On July 17, 1754, King’s College opened in New York City. The Anglican academy would later grow into the venerable Columbia University. The ten students of the college met for their first classes, in Latin and Greek, in a schoolhouse adjoining Trinity Church at Broadway and Wall streets.
The early college educated a number of American patriots and intellectuals including several members of the Continental Congress. Among its first students and trustees were Robert R. Livingston, a member of the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence; Gouverneur Morris, author of much of the final wording of the Constitution; Alexander Hamilton, the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury and one of the authors of the Federalist Papers; and John Jay, the nation’s first Chief Justice and also an author of the Federalist Papers.
During the American Revolution, the college was closed, but when peace was declared, it reopened under a new name, Columbia College, in honor of the new nation. Over time, other special colleges and professional schools developed in connection with Columbia College. The College of Physicians and Surgeons External, the first American school to confer the M.D., was established in 1767. Barnard College External for women, “sister” to the all-male Columbia College, was established in 1889. Melvil Dewey founded the School of Library Economy, the world’s first institution for training librarians, at Columbia in 1887, though it moved to Albany to become the State Library School the following year. In 1898, Teachers College External, which had been founded in 1887, became affiliated with Columbia as a professional school for training teachers. In his will, Joseph Pulitzer endowed the Columbia University School of Journalism External (1912).
In 1890, Columbia’s new president, Seth Low, began to organize the separate autonomous schools under a central administration as a true “university.” In 1896, the institution was renamed Columbia University; it is now officially Columbia University in the City of New York External. In 1897, the university moved uptown to the Morningside Heights campus where it remains to the present day.
- Search the digital collections on Columbia College or Columbia University to find other materials related to Columbia’s history, such as early photographs of the university’s buildings, or the 1881 “Columbia College March”.
- Search in Detroit Publishing Company on Trinity Church AND New York for turn-of-the-century images of the original site of King’s College.
- Search Today in History on college or university to read about other historic American schools of higher education such as Harvard University, Howard University, Yale University, Vassar College, and Cornell University.
- Search the digital collections on New York for a wide variety of material on the city where Columbia University is located. Explore forty-five films of turn-of-the-nineteenth-century New York City. Browse the title list of the collection The Life of a City: Early Films of New York, 1898-1906.
- Search Today in History on New York to find features on the following landmarks in the city:
- New York Subway
- Brooklyn Bridge
- Radio City Music Hall
- Empire State Building
- Statue of Liberty
- Metropolitan Opera House
- Learn more about the illustrious alumni of Columbia by taking the Columbia Trivia (But Not So Trivial) Quiz External offered on the University’s Web site.