first Pulitzer Prize.

Opposition by Columbians to American intervention into World War I is declared treasonous by President Butler, himself a belated convert to interventionism; trustees fire several faculty, prompting others to resign in protest.

Cover of the first Contemporary Civilization syllabus

The course Contemporary Civilization is introduced for all freshmen; this marks the first step toward the creation of Columbia's core curriculum.

The University undertakes to restrict the admission of Jews and graduates of New York City public high schools into Columbia College, Barnard College, and the medical school, in an attempt to reserve places for its traditional Knickerbocker clientele. Restrictive policies remain in force through the 1930s. Still, the percentage of Jewish students attending Columbia is much higher than at other Ivy colleges, while Catholic students achieve a considerable numerical presence in the College.

"Columbia Lou"

DeLamar School of Public Health affiliates with the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Lou Gehrig attends Columbia on an athletic scholarship and leaves after two years to sign with the New York Yankees.

Aerial shot from Baker Field perspective

Baker Field Stadium is completed on the northernmost tip of Manhattan.

Lionel Trilling, who later becomes a renowned Columbia professor of English Literature, graduates from Columbia College.

Benjamin Cardozo

Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, the world's first academic medical center, opens on 168th Street in Washington Heights. Edward S. Harkness is the principal benefactor.

Columbia Trustees elect Benjamin Cardozo (Columbia College 1889, Law 1889–91) to the Board; he is the second Jewish trustee ever and the first since 1814.

Architectural model of Rockefeller Center

Columbia signs a lease with the Rockefeller family to permit the construction of Rockefeller Center on the University-owned site at Fifth Avenue between Forty-seventh and Fifty-first Streets. The University will receive 3 million dollars per year in rent.

President Butler

President Butler is awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, for his work on the Kellogg-Briand Pact outlawing war. He shares the prize with Jane Addams, founder of Hull House.

Beanie-clad freshman stand before South Hall

Construction on South Hall (which becomes Butler Library in 1946) begins on the South Campus. This is the result of another gift from Edward S. Harkness.

The Columbia football squad

Columbia beats Stanford 7-0 in the Rose Bowl.

Marjorie Hope Nicolson

Marjorie Hope Nicolson is hired away from Smith College by the English Department; she becomes the first female full professor at Columbia.

Frank Tannenbaum

The University Seminars are founded by Frank Tannenbaum, professor of Latin-American history.

The 83-year-old Butler accedes to the trustees' request that he resign as president; Provost Frank Fackenthal is named the acting president.

Next: Post–World War Two Columbia [1945-1969]

the course of history
In its evolution from a tiny college to one of the world’s finest research universities, Columbia and its people have helped shape the modern world.
The 32nd president of the United States, this remarkable Columbian led the country through the Great Depression and most of WWII. 

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