Columbia University Archives: University Presidents

University Archives

Butler Library postcardColumbia University Archives
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Butler Library, 6th Floor
535 West 114th Street
New York, NY 10027

Phone: (212) 854-3786
Fax: (212) 854-1365
E-mail: uarchives@columbia.edu

Map | Hours | Directions

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 archives@barnard.edu.

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 hslarchives@columbia.edu.

University Presidents

How to find information about former Columbia University Presidents

Online Resources

  • To start your search, please consult the President Profiles. This website has portraits of all former Presidents and Acting Presidents along with their dates in office and a short account of their contributions to the University. 
     
  • Another valuable resource available online and easily searchable are the Annual Reports submitted by the University President to the Board of Trustees. These reports 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-Person Resources

For information about the presidents in the 20th century, here are the most information rich and frequently consulted archival collections:

  • Central Files are records of the central administration, including the Office of the President. This collection contains the core administrative records of the University starting in the 1890s and continue through the present. Central Files chiefly contains correspondence (sent and received) between Columbia University administrators and other University officers, faculty, trustees, and individuals and organizations from outside the University. Other records in the files include: reports, budgets, proposals, minutes and agenda, legal documents, personnel records, invitations, pamphlets, publications, floor plans, petitions, fliers, press releases, and speeches. Due to the nature of these records, Central Files are closed for 25 years after their creation.
     
  • In addition to the records of the Office of the President, the Minutes of the Board of Trustees provide official information about numerous topics in the history of Columbia including university governance (e.g., changes to the University statutes), teaching appointments, awards of honorary degrees and certain prizes, endowments, donations of money and materials, real estate purchases, and construction projects. Due to the nature of these records, Trustee Minutes are closed for 50 years after their creation.
     
  • To understand the academic organization and operations of the University, including degree requirements, the academic calendar, the date and order of Commencement exercises, please consult the University Council Minutes, 1890-1968, which can be found in the Faculty Meeting Minutes. The University Council was made up of the President, the Deans and faculty representatives. In 1968, the University Council was replaced by the University Senate. University Senate minutes can be found in the University Senate records. Plenary minutes starting from April 28, 1995, are available on their website.

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.

Personal Papers

The following are collections of personal papers or family papers of the Columbia College/Columbia University Presidents. The collections are listed in order of the president's term in office.

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 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” in the red-rimmed box at top. This should lead you directly to your Special Collections Research Account to complete the request form.

Manuscript Collections

The following archival collections include correspondence and other materials related to the University Presidents. These collections cover a wide range of individuals and dates as well.

  • Historical Biographical Files 
    This collection was compiled by Columbiana curators and University Archives staff over many years. These files 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.
     
  • Columbia College Papers
    This collection contains the surviving files of official correspondence, reports, documents, and printed materials of King's College from 1750 to 1784 and Columbia College from 1785 to 1890, as well as Columbia University up to 1964. The King's College era materials include correspondence, grants, deeds, indentures, lists of governors, leases, accounts, etc. The Columbia College era papers commences with documentation regarding the attempts to revive the college at the end of the American Revolution. In the later period these papers primarily supplement and document the minutes of the meetings of the Board of Governors and the Board of Trustees. Much material was destroyed and scattered in the late 19th century leaving this collection quite incomplete.
     
  • Columbiana Manuscripts 
    This collection is comprised of correspondence, diaries, lecture notes, essays, administrative documents, minutes, and other documents related to Columbia University. The majority of this collection is comprised of primary documents written by or for students, alumni, faculty, administrators, staff, trustees, and honorary degree recipients. Many documents were donated by alumni and their families, student associations and clubs, and Columbia administrative offices. 
     
  • Columbia University Manuscripts 
    This collection contains original correspondence or autograph letters related to Columbia and New York City, which were donated and collected by the Library staff over the years. It includes the notes of acceptance or regret for a dinner hosted by President William Harris in 1829, but also letters from anxious parents in regard to the misbehavior of their sons. Items are cataloged at the item level noting only the correspondents, dates and locations.
     
  • Presidential Search Records
    This collection contains the records of the Trustee and other committees in charge of finding a new University President. The records include the search for the replacements for Presidents Nicholas Murray Butler (1945), Grayson Kirk (1968), William J. McGill (1979), Michael I. Sovern (1992) and George Rupp (2001).
     
  • Photographs
    To find photographs, portraits and other images of the University's Presidents, please consult the research guide on Photographs of Individuals. You can also consult the following collections:
  • Related Collections
    These collections include significant correspondence with King's College and Columbia presidents, including some from former Trustee Chairs who oversaw presidential searches.

    • Edward J. Bermingham collection, 1948-1957
      Correspondence of Dwight D. Eisenhower and his friend Bermingham who first met when Eisenhower became President of Columbia. During his tenure as Columbia's President and later, as commander of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Eisenhower exchanged long letters with Bermingham, outlining in detail his views of world affairs. When Eisenhower became President of the United States, the correspondence continued, and the two men met at least twice at the White House. 

    • Frederick Coykendall papers, 1923-1956
      Coykendall entered Columbia College in 1891, received a BA in 1895, and a CE and MA in 1897. After serving as Alumni Trustee from 1917 to 1922, he was elected as a Life Trustee in 1922 and became Chair in 1933. As Chair, he was instrumental in two presidential appointments: finding a successor to Nicholas Murray Butler and to Dwight D. Eisenhower. 

    • Hamilton Fish letters, 1827-1893
      This group of approximately 1,000 letters from the papers of Hamilton Fish, Sr. relates to the business, functioning, and activities of Columbia College in the 19th century. The earliest material bears on Fish's activities and interests at about the time he graduated from Columbia, but the majority of the letters fall into the latter part of his life, many being written by and to Fish as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Columbia College. The collection includes correspondence with presidents F.A.P. Barnard, Cyrus King, and Seth Low of Columbia College.

    • Clarence H. Vance papers, 1913-1960
      Correspondence, manuscripts, transcripts, documents, photographs, and printed materials assembled by Vance for his dissertation, a biography of Myles Cooper (1737-1785), clergyman, Loyalist, and second president of King's College (now, Columbia University) from 1763 until 1775. There are transcripts of very many letters and manuscripts by and about Myles Cooper and King's College along with pertinent photographs and printed materials which Vance collected from American, English, and Scottish sources. 

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 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” in the red-rimmed box at top. This should lead you directly to your Special Collections Research Account to complete the request form.

Online Sources

In addition to the online publications listed below, please check out the Timelines & Histories section of the University Archives website, which includes published timelines, how to access oral histories and a bibliography of university histories. 

Biographies

The following are collections of biographies, autobiographies and oral histories of the Columbia College/Columbia University Presidents. It includes both online and in-person or in print sources. The collections are listed in order of the president's term in office.

Samuel Johnson
  • The life of Samuel Johnson, D. D., the first president of King's College, in New York : Containing many interesting anecdotes; a general view of the state of religion and learning in Connecticut during the former part of the last century; and an account of the institution and rise of Yale College, Connecticut; and of King's (now Columbia) College, New York. (New York : Printed by T. & J. Swords; London, Re-printed for C. and J. Rivington, 1824.) Online and in print.
  • Life and correspondence of Samuel Johnson D.D. : missionary of the Church of England in Connecticut, and first president of King's College, New York. (New York : Hurd & Houghton, 1874.) Online and in print.
Myles Cooper
  • "Myles Cooper, M.A., D.C.L., LL.D., second President of King's College, now Columbia University, New York City." Columbia University Quarterly, Volume 22, September 1930. In print, the CUQ journal and bound copy reprint.
William Samuel Johnson
Frederick A.P. Barnard
Seth Low
Nicholas Murray Butler
  • Butler, Nicholas Murray. Across the busy years ; recollections and reflections ... 2 volumes. New York : C. Scribner's Sons; London : C. Scribner's Sons, 1939-1940. 
  • Nicholas Murray Butler project : oral history, 1951-1971
    This series of interviews provides a general view of Columbia University during the Butler administration, 1902-45, and specific recollections of Nicholas Murray Butler as President. Participants and pagination: Virginia Gildersleeve, 8; Philip M. Hayden, 11; Carlton J.H. Hayes, 23; Isadore Mudge, 50; E. Berthol Sayre, 16; Eugene Sheffer, 55; James T. Shotwell, 23.
  • Rosenthal, Michael. Nicholas Miraculous : the amazing career of the redoubtable Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler. New York : Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2006. Online and in print.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Grayson L. Kirk
Andrew W. Cordier
William J. McGill
Michael I. Sovern
George Rupp
Lee C. Bollinger

About the image

University Presidents: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1948 (Scan #2492), Michael I. Sovern, 1990s (Scan #4435), George Rupp, 1993 (Scan #2368), Lee C. Bollinger, 2002 (Scan #4646). University Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University Libraries.