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Columbia University was founded in 1754 as King's College under royal charter of King George II of Great Britain. It is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York and the fifth oldest in the United States. It remains one of the world's most prestigious, selective and elite centers of higher education.
In July 1754, Samuel Johnson (1696-1772; not to be confused with Dr. Johnson, the British lexicographer, 1709-1784) held the first classes in a new school house adjoining Trinity Church, located on what is now lower Broadway in Manhattan. There were eight students in the class. In 1767 King's College established the first American medical school to grant the MD degree.
The American Revolutionary War brought the growth of the College to a halt, forcing a suspension of instruction in 1776 that lasted for eight years. Among the earliest students and trustees of King's College were John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the United States; Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury; Gouverneur Morris, the author of the final draft of the United States Constitution; and Robert R. Livingston, a member of the five-man committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence.
In 1784 the college reopened as Columbia College, reflecting the patriotic fervor which had inspired the nation's quest for independence.
In 1849, the College moved from Park Place, near the present site of City Hall, to 49th Street and Madison Avenue, where it remained for the next fifty years. During the last half of the nineteenth century, Columbia rapidly assumed the shape of a modern university. The Law School was founded in 1858, and the country's first mining school, a precursor of today's School of Engineering and Applied Science, was established in 1864. 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 graduate faculties in political science, philosophy, and pure science established Columbia as one of the nation's earliest centers for graduate education.
In 1896, the trustees officially authorized the use of yet another new name, Columbia University, and today the institution is officially known as "Columbia University in the City of New York." At the same time the campus was moved again from 49th Street to a more spacious 26 acre campus in Morningside Heights (from 114th to 120th streets, Broadway to Amsterdam Avenue West) where it is still located. The campus was designed by the famous architectural firm, McKim, Mead, and White.
In 1902, New York newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer donated a substantial sum to the University for the founding of a school to teach journalism. The result was the 1912 opening of the Graduate School of Journalism-- the only journalism school in the Ivy League. The school remains the nation's most prestigious, and is the administrator of the coveted Pulitzer Prize and the Dupont Award in broadcast journalism.
View of part of the Columbia University campus, 1915
By the late 1930s, a Columbia student could study with the likes of Jacques Barzun, Paul Lazarsfeld, Mark Van Doren, Lionel Trilling, and I. I. Rabi, to name just a few of the great minds of the Morningside campus. The University's graduates during this time were equally accomplished - for example, two alumni of Columbia's Law School, Charles Evans Hughes and Harlan Fiske Stone (who also held the position of Law School dean), served successively as Chief Justice of the United States.
In the spring of 1968 student protesters took over five buildings and occupied them for a week. They were protesting the building of a gymnasium in Morningside Park, the campus presence of the government and military recruiters, and the administration in general. (see John Lindsay)
Columbia University had been relatively declining during the 1970s and 1980s. During the 1990s, under the leadership of University President George Rupp, Columbia regained its reputation as one of the nation's leading universities.
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