Columbia University Archives: Coeducation at Columbia

University Archives

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Related Collections

Barnard College
The Barnard Archives and Special Collections serves as the final repository for the historical records of Barnard College, from its founding in 1889 to the present day. For more information, please contact

Health Sciences Library
The Archives and Special Collections at the Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library of Columbia University can help you find information about the schools of the Medical Center: College of Physicians & Surgeons, School of Nursing, College of Dental Medicine (formerly the School of Dental & Oral Surgery), Mailman School of Public Health, and the College of Pharmaceutical Sciences. For more information, please contact

Coeducation at Columbia

How to find information about coeducation at Columbia

Coeducation at Columbia

To start your research, check out the history of coeducation at Columbia article written by Julie Golia, PhD 2010 posted on the Columbia History Resources page. This summary provides the historical background and uses the resources of the University Archives, including documents, publications and photographs in our collections as well as a comprehensive bibliography.

Columbia Daily Spectator

You can search the issues of the student newspaper, either by date or by keyword, by visiting the Columbia Spectator Digital Archive. The paper provides articles, opinion pieces and even cartoons to give you a sense the issue of coeducation during the publication's long run (1877 to the present).

Archival collections are non-circulating and can only be viewed in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library's reading room (RBML). In order to use the University Archives collections at the RBML, you will be required to register your own Special Collections Research Account before your visit and to validate the account in person with government-issued photo identification or Columbia ID card. Once you have created your Special Collections Research Account, you will be able to request materials directly from the finding aid: click the check box located on the right for the box(es) you need, and then scroll back to the top of the container list document and click “Submit Request” button in the red-rimmed box at top. This should lead you directly to your Special Collections Research Account to complete the request form.

  • The Historical Subject Files consists of clippings, press releases, programs, and other printed matter compiled over the years by curators of the Columbiana Collection and staff of the University Archives. The files contain an assortment of information on numerous topics related to Columbia University history from the 18th century to the present and are a very good reference source and starting point for research on many areas of Columbia's past. In particular, look to Series XXII: Women at Columbia, 1870s-2000s: Newspaper and magazine clippings, press releases, reports, memoranda, flyers and other printed matter related specifically to women students, faculty and alumnae of Columbia University. Topics also include academic areas of study (e.g., centers, institutes, and programs), women's social issues (e.g., sexual harassment, feminism), affirmative action, and the history of co-education at Columbia.
  • The Historical Biographical Files, a collection compiled by Columbiana curators and University Archives staff, contain general information about individual alumni, faculty, officers and other notable Columbians. A typical file might contain newspaper clippings, press releases, obituaries, and other published documents that provide short descriptions of the individual's accomplishments and activity. Occasionally, files also contain primary documents such as correspondence. Here you can look to learn more about Winifred Edgerton Merrill, PhD 1886, first woman to receive a PhD, as well as other individuals.
  • Central Files (or Office of the President records) is composed chiefly of correspondence sent and received between Columbia University administrators and other University officers, faculty, and trustees, as well as correspondence sent and received between University administrators and individuals and organizations from outside the university. As such, this collection documents a wide range of people, topics and functions. By searching for keywords or phrases in the Series I container list, you can discover who discussed, for example, the "Collegiate Course for Women," "women students," "admission of women," "women graduate students" and "women faculty members."
  • F.A.P. Barnard President's Annual Reports, 1865-1881. Presented to the Board of Trustees, the President presents a "state of the University" report each year. President Barnard's reports are repeatedly focused on the issue of coeducation as he makes the case before a less progressive Board. The President's Annual Reports finding aid includes links to the digitized reports and you can also request paper copies to review in the reading room.
  • Columbia University Bulletins includes links to the handbooks of the Collegiate Course for Women. The Collegiate Course for Women was Columbia's first attempt to offer women limited access to the undergraduate program. The women students needed to pass the same entrance examinations for Columbia College as the male students and they could enroll in the same courses as the male students. However, the women were not allowed to attend the lectures with the male students. The women would meet with the professors at the beginning of the semester, receive a copy of the syllabus and the required readings, and they could then study on their own for the rest of the semester to prepare for the course examinations. Under these challenging circumstances, Mary Parsons Hankey became the first woman to receive her undergraduate degree from Columbia College in 1887. From 1883 to 1889, the Collegiate Course for Women enrolled 99 students but awarded only 8 degrees. The Collegiate Course for Women ended once Barnard College opened its doors in 1889. 
    • To learn more, you can read about the experiences of the first woman to receive a BA from this course Alice Louise Pond in 1888
    • Annie Nathan Meyer was also a student at Columbia's Collegiate Course for Women and eventually was instrumental in the opening of Barnard College. You can read more in Meyer's memoir, Barnard Beginnings (Boston New York, Houghton Mifflin company, 1935). The Annie Nathan Meyer papers are available at the Barnard College Archives.

For more information on how to access our collections, check out our Research & Access website. If you have any questions about how to find materials or how to access materials, please contact

University Publications

In addition to the student perspective found in the Spectator, you might also want to review other university publications for different points of view. You can find additional university publication titles and holding in the Publications section of the Columbia History Resources page.

Annual Reports
The Annual Reports of the President and Treasurer to the Trustees offer a yearly "state of the University" from 1891 to 1946. The reports include current events, facts and figures of students enrolled and degrees conferred, and trends in each school and the University as a whole. In these volumes, you will find President Butler addressing such issues as women graduate students (1916, pp. 28-29), women as university students (1919, pp. 12-15), women entering the Law School (1928, p. 7), and women at Columbia (1939, pp. 23-25).

Columbia College Today
Published since November 1954, Columbia College's alumni magazine has addressed coeducation in a number of issues. The magazine has been scanned and is now available online. Paper copies are also available at the University Archives. Here are some examples of the magazine's coverage on the topic:

Columbia University Record
Beginning as the University Record (September 1973-May 1975) and continuing to this day as the Columbia University Record (July 1975-present), this important university-wide publication, now scanned and fully searchable, is an incredibly rich resource of past Columbia activities, events, scientific research, trustee and faculty appointments, awards and honors, libraries news, departmental achievements, budget and financial reporting, faculty and staff updates, as well as containing informative profiles of campus personalities from 1973 to June 2016. Paper copies are available at the University Archives.

Select Bibliography

For more information on how to access our collections, check out our Research & Access website. If you have any questions about how to find materials or how to access materials, please contact

About the images

Top - Columbia College New Class of 1987 freshmen women, August 29, 1983. (Scan #2770) Office of Public Affairs Photograph Collection, University Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University Libraries. Photo credit: Joe Pineiro, University Photographer

Right - View of women Columbia College seniors at 1987 Commencement ceremony held on May 13, 1987. (Scan #2773)  Office of Public Affairs Photograph Collection, University Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University Libraries. Photo credit: Joe Pineiro, University Photographer.