Columbia College — 1851 to 2014
|John Augustus Williams,
first president of
Christian Female College
|Class of 1857|
|1889 Senior class with
President William Oldham
|Missouri Hall, 1920s|
|Alumna Deborah Bryant,
Miss America 1966
|Launer Auditorium, 2000|
On January 18, 1851, Christian Female College received its charter from the Missouri Legislature, making it the first women's college west of the Mississippi River to be chartered by a state legislature.
The city of Columbia strongly supported female education partly because the University of Missouri did not yet admit women. The college has been affiliated by covenant with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) since its inception, yet it has always been a nonsectarian school welcoming students of all religious affiliations.
Back in 1851, a typical day for the students started at 6 a.m. The ladies took a morning walk then gathered for chapel. They attended classes until late afternoon then wrote a daily composition. After they studied and did chores, the students attended a Bible lecture every evening. They studied arithmetic, ancient history, grammar, ancient geography, philosophy, five books of Moses and composition. By 1856, there were 150 students, including 85 boarders.
When the Civil War gripped the nation, Christian College President Joseph K. Rogers vowed to keep the school open and he did, thanks to faculty who stayed on knowing they might not be paid.
During the war, President Rogers insisted the college remain neutral and did not allow newspapers on the grounds, but privately he read them. As the fighting continued, so did the fight for the college's survival. Only three students graduated in 1862 and four the following year. But Christian College never missed a day of classes. After the war, Christian College saw its largest enrollment to date with 182 students taught by nine faculty members.
Luella St. Clair, a "steam engine in petticoats," served three different terms as president of the college between 1893 and 1920 and was one of the first female college presidents in the country.
During her administration, she spearheaded the construction of four new buildings — St. Clair Hall, Dorsey Hall, Launer Auditorium and Missouri Hall — all of which are still in use today. She also doubled the size of the faculty, held the first Ivy Chain ceremony, launched a college magazine, created a college orchestra, started a women's basketball team and implemented a bold new cap-and-gown uniform, which the students wore whenever they were in public.
She also changed the college from a four-year school to one of the first accredited junior colleges in the country.
In the late 1960s, Christian College, like many other small private colleges, faced declining enrollments. So the college did what it has always done when faced with adversity — it changed with the times. In 1970 the college changed from a two-year all-female college to a four-year coeducational college and changed its name to Columbia College. For the first time in the school's history, men and women sat side-by-side in the classrooms and men began participating in the time-honored Ivy Chain ceremony.
In 1973, at the request of the military, the college began educating military personnel, making it one of the first colleges in the country with extended campuses on military bases. This was the start of the Extended Studies Division. Two years later, the college launched the Evening Campus in Columbia, which is geared to adult learners who want to start or finish a college degree.
Today, the college has over 30 Nationwide Campuses around the country serving more than 11,000 military and civilian students each year.
In 1996, Columbia College offered its first graduate degree with a Master of Arts in Teaching, followed by a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Science in Criminal Justice.
These degrees are offered through evening classes in Columbia, Mo., and at select extended campuses around the country. In 2000, the college launched its Online Campus, which now offers more than 800 online courses and 27 online degrees. More than 16,000 students take at least one online course each year at Columbia College.
Yet the college remains firmly focused on its roots by providing a traditional campus experience to more than 1,000 Day Campus students each year. It is this unique blend of teaching traditional and nontraditional students that has contributed to the continuing success of the college.
While many things have changed at Columbia College since 1851, some things have remained constant. The college still offers small classes taught by experienced faculty. It still believes the liberal arts and sciences are the basis for lifelong learning. And it is still changing with the times.
Columbia College — improving lives through higher education for more than 150 years.
For a more detailed history, you may purchase the book "Columbia College: 150 Years of Courage, Commitment and Change" by Paulina "Polly" Batterson. It portrays the triumphs and tribulations of the college from 1849 to the present in frank and intimate detail.
Please contact Alumni Relations to purchase. Quantities are limited.