Columbia College Student Life:
King's College, 1754–84  |   Early Columbia College, 1784–1857  |   Early Columbia University, 1858–1901  |
The Butler Era, 1902–45  |  The "American Century," 1946–64   |   A Time of Troubles, 1965–69  |   Columbia Since 1970

Student Life at King's College, 1754–84

July 17—King's College opens with instruction provided by President Samuel Johnson in rectory of Trinity Church school on Rector Street; eight male students in attendance, all from wealthy New York City Anglican families and all living at home.

June—First commencement exercise of King's College at St. George's Chapel; five students receive bachelor's degrees.

Spring—College moves into permanent quarters in the three-story College Hall, situated on the northeast corner of Murray and Church streets, facing the Hudson River to the west.

Newly installed President Myles Cooper amends College statutes to require that all students reside in College; students share building as residence with president.

King's College opens a medical school, which attracts a more religiously and economically diversified student body. Enrollments never exceed ten in any one year.

President Cooper adapts another Oxford tradition, "The Black Book, or Book of Misdemeanors," to record disciplinary actions taken against King's College students.

Tutor John Vardill defends the College's high tuition against criticism from the president of Princeton by asserting that King's College was for those "who can afford such education."

George Washington's stepson, John Parke Custis, spends three months as a student as King's College, accompanied by a slave; one of the very few Southern matriculants.

Seventeen-year-old orphan from the West Indies, Alexander Hamilton, admitted with advanced standing; attends classes for four semesters before joining the Revolutionary army.

Classes disrupted by the heightening of hostilities that led to the Revolutionary War; a few Columbia students align with the Revolution but most remain loyal to the crown and some take up arms against the rebel colonists.

The Revolutionary War Period: King's College Hall serves as a British army hospital; College out of operation for eight years; substantial numbers of King's College students and alumni serve on the side of the British crown; fewer serve in the Revolutionary cause.

Student Life at Early Columbia College, 1784–1857

May 1—Governor George Clinton and New York legislature approves new charter for what had been King's College, now a newly named and thoroughly republicanized Columbia College.

May 15—Fifteen-year-old DeWitt Clinton, the governor's son, becomes Columbia College's first student upon transferring from Princeton.

Columbia College holds its first commencement for eight graduates, DeWitt Clinton among them.

New York legislature issues a new charter for what is now to be called Columbia College in the City of New York.

The Reverend Benjamin Moore (King's College 1768) is elected the fifth president of Columbia College, the first alumnus to serve as president.

The Philolexian Society established by Columbia students; the College's first literary society.

The Peithologian Society created by Columbia students; the College's second literary society.

College faculty acknowledge regularly accepting 13-year old boys into the College despite minimum age set at 14; contended these admits were "among the best scholars."

August 5—College faculty recommend 24 seniors for graduation, although 8 adjudged to be unqualified on the basis of their exam performance; "special circumstances" cited in deciding to go ahead with granting the degrees.

August 7—The 57th commencement, also known as the Riotous Commencement, held in Trinity Church and disrupted by riot that followed the refusal of President Harris, Provost Mason, and the faculty to confer a degree on senior John B. Stevenson because he reinserted objectionable lines into his commencement speech; several spectators, including aspiring politician Guilian Verplanck (Columbia College 1801) urged the students to defy the faculty's authority. Four participants were brought to trial, found guilty, and fined.

October 6—Students petition for permission to form a military company; trustees decline to express an opinion. College's political sentiments preponderantly opposed to the ongoing War of 1812.

May 22—Senior Thomas Minturn expelled by faculty for being a leader of a senior-class "combination," defying faculty authority; his appeal to trustees effects his readmission to class and timely graduation.

July 6—Trustees voted that graduating seniors not be ranked academically or have their degrees conferred accordingly; experiment with encouraging emulation abandoned.

March 3—Faculty abandon support of academic ranking; acknowledge it not done elsewhere.

June 21—Seniors petition that "all distinction of place should be abolished"; ask to graduate in strict alphabetical order.

August—Degrees conferred on 19 graduating seniors by President Duer at 76th commencement; degrees awarded in alphabetical order.

Trustees introduce a Literary and Scientific Course in response to the opening of University of the City of New York (later NYU); Faculty resist the reform; few students opt for it.

October 5—Columbia College sophomore George Templeton Strong (Columbia College 1838) commences his diary; to continue until his death in 1875.

Spring—A chapter of the fraternity Alpha Delta Phi organized at Columbia; the college's first national fraternity.

Nathaniel Fish Moore (Columbia College 1802) is elected Columbia's eighth president; the second alumnus to serve as president.

July—College abandons the Literary and Scientific Course in face of faculty subversion and few students taking it.

Controversy over the blocked appointment of chemist Wolcott Gibbs (Columbia College 1841) to the faculty attracts little student interest.

May—Columbia College moves from original site on Park Place to grounds of the New York Institution of Deaf and Dumb on Madison and Forty-ninth Street; College Hall promptly demolished.

Student Life at Early Columbia University, 1858–1901

November—Columbia School of Law opens in rented quarters at 37 Lafayette Place; the two-year program becomes an immediate popular and financial success and draws students away from the undergraduate program.

June 26—Degrees conferred upon 40 graduating seniors at 106th commencement; law school graduates its first class of 27.

April—President Lincoln's call for volunteers for the Union Army attracts few Columbians; enrollments in College and law school increase during the four years of the war.

June —Degrees conferred upon 50 graduating seniors and 41 graduates of the law school at 109th commencement; largest graduating class to date.

Trustees approve the opening of the Columbia School of Mines and Metallurgy on the Forty-ninth Street campus. Like the law school, it competes with the College for students.

Trustees elect Frederick A. P. Barnard tenth president of Columbia College; a graduate of Yale and experienced academic, as president Barnard to foster professional education at the expense of undergraduate education.

Student-run baseball team inaugurates intercollegiate sports at Columbia.

June 1—President Barnard's 1868 annual report calls for extension of elective system at Columbia.

June 7—President's 1869 annual report calls for revamping of collegiate government; wants more responsibility placed on students for monitoring their own behavior.

November 11—Columbia plays football against Rutgers in New Brunswick, New Jersey; loses 6 to 3 in the fourth intercollegiate football game played.

Columbia students organize crew as an intercollegiate sport; quickly becomes a sport in which Columbia excels.

June—Barnard renews call for expansion of electives system beyond seniors; cites rising age of undergraduates as reason for offering more choice in the curriculum; asserts Columbia's financial capacity to abandon its traditional "closed curriculum."

Student-run Columbia Spectator begins regular publication.

June—Barnard's annual report calls again for enlargement of elective system; calls for the introduction of postgraduate instruction; introduces the topic of admitting women in the essay "The Expediency of Receiving Young Women as Students in Columbia College."

January—Hamilton Hall opens on the west side of the Forty-ninth Street campus; includes the first student dormitory accommodations at Columbia since the 1790s.

June—Barnard returns to question of admitting women to Columbia, despite the board's declining to give it serious attention in previous year.

Columbia Football Association founded as mechanism by which football team would be student-run and student-financed.

June—Barnard returns in his president's report to question of admitting women to Columbia for the third straight year; assures board "the members of our faculty without exception favor it," although faculty and student opposition to coeducation widespread.

February 5—A petition, signed by more than one hundred New Yorkers, favoring coeducation at Columbia College presented to board of trustees.

March 5—Board accepts report on coeducation (written by trustee Reverend Morgan Dix) rejecting the idea; President Barnard the only trustee to vote in favor of coeducation.

June 4—Board approves a system for "Collegiate Education of Women," whereby qualified women could take Columbia examinations and receive Columbia degrees but could not attend Columbia classes.

February 12—Trustee Committee on Collegiate Women receive application from Winifred Edgerton to take examination for PhD in astronomy.

March 1—Trustees give permission for Edgerton to take examination for PhD.

May 25—Committee on Collegiate Women recommend granting of BA for women completing the Collegiate Course.

June 7—Board approves granting of BA to women "who shall pursue with success a course equivalent to that which secures the degree in the School of the Arts [i.e., the College]." Also unanimously approves awarding of PhD cum laude to Winifred Edgerton.

June 9—Columbia's 132nd commencement awards 127 degrees, including the College's first degree to a woman, a PhD in astronomy to Winfred Edgerton.

April 1—Columbia trustees approve creation of Barnard College as a separate women's college; to use faculty "rented" from Columbia.

June 12—Columbia's 135th commencement is held at the Metropolitan Opera House; 126 degrees are awarded, including two to the last of the four women to complete the Collegiate Course—Sara Bulkley Rogers and Caroline R. Hankey.

October—Barnard College opens for classes in a rented brownstone at 343 Madison Avenue.

Trustee Seth Low (Columbia College 1870) elected Columbia's 11th president; the third alumnus to serve as president.

Mathematics professor John Howard Van Amringe (Columbia College 1860) succeeds Henry Drisler as head of Columbia College and becomes its first designated dean of Columbia College; to serve until his retirement in 1910.

Columbia College drops reading knowledge of Greek as entrance requirement; College now more accessible to graduates of New York City public high schools.

October 4—New campus opens on Upper West Side; only Low Library finished but five buildings well along to completion; no undergraduate dormitory space provided

April—Forty-seven Columbia students and recent graduates volunteer for service in Spanish American War, including Hamilton Fish Jr. (Columbia College 1895), a sergeant in Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders, killed in battle at Las Guasimas.

Latin no longer required for admission to Columbia College; further opens Columbia to graduates of New York public high schools.

Columbia trustees enter into new agreement with trustees of Barnard College, designating it the "women's college of Columbia University" and allowing it to appoint its own faculty.

November—Seth Low resigns as president to become mayor of New York.

Student Life in the Butler Era, 1902–45

April 12—Forty-year-old Nicholas Murray Butler (Columbia College 1882, PhD 1884) is installed as Columbia's 12th president; the fourth alumnus to be president.

Ground broken for two undergraduate dormitories, Hartley and Livingston Halls, on east side of newly acquired South Field.

September 27—The cornerstone of Hamilton Hall, future home of Columbia College, is laid. Costs covered by 500,000-dollar anonymous gift (financier John Stewart Kennedy); opens in 1907.

December—Columbia joins with some other colleges to ban intercollegiate football because of the sport's violence; Harvard, Yale, and Princeton continue to play football, while supporting reforms. Some student and alumni opposition to this move.

Hartley Hall opens as Columbia College's first dormitory; Livingston Hall opens shortly thereafter.

February 8—Secretary of the University Frederick P. Keppel (Columbia College 1899) becomes second dean of Columbia College, upon retirement of John Van Amringe (Columbia College 1860).

February—Columbia College dean Frederick Keppel opposes plans to use nation's campuses for student military training.

March 24—Collegiate Common Sense League formed at Columbia to oppose militarism.

March 26—Faculty Committee reports to President Butler on "the Chinese problem in the University." Committee sympathetic to problems Chinese and Japanese students encounter as undergraduates; propose changes in the language requirements to permit Chinese as an ancient language and Japanese as a modern language. Report lists 17 Japanese and 51 Chinese studying at the University 1914–15.

September—Columbia renews its intercollegiate football program after a decade-long ban; sport now under direct control of a faculty committee.

Considerable debate on campus on the issue of America's response to the war in Europe; faculty and students initially are opposed to intervention, as is President Butler, but growing sentiment among some faculty as war goes on for American intervention.

February—President Butler commits the University to support President Wilson's increasingly interventionist policy; calls on faculty and students to do likewise.

May—President Butler advises faculty and students that open opposition to the American war effort will be grounds for dismissal and expulsion.

June—Three students (one each from Barnard, Extension, and Columbia College) arrested by New York City police for antiwar activities.

October 14—Peithologian Society protests firings of antiwar faculty members James McKeen Catell and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana; laments the resignation of prowar but trustee critic Charles A. Beard.

Fall—Columbia College dean Frederick Keppel away from College serving in a wartime capacity in Washington D.C.; recently arrived Yale-trained mathematician Howard Hawkes named acting dean of College.

February 13—Military training under the Student Army Training Program (SATP) to be compulsory for all Columbia undergraduates in the fall.

Spring—Hawkes named third dean of Columbia College; Keppel not to return upon completing war service.

Fall—Philosopher Frederick Woodbridge organizes course War Aims for all students in Student Army Training Corps (SATC).

College enrolls 1900 students to compensate for wartime drop in enrollments.

Year-long course Contemporary Civilization launched; required of all freshmen; focus on contemporary world issues as viewed by social scientists; marks the first step in the implementation of Core Curriculum in College.

Admissions policies now aimed at attracting nonpublic high schoolers and non–New York City residents to Columbia College; discriminatory impact upon otherwise eligible Jewish applicants privately acknowledged by Dean Hawkes, who has the support of President Butler and the trustees. Proportion of Jewish students in the College set at about 20 percent and remains so through 1930s.

Professor of English John Erskine launches his year-long course General Honors; limited to selected upperclassmen; to focus on the study of "'important books," mostly in translation.

A second year of General Honors added to the College curriculum; still limited to selected upperclassmen.

History of Science, an undergraduate course, introduced by Frederick Barry as a complement to Contemporary Civilization, but is not required.

Columbia hires fabled Percy Haughton, earlier at Harvard, as its football coach, in anticipation of Columbia's return to football prowess upon the opening of Baker Field. Haughton dies in 1924.

General Honors course offered in several team-taught sections; involves some 19 instructors, both regular faculty and graduate students.

Construction begins on John Jay Hall, a men's dormitory on the southeast corner of Amsterdam Avenue and 116th Street.

College now enrolls 2,000 students; indicates that it has no plans to expand further.

The second semester of Contemporary Civilization (CC) 1300.

John Erskine resigns from Columbia in dispute with departmental colleagues; becomes president of Juilliard School of Music.

General Honors course suspended.

College enrollments dip slightly to 1,950, down from 2,000 in 1925.

Lou Little hired as Columbia's football coach; enjoys several years of winning seasons.

General Honors course revived as Colloquium on Important Books at the initiative of instructor Jacques Barzun (Columbia College 1927).

April 1—Columbia Spectator editor Reed Harris expelled by College dean Hawkes for his critical coverage of Columbia dining room employment policies; Columbia College's elected Student Board of Representatives backs Hawkes.

April 4—2,000 New York City students protest Harris expulsion on Columbia campus. Protest organized by the National Student League, whose head is Robert Hall, another Columbia student.

April 6—One-day strike to protest Harris expulsion results in 75 percent drop in class attendance; some minor scuffling between Harris supporters and anti-Harris "Spartans."

April 20—University rescinds its expulsion of Harris in return for his agreeing to resign. Harris dies in 1982 without ever receiving his Columbia degree; awarded posthumously in 1997.

CC-A revised to include more music and art.

January 1—Columbia football team defeats Stanford in Rose Bowl.

Science A and Science B introduced for non-science freshman and sophomore students; not required.

April—James Wechsler (Columbia College 1935) elected editor of Columbia Spectator.

April 13—First National Student Strike Against War attracts 25,000 New York City students, with a sizable representation of Columbia students.

April—Second annual call for a student strike as expression of antiwar sentiment; NMB opposes such a strike; medical school expels six student antiwar activists.

September—College enrollments affected by the Depression; down to 1,750 from 1,950 in 1930. Comparable enrollment declines at Barnard.

April—Third annual student strike protest draws crowd of 5,000 to Broadway and 120th Street to watch 2,000-strong parade of antiwar Columbia and Barnard students. Barnard women dressed as widows of future wars. Three hundred Columbia University, Barnard College, Teacher's College, Union Theological Society, Jewish Theological School students take Oxford Pledge.

May—American Student Union protests University's acceptance of invitation to attend the 550th anniversary of the University of Heidelberg.

Fall—Blue Shirts organized by some undergraduates to combat radicalism.

Humanities A introduced as a year-long required course for freshmen; focus on literature and philosophy; Professor of English Mark Van Doren the prime mover.

Humanities B introduced as sophomore-year elective; focus on art and music. Half the courses in the first two years of the College curriculum are now prescribed.

September—College enrolls 1,500 students, down from 1,750 in 1935.

CC-A directed away from present to distant past and away from secondary texts to the use of primary documents; CC now "contemporary" in name only.

Science A and Science B disbanded due to staffing shortages attributed to the war effort.

March 28—Navy to use two Columbia buildings for housing and training naval-officer recruits; College largely given over to the training of naval and civil-administration officers.

Historian Harry Carman succeeds the retiring Herbert Hawkes to become the fifth dean of Columbia College.

Harvard University faculty publish General Education in a Free Society, which supports the idea of an undergraduate core curriculum.

Columbia joins seven other colleges in Ivy Group Agreement limiting its football schedule to these seven colleges and two non-Ivy opponents.

April 12—Nicholas Murray Butler retires after 43 years, making him Columbia's longest-serving president.

Student Life in the "American Century," 1946–64

Columbia College Committee on Plans publishes A College Program in Action. Written by historian Jacques Barzun, it calls for increased selectivity based on intellectual seriousness.

Fall—University enrollments reach historic high at 37,000, including thousands of returning veterans entering General Studies and the professional schools. College enrollments remain steady.

Humanities B now required of all College sophomores.

Columbia football team defeats Army, breaking its three-year winning streak.

An optional Oriental Civilizations course is added to the Core Curriculum.

December—Communist Howard Fast banned from speaking to a student group on campus; Columbia Spectator protests the administrative decision.

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) protests the presence of whites-only fraternities at Columbia.

September—Columbia Spectator endorses the Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson for presidency over the Republican nominee and president of Columbia, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Concentrations, which require less disciplinary specialization, replace specific majors.

Ivy League competition extends beyond football to other sports; Columbia is one of the eight founding schools in the league.

Columbia basketball star Chet Forte (Columbia College 1957) named National Player of the Year.

CC-B abandoned as a core requirement.

Ferris-Booth Hall opens on campus; to serve as student center.

New York state legislature approves Columbia plans to construct an undergraduate gymnasium in Morningside Park; project pressed by College alumni.

Spring—Columbia College students vote in referendum to abolish their student government; plans to replace it with another representative body not implemented.

Fall—The fourth undergraduate dormitory, Carman Hall, opens on campus.

Columbia Spectator ends subsidy from the University; now self-supporting and exempt from University oversight.

Student-led Progressive Labor Club is formed on campus; advocates socialist revolutionary activity.

Fall—Issue of allowing women into Columbia undergraduate dormitories debated between students and deans.

December—First indication of illegal drugs being present on campus.

April—President Grayson Kirk rejects suggestion of Columbia University Student Council to form a student-faculty-administration committee on student life; cites administrative workload.

September—First group of recruited black students join the entering class of 1968; 25 form Students Afro-American Society (SAS); Hilton Clark (Columbia College 1967) among leaders.

Student life in a Time of Troubles, 1965–69

Columbia campus marked by an escalation of disruptions and political protests, culminating in the occupation by 1,000 students of five buildings and their forcible removal by New York City police in April 1968. See Columbia '68 Timeline.

Student Life at Columbia Since 1970

April—University Senate established by community referendum; undergraduate students to have a modest representative voice in all matters affecting the University.

Fall—Columbia College faculty reject committee recommendations for ending CC and Humanities requirements.

June—Peter Pouncey, assistant professor of classics, appointed ninth dean of Columbia College, succeeding Carl Hovde, professor of English, who had served as the College's eighth dean since July 1968.

Columbia College faculty vote to begin to admit women into the College; vote repudiated by President McGill.

Columbia Spectator celebrates its 100th birthday.

Peter Pouncey resigns as dean of Columbia College.

Amherst economist Arnold Collery named tenth dean of Columbia College.

Construction underway for East Campus Residential Complex.

January—Columbia trustees vote to proceed to have Columbia College admit women in 1983.

April—Biologist Robert Pollack named 11th dean of Columbia College.

April—Alumnus Lawrence Wien gives Columbia 3 million dollars for the renovation of Baker Field; stadium reopened in 1985.

July—Columbia and Barnard create an athletic consortium by which Barnard athletes play on Columbia teams.

September—First women enrolled in Columbia College; comprise 45 percent of the class of 1987.

The undergraduate literary society Philolexian, founded in 1802, reactivated after suspending activities in 1962.

Lawrence Wien Stadium, the renovated football stadium at Baker Field, named to recognize the generosity of Lawrence Wien (Columbia College 1925, Law 1927).

April—Students erect shanties on Low Plaza to protest the University's pace in divesting from companies doing business in South Africa; shanties dismantled by students after remaining up for 12 days.

March 22—A campus brawl outside Ferris-Booth Hall involving black and white students; black students later protest by chaining themselves to the entrance of Hamilton Hall.

Morris A. Schapiro Hall opens on 115th Street as an undergraduate dormitory; Centennial Hall (later Sulzberger) also opens on Barnard campus, assuring all incoming Barnard students a room on campus.

October 2—Columbia football team defeats Princeton 16-13 at Wien Stadium; first win after 44 consecutive defeats, dating back to October 1983.

Law professor and civil rights attorney Jack Greenberg appointed 12th dean of Columbia College.

Columbia College faculty adopts Major Cultures requirement and adds it to the Core Curriculum.

Fall—Student teaching evaluations made mandatory for all courses in the College; such evaluations already required for Barnard courses.

Major Cultures requirement adopted.

Student blockade of Hamilton Hall to protest University's plans to build medical research facilities on the site of the Audubon Ballroom, where Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965. Three students are suspended; 45 are disciplined by student-faculty committee.

Incoming President George Rupp replaces Columbia College dean Jack Greenberg with professor of English Steven Marcus; part of general administrative shakeup.

John Kluge (Columbia College 1937) establishes a scholarship program for students from underrepresented communities at Columbia. The Kluge Presidential Scholars Program is part of the largest gift ever received by the University.

Steven Marcus resigns as the 13th dean of Columbia College; subsequently succeed by professor of English Austin Quigley as the 14th dean of Columbia College.

April—Trustee Alfred Lerner donates 25 million dollars to Columbia; to be used to build a student center to replace Ferris-Booth Hall.

Students protest the absence of an ethnic studies department; four students engage in a hunger strike; 23 arrests follow an all-night occupation of Low Library and a separate blockade of Hamilton Hall.

Fall—Columbia football team enjoys its most successful season in forty years.

July—Announced firing of dean of Columbia College Austin Quigley by vice president for Arts and Sciences David Cohen; reversed by President Rupp after alumni protests.

November—Lerner Student Center opens at total cost of 85 million dollars, of which trustee Alfred Lerner provided 55 million dollars.

Opening of Columbia's new student activities center, Alfred Lerner Hall, named to recognize the generous funding providing by alumnus Alfred Lerner (Columbia College 1955).

Ongoing renovation of Butler Library is highlighted by the opening of the Philip L. Milstein Family College Library, a digitally sophisticated and inviting study space made possible by the generosity of the Milstein Family.

April—Robert C. Kraft Family Center for Jewish Student Life opens on 115th Street. Trustee Kraft (Columbia College 1963) provided 3 million dollars towards the 11–million–dollar construction costs of the building.

Spring—Applications to both Columbia College and Barnard College at all-time highs; Columbia College behind only Harvard and Yale in admissions selectivity.

The renovations and enlargement of the College Library—now the Milstein Family College Library—completed.

Joseph Jones appointed Columbia's 21st basketball coach.

Science course reintroduced into the Core Curriculum; effort led by professor of astronomy David Helfand.

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

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