Women at Columbia  
1700s    |    1800s    |    1900s

1754
King’s College begins instruction by male faculty to male students; arrangement persists until instruction halted in 1776.

1767
King’s College Medical School begins instruction by male faculty to male students; arrangement persists until instruction halted in 1776.

1784
King’s College is rechartered as Columbia College; faculty and student body remains all-male.

1786
Medical instruction renewed; faculty and student body remains all-male.

1858
Columbia School of Law opens; faculty and student body is all-male.

1864
Columbia School of Mines opens; faculty and student body is all-male.

1873
Lillie Devereux Blake, descendent of two Columbia presidents, petitions to admit women to Columbia College.

1876
New York City women’s group, Sorosis, petitions to admit women to Columbia College.

1879
Columbia President F. A. P. Barnard calls on trustees to consider the admission of women to Columbia’s schools; proposal ignored by Columbia trustees.

1880
President Barnard renews his call on trustees to admit women to Columbia.

1881
Barnard makes his third appeal to trustees to admit women; prompts student and faculty opposition.

Faculty of Political Science inaugurates graduate instruction in the social sciences; its prime mover, political scientist John W. Burgess, opposes admission of women.

1882
Petition signed by 1352 New Yorkers calls upon board of trustees to admit women; board forms select committee.

President Barnard, in an address to the regents of the State of New York, favors coeducation.

1883
Trustees adopt Collegiate Course for Women, which permits women to take exams but not take classes with men.

1886
Columbia awards its first degree to a woman, a PhD in astronomy to Wellesley College graduate Winifred Edgerton; trustees state it "established no precedent for others."

Trustees agree to award BA to women who successfully complete the Collegiate Course.

1887
Columbia awards degree to Mary Hankey upon her completion of the Collegiate Course.

1888
Columbia awards BA to three other women upon their completion of the Collegiate Course.

1889
Columbia trustees approve the establishment of Barnard College, which opens in a townhouse at 343 Madison Avenue; offering undergraduate instruction to women as provided by Columbia faculty. Annie Nathan Meyer, a dropout from the Collegiate Program, is a prime mover.

1890
Columbia trustees allow Barnard College to hire a female botanist, Emily Gregory, to instruct Barnard students.

1891
College of Physicians and Surgeons merges with Columbia University; retains its males-only policy for medical education.

Faculty of Philosophy (formed in 1890) admits women to classes, with instructor permission; authorizes the awarding of PhDs to women.

1892
Trustees accept "alliance" with Teachers College, but reject merger because it would "introduce co-education into Columbia in a most pronounced form."

1896
Flora Harpham becomes the first woman to join the Columbia teaching staff, in astronomy.

1897
Faculty of Pure Science (formed in 1892) admits women to classes, with instructor permission; Faculty of Engineering (formed in 1896) declines to do so.

1898
Faculty of Political Science admits women to classes, with permission of instructor; authorizes the awarding of PhDs to women, despite Dean Burgess’s opposition.

1900
Columbia agreement with Barnard College permits Barnard trustees to hire faculty of their choosing; results in substantial increase of women faculty at Barnard.

Columbia agreement with Teachers College similar to that with Barnard; TC faculty soon thereafter acquires a substantial female presence.

Columbia hires seven women instructors, including, in English, Virginia Gildersleeve (Columbia University PhD 1908), later the third president (then known as dean) of Barnard College.

1910
Faculty of Architecture modifies its rules to admit women students.

1912
School and Faculty of Fine Arts modifies its rules to admit women.

School of Library Service opens; admits women from its outset.

School of Journalism opens; admits women from its outset.

1914
Christine Ladd-Franklin secures appointment as an unpaid lecturer in the psychology department; stays as such until she retires in 1930.

1916
School of Business opens; admits women from its outset.

1917
College of Physicians and Surgeons modifies its rules to admit women students.

1926
Law school modifies its rules to admit women.

1929
Mary Caldwell, chemistry department, is appointed assistant professor, first woman to attain this rank in Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

1937
Ruth Benedict, appointed assistant professor in anthropology in 1931, is promoted to associate professor, becoming the first tenured woman faculty member at Columbia.

Margaret Conrad is appointed dean of the School of Nursing.

1940
Marjorie Hope Nicolson, a scholar of the English Renaissance and professor at Smith, becomes Columbia’s first female full professor.

1942
School of Engineering modifies its rules to admit women; the last of the Columbia professional schools to do so.

1944
Chien-Shiung Wu comes to Columbia in 1944; joins physics department in 1947 as research associate.

1955
Barnard students are allowed to take some upper-level Columbia undergraduate courses with instructor’s permission; are not allowed to take courses in the Columbia Core.

1960
Marjorie Hope Nicolson, in English, becomes the first woman to chair a Columbia department.

1968
April 30–Police clearing of 708 protesters from five Columbia campus buildings results in the arrest of 130 women students, 111 of whom are from Barnard.

1969
Medical School is called upon by Department of Health, Education and Welfare to provide employment data on minorities in anticipation of a compliance review.

Newly organized Columbia Women’s Liberation (CWL) group calls upon University to provide employment statistics; issues its own report charging discrimination against hiring women as faculty.

1970
March 11–Newly organized University Senate opens hearings on the status of women at Columbia; creates Commission on the Status of Women.

1971
November 4—HEW threatens to withhold 33 million dollars in federal contracts from Columbia if it does not produce employment data on women.

1972
April—University submits to HEW its 300-page Affirmative Action Plan that includes employment data sorted by race and gender.

Legal scholar Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Columbia Law School LLB [JD] 1959) becomes the first female full professor at the law school.

1973
New Columbia–Barnard agreement opens most Columbia classes to Barnard students, and vice versa ; agreement also calls for more substantive Columbia role in Barnard faculty tenure appointments.

1975
University Senate recommends creation of the Ad Hoc Committee on Salaries to investigate allegations of gender-based inequities; committee’s report prompts President McGill to effect salary adjustments where evidence of disparities existed.

Columbia College Dean Peter Pouncey and Columbia College faculty call for the admission of women to the College; President McGill rejects the call, citing its likely fatal impact on Barnard.

1981
December 7—Columbia Trustees decide to admit women into Columbia College, the last of the heretofore all-male Ivies to do so.

1982
January 26—Columbia and Barnard sign new agreement, whereby Barnard retains its women-only admissions policy, while Columbia College becomes coeducational.

1983
September—The first entering coeducational class of Columbia College (1987) consists of 45 percent women, 55 percent men.

Gillian Lindt, professor of religion, is appointed dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences; the first woman to hold this position.

1985
Barbara A. Black is appointed dean of the law school; the first woman to be appointed dean of a Morningside-based professional school.

1988
Joan Konner is appointed dean of the School of Journalism.

1993
Columbia adopts a sexual harassment policy.

Columbia adopts a Parental Workload Relief Policy.

1996
Lisa Anderson (PhD 1981) is appointed dean of the SIPA; the first woman to hold this position.

2003
Jeanette C. Takamura becomes dean of the School of Social Work.

Last Edited: March 2004
For comments and corrections, contact Robert A. McCaughey

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