Two-hundred and sixty years ago, on January 4, 1754, Columbia University was founded in New York City by royal charter of King George II of England as King's College. It is the oldest institution of higher learning in New York State and the fifth oldest in the United States.
The leaders of colonial society could receive an education at the college designed to “enlarge the Mind, improve the Understanding, polish the whole Man, and qualify them to support the brightest Characters in all the elevated stations in life."
The first class, with eight students, was held in July 1754 in a new schoolhouse adjoining Trinity Church on what is now lower Broadway in Manhattan. And the first American medical school to grant the MD degree was founded in 1767.
Among the earliest students were John Jay, first chief justice of the US ; Alexander Hamilton, first secretary of the Treasury; Gouverneur Morris, author of the final draft of the Constitution; and Robert R. Livingston, a member of the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence.
The American Revolution halted the growth of the college, forcing a suspension of classes in 1776. It reopened in 1784 as Columbia—a name that embodied the patriotic fervor that had inspired America’s quest for independence.
Columbia also reflected the legacy of the revolution in the greater economic, religious and geographic diversity of its students. In 1857, the campus was moved from Park Place to 49th Street and Madison Avenue, where it remained for 40 years. The Columbia School of Law was founded in 1858.
The country's first mining school was established in 1864. The first Columbia PhD was awarded in 1875, and Barnard College for women became affiliated with Columbia in 1889. The medical school came under the aegis of the university in 1891, followed by Teachers College in 1893.
The development of other faculties made Columbia one of the earliest centers for graduate education in America. In 1896, the trustees authorized the use of another name, Columbia University. Today, it is officially known as Columbia University in the City of New York.
The university moved in 1897 to the Morningside Heights campus, designed as an academic village by McKim, Mead, and White, the renowned urban architectural firm.
The School of Journalism was established at the bequest of Joseph Pulitzer in 1912, while the study of the sciences flourished along with the liberal arts, as Franz Boas founded the modern science of anthropology at the university in the early 20th century.
In the 1960s, Columbia experienced the most significant crisis in its history. Currents of unrest sweeping the country—among them opposition to the Vietnam War—converged with great force, casting the campus into the national spotlight.
More than 1,000 protesting students occupied five buildings in the last week of April 1968, effectively shutting down the entire school until they were forcibly removed by the New York City police.
Those events led to the cancellation of a gym in Morningside Park, the end of defense-related research projects, the retirement of the president, a downturn in finances, and the creation of the University Senate, in which faculty, students, and alumni acquired a larger voice in university affairs.