History of the College


When it was founded in 1889, Barnard was one of very few American colleges where women could receive the same challenging education as men did. The College was named after Frederick A.P. Barnard, then the 10th president of Columbia University, who fought unsuccessfully to admit women to Columbia. Also instrumental in its founding was writer Annie Nathan Meyer, who formed a committee to establish a women's college affiliated with Columbia.

For its first few years, Barnard was located in a rented brownstone at 343 Madison Avenue, with a faculty of six and a student body of less than 40. In the early 1890s, it followed Columbia College to Morningside Heights, purchasing an acre of land on Broadway between 119th and 120th Streets with donations from Mary Brinckerhoff, Elizabeth Milbank Anderson, and Martha Fiske. In 1903, the College extended the campus south to 116th Street.

Like the other original Seven Sisters colleges—Bryn Mawr, Mt. Holyoke, Radcliffe, Smith, Vassar, and Wellesley—Barnard has always provided a top-quality education for women. It is unique among the Seven Sisters, however, in that it gives students not only a liberal arts environment and close community, but also all the resources of a major urban research university. Barnard has its own faculty, curriculum, administration, operating budget, and admissions process, but Columbia grants its degrees and oversees the tenure process. Barnard students may take courses and participate in extracurricular activities at Columbia, but they also reap the benefits of a small liberal arts college. They learn to analyze information, think independently, and express themselves effectively through a number of curricular requirements, including an interdisciplinary First-Year Seminar, First-Year English, and, since 2000, courses fulfilling the Nine Ways of Knowing: Reason and Value, Social Analysis, Historical Studies, Cultures in Comparison, Laboratory Science, Quantitative and Deductive Reasoning, Foreign Language, Literature, and Visual and Performing Arts. Students also complete at least one major, and in their junior and senior years, many work closely with professors on research projects or do independent research or creative work for their senior theses.

Perhaps the biggest threat to Barnard came in 1983, when Columbia College admitted women for the first time and began to push for a merger. However, Ellen Futter, then the president of the College, fought successfully for Barnard's continued independence. Today, admission to Barnard remains highly selective, with an acceptance rate of 26.5 percent for the class of 2014—the lowest of any women's college in the country—and thousands of students every year are attracted to its unique, "best of both worlds" environment.