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Columbia College
Columbia College of Columbia University Crown 2020.svg
Type Private
Established 1754; 270 years ago (1754)
Location , ,
United States
Affiliations Columbia University

Columbia College is the main undergraduate college at Columbia University, in the City of New York. It was founded in 1754 as King's College by Royal Charter of King George II of England. Columbia College is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York and the fifth oldest in the United States. The college currently ranks as the third most selective undergraduate school at a major research university in the United States, and it is generally seen as one of the best undergraduate schools in the world.


Columbia College was founded as King's College, by royal charter of King George II of Great Britain in the Province of New York in 1754. Due in part to the influence of Church of England religious leaders, a site in New York City in the Trinity Church yard, Wall Street on the island of Manhattan was selected.

Samuel Johnson was chosen as the college’s first president and was also the college’s first (and for a time only) professor. During this period, classes and examinations, both oral and written, were conducted entirely in Latin.

18th Century

In 1767, the college established a medical college, now known as the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, which was the first medical school to grant the Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree in America.

Due to the American Revolution, instruction was suspended from 1776 until 1784, but by the beginning of the war, the college had already educated some of the nation’s foremost political leaders. Even at this young age, ‘’King‘s College‘’ had already educated Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the United States Treasury, John Jay, the first chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, Robert Livingston, one of the five men who with Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, and Gouverneur Morris, who authored the actual text of the United States Constitution.

By 1784, the domestic situation was stable enough for the college to resume classes. With the new nation fighting for its independence from Great Britain, the name of the institution was changed from King’s College to Columbia College, the name by which the college continues to be known today. While the renamed college continued be associated with Anglicanism, students from a variety of denominations came to Columbia as a response to its growing reputation as one of the finest institutions of higher learning in the soon to be independent colonies.

19th Century

After a brief period of being housed in another lower Manhattan building on Park Place near the current location of New York City Hall, in 1857 the college moved to 49th Street and Madison Avenue in Manhattan.

During the college’s forty years at this location, in addition to granting the Bachelor of Arts and Doctor of Medicine degrees, the faculties of the college were expanded to include the Columbia School of Law (founded 1858), the Columbia School of Mines (founded 1864, now known as the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science). The Columbia School of Mines awarded the first Ph.D. from Columbia in 1875.

At this time, Columbia College was now not only the name of the original undergraduate college founded as King’s College, but it also encompassed all of the other colleges and schools of the institution. After Seth Low became president of Columbia College in 1890, he advocated the division of the individual schools and colleges into their own semiautonomous entities under the central administration of the university. The complexity of managing the institution had been further increased when Barnard College for Women became affiliated with Columbia in 1889 followed by Teachers College of Columbia University in 1891. Also by this time, graduate faculties issuing the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in philosophy, political science, and the natural sciences had also developed.

Thusly, in 1896, the trustees of Columbia College, under the guidance of Seth Low, approved a new name for the university as a whole, Columbia University in the City of New York. At this point, the name Columbia College returned to being used solely to refer to the original undergraduate college, founded as King’s College in 1754 and renamed Columbia College in 1784.

In addition to reclaiming the identity of Columbia College and making it focus of the newly rearranged Columbia University, Low was also responsible for the monumental relocation of the university to its current location a top a hill in Morningside Heights in uptown Manhattan. A tract for the campus was purchased which extended from 114th St. to 120th St. between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue.

Charles McKim of McKim, Mead, and White was selected to design the new campus, which was to be patterned after the buildings of the Italian Renaissance. While most American universities at this point had followed more medieval and gothic styles of architecture, the neo-classical style of the new Columbia University campus was to meant to reflect the institution’s roots in the Enlightenment and the spirit of intellectual discovery of the period. Columbia College and the Columbia University as a whole relocated to the new campus in 1897.

20th Century

The academic history of traditions of Columbia College clearly had their beginnings in the classical education of the Enlightenment, and in this mold, the college’s famous Core Curriculum was officially recognized and codified in 1919 with John Erskine's first seminar on the great books of the western tradition. Also in 1919, a course entitled ‘’War and Peace’’ was required of all Columbia College students in addition to the Great Books Honors Seminar.

During the 1960’s, Columbia College, like many others across the United States, experienced unrest and turmoil due to the ongoing civil rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam War. In April of 1968, over 1,000 students forcefully occupied five campus buildings in protest to the proposed expansion of the university’s campus into Morningside Park. University officials wished to build new gymnasium facilities in the park, which while located directly adjacent to the university, is separated by a steep cliff. The location of the park in the middle of Harlem, which was at that time an economically disadvantaged neighborhood was perhaps the primary objection of the student protesters to the proposed expansion plan. After five days, the functions of the university were brought to a halt, and the students were forcibly removed by the New York Police Department. As a result of the student protests, the university president Grayson Kirk retired, classified research projects on campus were abruptly ended, and the proposed expansion plans were canceled. While academics and admissions selectivity at ‘’Columbia College’’ remained strong through the late 1960s and 1970s, the university as a whole experienced financial difficulties.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the university experience a drastic increase in gifts and endowment growth. Due to the leadership of university presidents Michael Sovern and George Rupp, many of Columbia College’s facilities were extensively expanded and renovated. The number of residence halls was increased to accommodate all Columbia College students for all four years of the undergraduate education. Hamilton Hall, the primary academic building of Columbia College has undergone an extensive renovations, and the college’s athletic facilities, located at Baker Field on Manhattan's far northern tip at 218th St., were renovated and expanded.

Butler Library

Butler Library, the university’s main library and the home to over 2 million volumes of the university’s humanities collection underwent an extensive 4 year renovation. A generous gift from Philip L. Milstein allowed for the creation of The Philip L. Milstein Family College Library, a specialized collection of some 100,000 volumes concentrated in history, literature, philosophy, and the social sciences and especially designed to complement the curriculum of ‘’Columbia College’’. The collection Columbia University Libraries consist of over 8.6 million volumes held in 25 specialized libraries.

Notable alumni

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