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Charter Day Top 10

Think you know Columbia’s origin story? We’ve got the facts.

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The first campus of King’s College at Trinity Church.

COURTESY COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY ARCHIVES


Halloween isn’t the only holiday on October 31! Here at the College, we celebrate the last day of the month as Charter Day, the anniversary of our school’s founding more than 250 years ago. To mark the occasion, we dug into the history books for some highlights from that early era.

Happy 268th!

Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, and the fifth oldest in the nation.

Crowning Moment

King George II chartered the school in 1754 to “promote liberal education” — hence its original name, King’s College.

Class Act

Eight students enrolled that first year. Five were awarded bachelor’s degrees at the first Commencement, in 1758.

Downtown Destination

The College’s first home was at Trinity Church. In 1760, it moved to a three-acre site at Park Place, overlooking the Hudson River.

Star Student

Alexander Hamilton CC 1778 burnished his smooth-talking reputation long before Broadway. He is said to have used a lengthy speech to stall a revolutionary mob that came for the College’s loyalist president, Myles Cooper, in April 1775. Thanks to Hamilton’s intervention, Cooper escaped to the safety of a British frigate.

First Aid

In 1776 the College was seized by the Revolutionary Committee on Safety for use as a military hospital. When the British occupied Manhattan later in the year, they continued to use it in that capacity.

Break for Battle

Classes were suspended between 1776 and 1783 due to the Revolutionary War.

Founding Fathers

In addition to Hamilton, the College’s alumni include John Jay CC 1764, president of the Second Continental Congress and first chief justice of the United States, and Robert Livingston CC 1764, a member of the Committee of Five that wrote the Declaration of Independence.

Columbia College Is Christened

In 1784, the school reopened and was renamed by the New York State Legislature. (Columbia was by then in use as a poetic alternate name for America.) The new charter declared Columbia the “mother college” of a planned public New York State university system overseen by a statewide board of regents.

The Room Where It Happens

Hamilton was largely responsible for a revised charter in 1787 that reverted Columbia to a privately governed school — with himself among the first members of the Board of Trustees.