Aerial View of Columbia College Campus - Then and Now

Columbia College history

The history of Columbia College begins in 1851 when Christian Female College received a charter from the Missouri Legislature. Our first students studied arithmetic, ancient history, grammar, geography, philosophy, composition and the Bible.

By 1856, 150 students, including 85 boarders, were enrolled. When the Civil War began four years later, the college remained open thanks to committed faculty members who stayed on, knowing they might not be paid. The college never missed a day of classes during the war.

The 1890s saw a period of growth as then-president Luella St. Clair — one of the country’s first female college presidents — led construction of four new buildings. St. Clair Hall, Dorsey Hall, Launer Auditorium and Missouri Hall are all still in use today.

The first traditional Ivy Chain ceremony was held in 1900, and the tradition continues today. Graduating seniors are draped with an ivy chain to signify their connection to one another and the college. The ivy is then cut to represent that lifelong bond even as each student embarks on an individual journey.


Collage of Ivy Chain photos, one from 1800s and black and white, the other current at Columbia College in Missouri.

In 1970, Christian Female College transitioned from a two-year, all-female school to the four-year, co-educational Columbia College.

Three years later, at the request of the military, Columbia College became one of the first colleges in the country with extended venues on military bases. Today, we continue to educate service members, veterans and military families online and at more than 25 venues across the nation.

In 1975, the campus opened its doors to adult learners during the evening hours.

Dr. Gerald Brouder became president of Columbia College in 1995. He would go on to grow the college and its endowment, employees, locations nationwide and partnerships over the next 18 years. Dr. Brouder retired in 2013.

Columbia College offered its first graduate degree, the Master of Arts in Teaching, in 1996. Today, the MAT is one of four graduate programs that include the Master of Business Administration, Master of Science in Criminal Justice and Master of Education in Educational Leadership.

Columbia College was one of the first in the country to begin offering online courses, with the online program beginning in 2000.

Dr. Scott Dalrymple served as the 17th president of Columbia College, from 2014 to 2020. He ushered in a new era on campus with the creation of the Quad and construction of a new business school and residence hall.

In 2021, the Columbia College Board of Trustees unanimously named Dr. David Russell the college’s 18th president .  His extensive experience in higher education, the military, steady and decisive leadership style and strong relationships in the Columbia community will be key for the institution’s future success