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Columbia University

A privately endowed university in New York City with an enrollment of approximately 27,000 students, 40-45 percent of whom are enrolled in professional programs.

Columbia University confers graduate and post-graduate degrees in a wide variety of academic disciplines, and is also home to one of the top medical schools in the country and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, which is responsible for awarding the annual Pulitzer Prizes.

The Campus

Columbia's main campus is located at Morningside Heights, in Upper Manhattan. It was designed as an urban academic village with stately buildings patterned after those of the Italian Renaissance. The architectural centerpiece of the campus is Low Memorial Library, built in the late-1790's and named for Abiel Abbot Low, father of then-university president Seth Low. Listed on the New York City Register of Historic Places, the building today houses the University's central administration offices and the visitors center.

view of the main Columbia campus, with Low Memorial Library at center
view of main Columbia campus, with Low Memorial Library at center

A broad flight of steps descends from Low Library to an expansive plaza, and from there to College Walk, a promenade that bisects the central campus. Beyond College Walk is the South Campus, where Butler Library, the university's main library, stands.

To the north of Low Library stands Pupin Hall, which in 1966 was designated a national historic landmark in recognition of the atomic research undertaken there by Columbia's scientists beginning in 1925. To the east is St. Paul's Chapel, which is listed with the New York City Register of Historic Places.

Two miles to the north of Morningside Heights is the 20-acre campus of the Columbia University Medical Center in Manhattan's Washington Heights. To the west is the New York State Psychiatric Institute; east of Broadway is the Audubon Biomedical Science and Technology Park, which includes the Mary Woodard Lasker Biomedical Research Building, the Audubon Business Technology Center, Russ Berrie Medical Science Pavilion, and the Irving Cancer Research Center as well as other institutions of cutting-edge scientific and medical research.

In addition to its New York City campuses, Columbia has two facilities outside of Manhattan. Nevis Laboratories, established in Irvington in 1947, is Columbia's primary center for the study of high-energy experimental particle and nuclear physics. The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory was established in 1949 in Palisades, New York, and is a leading research institution focusing on global climate change, earthquakes, volcanoes, nonrenewable resources, and environmental hazards.


Columbia University was chartered as King's College by King George II of England in 1754, making it the fifth oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. In July of that year, Samuel Johnson held the first classes in a schoolhouse adjoining Trinity Church, located near present-day New York City Hall. There were eight students in the first class. The college moved into its own building, at Park Place, overlooking the Hudson River, in 1760.

In 1767, Doctors Samuel Bard, Peter Middleton, John Jones, and Samuel Clossy opened a medical college affiliated with King’s College. It is the second medical school in the colonies and, in 1770, became the first to award the M.D. degree.

The college was forced to close its doors during the Revolutionary War, during which time its buildings were used as a military hospital by the British.

On May 1, 1784, the New York State Legislature passed "an Act for granting certain privileges to the College heretofore called King's College." To demonstrate its support for the new Republic, the Legislature also stipulated that the institution's name be changed to Columbia College. Columbia's first class of eight students graduated in 1786.

The college moved to Forty-ninth Street and Madison Avenue in Midtown Manhattan in 1857

Columbia Law School opened in 1858.

The Columbia School of Mines, the first school of mining in America and the precursor of today's Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, opened in 1864.

Columbia College became Columbia University in 1896, and moved to its present location in Morningside Heights in 1897.

Notable Alumni
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Madeline Albright, Secretary of State
Roone Arledge, sports commentator
Isaac Asimov, author
Pat Boone, singer
Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Secretary-General of the United Nations
Joyce Brothers, psychologist
Pat Buchanan, political commentator
Warren Buffet, businessman
Shirley Chisholm, U. S. Congresswoman
De Witt Clinton, Governor New York
William Colby, director of the Central Intelligence Agency
John Dewey, philosopher
Thomas E. Dewey, Governor of New York
William O. Douglas, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court
Hamilton Fish, Governor of New York
Art Garfunkel, singer
Lou Gehring, baseball player
Allen Ginsberg, poet
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court
Stephen Jay Gould, paleontologist
Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board
Alexander Haig, Secretary of State
Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury
Armand Hammer, businessman
Oscar Hammerstein II, lyricist
Charles Evans Hughes, Chief Justice of the United States
John Jay, Chief Justice of the United States
Stephen W. Kearny, Military Governor of California
Jack Kerouac, author
Ursula K. Le Guin, author
Robert R. Livingston, first Secretary of Foreign Affairs
Margaret Mead, anthropologist
Gouverneur Morris, U.S. Senator
Barack Obama, President of the United States
Francis Perkins, Secretary of Labor
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., U. S. Congressman
Hyman G. Rickover, Admiral of the U. S. Navy
J. D. Salinger, author
David O. Selznick, movie producer
Upton Sinclair, author
Benjamin Spock, pediatrician
George Stephanopoulos, presidential adviser
Ben Stein, economic and political commentator
Harlan Fiske Stone, Chief Justice of the United States
Daniel D. Tompkins, Vice-President of the United States
Herman Wouk, author

The official website of Columbia University is

See Also

Revolutionary War

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The Robinson Library >> Individual Institutions: United States

This page was last updated on 01/04/2019.