Founded in 1889, Barnard was the only college in New York City, and one of the few in the nation, where women could receive the same rigorous and challenging education available to men. The College was named after educator, mathematician, and tenth president of Columbia College, Frederick A.P. Barnard, who argued unsuccessfully for the admission of women to Columbia University. The school's founding, however, is largely due to the rallying efforts of Annie Nathan Meyer, a student and writer who was equally dissatisfied with Columbia's stance, and staunchly committed to the education of women. She joined forces with a small group of her peers to petition the University Trustees for an affiliated self-sustaining liberal arts women’s college, and in two years accomplished what she had set out to do.
The first Barnard class met in a rented brownstone at 343 Madison Avenue, just blocks from Grand Central Station; there was a faculty of six and 14 students in the School of Arts. Nine years later, the college moved to its present site on Morningside Heights. One of the original Seven Sisters, Barnard was, from the beginning, a place that took women seriously and challenged them intellectually.
In 1900, Barnard was included in the educational system of Columbia University with provisions unique among women's colleges: it was governed by its own trustees, faculty, and dean, and was responsible for its own endowment and facilities, while sharing instruction, the libraries, and the degree of the university. Somewhat ironically, when Columbia College finally went co-ed in 1983, as Frederick A.P. Barnard had wished nearly a century before, one might have thought Barnard would easily be subsumed. Instead, then President Ellen Futter fought for the College to remain independent and worked toward a new and lasting agreement with Columbia in light of their decision to admit women.
Today, under President Debora Spar, Barnard’s place in higher education is undeniably sound and strong. Over the course of 120-plus years and 11 great women leaders—from winning the right to hire our own faculty in 1900, through the pivotal protests of 1968, to the opening of the Diana Center in 2010—Barnard has flourished.
The story of the College continues to unfold.