Columbians Ahead of Their Time
Seth Low
Seth Low "The great city can teach something that no university by itself can altogether impart: a vivid sense of the largeness of human brotherhood, a vivid sense of man's increasing obligation to man; a vivid sense of our absolute dependence on one another."

Seth Low  (1850–1916)
New York City Leader
University President 1890–1901

Low saw as clearly as anyone the deep connection between Columbia and New York City.  From 1881 to 1885, while in his early 30s, he served as mayor of Brooklyn, which at the time was the third-largest city in the United States. In that role, he greeted the politicians that opened the Brooklyn Bridge on May 24, 1883, forever linking Brooklyn to Manhattan. Having graduated from Columbia College as valedictorian in 1870, just twenty years later he was named Columbia's eleventh president. In that role he led the critical move of the University from Midtown Manhattan to Morningside Heights, underwrote the construction of the first building on the site with a one million dollar gift in memory of his father, oversaw the construction of its campus by the firm of McKim, Mead, and White, and secured trustee approval to change the name of the institution from Columbia College to Columbia University, while retaining the locational identification, "in the City of New York."

Low was a strong administrator and so skilled in institutional politics that James Earl Russell of Teachers College referred to him as "the Great Harmonizer."  He consolidated Columbia's separate schools into a single university, while having each of its faculties (political science, philosophy, pure science, medicine, engineering, and the College) elect a dean from among their company and then giving each a measure of autonomy. He encouraged the recruitment of faculty from other schools, created a University council as a means to give faculty a voice in university-wide matters, reunited Columbia with the College of Physicians and Surgeons, helped assure the survival of Barnard College, and effected an affiliation with Teachers College. He resigned as president to become the second mayor of the newly consolidated City of New York. Low remained a trustee until 1914, although he had a falling out with his successor Nicholas Murray Butler when Butler refused to allow the use of St. Paul's Chapel by non-Christian student groups. He died in 1916. 

Read more about Low in the Columbia Encyclopedia. 

Join Andrew Dolkart, James Marston Fitch Professor of Historic Preservation at Columbia's School of Architecture, for a walking tour of the Columbia campus.

Professor Andrew Dolkart explains how the wealth generated from commerce in New York had a direct effect on the construction of the great institutional buildings in the city.

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Columbians Ahead of Their Time

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