Columbia University Archives: Student Life

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

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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 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.

Student Life

How find information about student life at Columbia

Where to Start

To start your research into Columbia student life, here are the most frequently consulted sources:

Online
  • Columbia Daily Spectator
    The student newspaper has been digitized and is easily searchable (by text or by date). You can find articles and photographs from 1877 to the present.
  • Columbia Student Life Timeline
    Compiled for the celebration of Columbia’s 250th Anniversary in 2004, this timeline Includes both curricular and extra-curricular highlights and milestones.
In-Person

These collections are only available in person at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) reading room.Visitors are required to register their own Special Collections Research Account before their 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 the materials directly from the finding aids: 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. For more information on how to access our collections, check out our Research & Access website.

  • Historical Subject Files
    This collection 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 and are a very good reference source and starting point for research on many areas of Columbia's past. Look for the series on Athletics, Demonstrations, Publications, Social Issues, Student Life, and Women at Columbia.
  • Yearbooks
    Yearbooks from Columbia College and the School of Engineering include photographs, information about student activities, life on campus and current events. To request a yearbook, you will need to use your Special Collections Research Account.  Please note that you will have to enter a request for each year of volume you are interested in. Do not enter a date range (1945-1947) but submit individual requests (1945, 1946, 1947).
    • For The Columbian (1890-2019), on the right side of the page, under the University Archives, look for the Request: Special Collections link. Once you've logged in to your Special Collections Research Account, enter the year you are interested in the Date field (where it says "1891 uuuu"), and submit the request.
    • For The Engineer (1925-1992, with a few missing years), on the right side of page, under the University Archives, look for the Request: Special Collections link. Once you've logged in to your Special Collections Research Account, enter the year you are interested in the Date field (where it says "1891 uuuu"), and submit the request.

The University Archives collections also include yearbooks from some of the other schools: the Graduate School of Journalism, the Graduate School of Business and the School of General Studies are also available. (See a complete list of our yearbook holdings). If you have any questions on how to request any of the yearbooks, please reach out to uarchives@columbia.edu.

  • Photographs
    The University Archives maintains an extensive collection of Columbia-related images dating from the mid-19th century to the present. These collections are for the most part only available for access in person at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) reading room. You can use these research guides to find photographs of individual students or of student life in general.

Student Publications

  • Columbia Daily Spectator, the student newspaper, has been digitized and is easily searchable (by text or by date). You can find articles and photographs from 1877 to the present.
     
  • The Blue Books were student handbooks meant to acclimate students to campus and the surrounding community. Information on student activities and clubs was provided as well as services in the community such as churches and social gatherings. Academic information and descriptions of faculty were also included. The handbooks were published for many years by the Christian Association, the campus name for the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), and then starting in 1923-1924, by the Columbia Spectator. It appears that the last Blue Book was published during the University's bicentennial year, 1953-1954.
     
  • Jester is the student humor magazine established in 1901. The publication has been printed mostly continuously through 1997 and was revived in 2001 and again in 2005. The March 1912 issue was digitized as part of the Seymour B. Durst Old York Library collection at the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library. A mostly complete run of the paper copies is available at the University Archives.

  • The Blue and WhiteColumbia's undergraduate magazine, originally ran from 1890 to 1893. These early issues have been digitized for preservation.

Publication resumed in 1998 and the Blue and White Archive provides access to digitized copies from 1998 to 2013. To see content from 2014 to the current issues and podcasts, please visit the magazine's website.

Paper copies of the publications 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, researchers are required to register their own Special Collections Research Account before their visit and to validate the account in person with government-issued photo identification or Columbia ID card. For more information on how to access our collections, check out our Research & Access website.

Student Group Records

There are dedicated research guides for the LGBT student groups, Varsity Show, and the 1968 student strike. While many campus groups records can be found in the Historical Subject Files, here are some collections of records from specific student activities on campus:

Archival collections are only accessible in person at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) reading room.Visitors are required to register their own Special Collections Research Account before their 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 the materials directly from the finding aids: 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. For more information on how to access our collections, check out our Research & Access website.

Student Recollections and Correspondence

These collections of former student papers and letters are only available in person at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) reading room.Visitors are required to register their own Special Collections Research Account before their 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 the materials directly from the finding aids: 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. For more information on how to access our collections, check out our Research & Access website.

  • Book of misdemeanours in King's College (a.ka. The Black Book), 1771-[1775] (Available online)
    According to the 1931 foreword, Myles Cooper, who came to the King's College after seven years at Oxford, brought a system of rigid discipline to the College and introduced the Black Book, which had been for centuries a tradition at Queen's College, Oxford. The book lists  discipline infractions and how students were punished for breaking curfew, skipping or talking during prayer sessions, bringing dining hall cups to their rooms, etc. 
  • George Templeton Strong Diary, 1835-1875
    Strong's diary runs without interruption from October 1835 through June 1875. He was a member of the Class of 1838 and was elected Trustee in 1853. There is also approximately 150 photostatic copies of personal correspondence with family and friends, original drawings, caricatures and doodlings, invitations, guest lists, theater and concert programs, newspaper clippings, a family tree, and photographs. Includes a typed index of Columbia references in Strong's diary. 
  • Columbiana Manuscripts
    The materials in this collection cover a wide range of dates, forms and topics, but you can find items such as John Barent Johnson (A.B. 1792) Diary, 1787-1803; John Henry Innes (LL.B. 1872) Diary, 1868-1936; Columbia College Life. Anonymous essay, 1869; Pine, John B. Student Life as an Element in a University Education - Considered in Relation to Columbia College, 1892. 
  • Jerome W. Frank canoe trip diary, 1886-1887
    This collection consists of three bound volumes: a handwritten preface, a full manuscript, and a transcription of the manuscript. The volumes relate the events of the Columbia College Canoe Club's 6-week summer cruise on Lake George and Lake Champlain in 1886.
  • Nora Lourie Percival Papers, 1932-2011
    This collection includes correspondence between Nora Percival (BC ‘36) and her first love, Herman Gund (CC ‘34, J’35) from 1934-1939. They married in 1936 after Nora graduated college. Nora and Herman were actively involved in Columbia's literary renaissance during the 1930s. Herman spearheaded the rejuvenation of the literary and debate group Philolexian Society (he was president in 1934-5), the Boar's Head Poetry competition, and the resulting printed poetry collections; while Nora started the Barnard Literary Club. In addition to their correspondence, the papers contain copies of Columbia periodicals from the 1930s, many of which contain poems written by Herman Gund and/or Nora Lourie Percival as well as by other notables of that era. Titles include Varsity, Columbia Review, Jester, and The Barnard Quarterly. 
  • Leo Ward Memorabilia, 1935-2003
    This small collection has materials from former football player Leo Ward CC 1952, who played under legendary coach Lou Little. In addition to team news, photos, and publications, there is also scrapbook with clippings of events on campus and a collection of letters written by the Light Blue '52 (Class of 1952 football players) during their first year after graduation.
  • M. Moran Weston Papers, 1824-1994
    This collection includes family and personal correspondence with Weston’s father about Columbia; materials related to his student activities, his yearbook, student materials and papers (see Series II. Biographical Materials). Moran also served on the Board of Trustees from 1969 to 1981. (CC 1930; PhD 1954)
World War II
  •  C. Ogden Beresford Papers, 1940-1990s
    This collection consists of the college and World War II recollections of C. Ogden Beresford, Columbia College Class of 1943, and a collection of recordings by the dance band, the Columbia Blue Lions, from 1940-1941. (CC 1943)
  • Mary Bradley Fitt papers, 1941-1942
    Correspondence between Mary Bradley Fitt (later Mrs. Gerald McCarthy), (MA 1942), and her parents Harriet Bradley Fitt (MA 1915; PhD 1917) and Frank Fitt (MA 1915). The letters were written while Mary Fitt was studying for her degree in economics from September 1941 to June 1942. These long newsy letters deal with her course work, her thesis research, an off-campus job, life in New York City, World War II and family and friends. Also included is the original corrected typescript of her 1942 master’s essay, "Argentina's Trade with the Western Hemisphere." (MA 1942)

Class Work, Lecture Notes and Student Work

These collections of former student notes and course work are only available in person at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) reading room.Visitors are required to register their own Special Collections Research Account before their 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 the materials directly from the finding aids: 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. For more information on how to access our collections, check out our Research & Access website.

  • Lecture notes collection, 1817-1969
    The collection consists of lecture notes taken by various students in the School of Law, School of Arts, and School of Mines, mostly from 1817 to 1915, and includes memorabilia. The notes cover a wide range of subjects, from constitutional law to English literature, and provide a unique insight into the teaching methods of several of Columbia's most prestigious professors. 
  • Columbiana Manuscripts
    The materials in this collection cover a wide range of dates, forms and topics, but you can find student courseworks such as the English Department Rhetoric Theses, 1898-1899.
  • Columbia College AB Theses collection
    From 1878 to 1905, every student of Columbia College's senior class was required to submit a thesis on any subject, scientific or literary, in order to graduate. Of particular note is the 1887 thesis submitted by Mary Parsons Hankey, who enrolled in Columbia's Collegiate Course for Women, and was the first woman to receive an undergraduate degree from Columbia College.
Individual Students
1790s-1840s
  • Abram S. Hewitt papers, 1842 – This a collection of the surviving undergraduate papers, notebooks, and memorabilia of Hewitt, including a group of college themes and exercises, the manuscript of Hewitt's Greek Salutatory Address (4 October 1842), three volumes of lecture notes, eight volumes of translations from Greek authors, and three volumes of lecture notes made by Hewitt's brother-in-law and business partner, Edward Cooper (HT 1842 Lit&Sc). (CC 1842)
  • Cyrus King papers, 1791-1817 – This collection includes college speeches, notebooks and class exercises relating to King's undergraduate years at Columbia. (CC 1794)
  • Peter Dumont Vroom papers, 1744-1873 – This collection includes Vroom's Latin-English vocabulary notebook kept during his junior year at Columbia College, 1807. The notebook contains a list of his classmates. In addition, there is his 1808 Columbia College Commencement address. (AB 1808, AM 1812, LLD 1837)
1850s-1880s
  • Robert Bage Canfield manuscripts, 1858-1862 – This collection includes lecture notes and essays of Canfield while a student at Columbia College. A number of subjects are covered including Richard Sears McCulloh's lectures on physics, on optics, and on pneumatics, Francis Lieber's lectures on history, and John McVickar's lectures on religion. Also, Canfield's graduation thesis "The Dignity of Labor."  (CC 1882)
  • Benjamin N. Cardozo papers, 1885-1940 – This collection includes the Supreme Court Justice’s lecture notes as a student at Columbia, 1885-1889, and his commonplace books. The seven volumes of Columbia lecture notes (Boxes 3, 3A and 4) are too fragile for use; readers must use microfilm copy.  (CC 1889; MA 1890; Law 1889-1891; LLD 1915, Trustee 1928-1932)
  • Elbridge T. Gerry papers, 1856-1912 – As secretary of the Columbia College Class of 1857, Gerry carried on a detailed correspondence with many of its members. The bulk of the Gerry Papers are these carefully preserved letters, many of which are of a personal, intimate nature, and documents concerning the activities of the class as a whole. There are also Gerry's Columbia College notebooks and memorabilia of his student days.  (CC 1857)
  • John Treat Irving letters, 1807-1936 – A collection of letters to and from John Treat Irving. Included is a notebook, dating from 1828 when John Irving was a senior at Columbia College, records class notes, problems, and exercises. (CC 1829)
  • J. Howard Van Amringe papers, 1851-1915 – This collection includes course notebooks from when Van Am attended Columbia College as well as brochures, invitations, and other Columbia and memorabilia. (CC 1860, AM 1863)
1890s-1900s
  • John J. Coss papers, 1908-1952 – This collection includes correspondence and 17 notebooks kept while a student at Columbia, Union Theological Seminary, and the University of Heidelberg.  (MA 1908, LittD 1929)
  • Frederic René Coudert Sr. papers, 1863-1962 – This collection contains scrapbooks with clippings on all aspects of Coudert's life, including his years as a Columbia student, 1888-1894.  (CC 1890; MA 1891; PhD 1894) 
  • Fletcher G. Downs notebooks, 1907-1908 – This collection consists of three notebooks or field books kept by Fletcher G. Downs and a copy of his 1908 mining thesis, Gilpin County Colorado. The notebooks (I, II and IV) record Down's "Mine Trip" during the Summer of 1907. The books include drawings and schematics of equipment (pumps, shaft guides, brakes, gears, drainage valves, etc.) and field details of the West Vulcan mines.  (CC 1906; EM 1908)
  • W. L. Hildburgh papers, 1892-1900 – This collection, representing Hildburgh's student days at Columbia University, contains student records, class memorabilia, notebooks of electrical engineering experiments, projects, and research for his bachelor's and master's theses.  (EE 1897; AM 1898; PhD 1900)
1910s-1920s
  •  Randolph Silliman Bourne papers, 1910-1966 – Bourne attended Columbia University where he studied under John Dewey and Charles Beard. He earned his bachelor of arts degree in 1912 and a master's in 1913. Collection includes twenty notebooks of Columbia College, essays, reading lists and notes, college themes with instructor comments, and correspondence.  (CC 1912, MA 1913)
  • Lucy Julia Hayner papers, 1919-1966 – This collection includes Hayner's physics lab reports as a graduate student, notes and correspondence.  (BC 1919, MA 1920, PhD 1926)
  • Ruth D. Masters papers, 1928-1947 – This collection includes Masters’ course notes for Prof. Joseph Chamberlain's classes on international organization and international waterways.  (MA 1929; PhD 1932)
  • Meyer Schapiro collection, 1919-2006 – This collection includes Schapiro’s student notes of college courses, notes and typescripts for his 1926 master's thesis ("The sculptures of Moissac"), and, finally, material focused on his doctoral dissertation which was completed in 1929 ("The Romanesque sculpture of Moissac"). Schapiro was one of the three first recipients to be awarded a master’s degree in fine arts at Columbia University and his doctoral dissertation was the first in fine arts and archeology at the university. (CC 1924, MA 1926, PhD 1929
  • Hans A. Widenmann papers, 1918-1920 – Notes taken by Widenmann of courses and lectures given by H. Parker Willis, Professor of Banking, Economics and Social Science, and the School of Business, Columbia University, 1917-1937.  (AM 1919; MS [Business] 1920)
1930s-1960s
  • Robert Dodd Lilley papers, 1935-1986 – This collection includes Lilley’s include his student notebooks from the School of Engineering (1931) and the School of Mines (1934-1935) and Columbia memorabilia.  (CC 1933, BS 1934, EM 1935, LLD 1981; Trustee 1968-1980)
  • Charles Chester Cole papers, 1941-1947 – This collection consists of term papers written for history courses while Cole attended Columbia and one novel manuscript entitled "Half a Hero."  (CC 1943; MA 1947; PhD 1951)
  • Erica Jong papers, 1955-2011 – This collection includes early Erica Jong material, including class notebooks, essays, course binders, daybooks, diaries and theses drafts.  (BC 1963, MA 1965)
  • Eric L. McKitrick papers, 1934-2001 – This collection contains McKitrick's college terms papers and course material. McKitrick also kept several files of material related to specific courses that he took at Columbia University. These files include syllabi and lecture notes, and include material on classes taught by Jacques Barzun, Robert Merton, and Lionel Trilling.  (GS 1949, MA 1951, PhD 1959) 
  • Rachel Anne Purpura papers, 1942-1943 – This collection includes Purpura's class notes and term papers associated with graduate courses taken at The New York School of Social Work. The papers also include course syllabi, bibliographies, and reading lists.  (Social Work)
  • Felix H. Vann papers, 1926-1990 – This collection consists of Dr. Felix H. Vann's lecture notes, essays, and drawings for his Columbia College courses: Zoology, Geology, Psychology and Sociology, Fine Arts, 1927-1929.  (CC 1930)
1990s-2000s
  • Howard Stoner Course Materials Collection, 1994-2017 – This collection contains syllabi, hand-outs, and other teaching materials collected by Howard Stoner, a New York City-based advertising executive who audited over 70 courses at Columbia and Barnard between 1994 and 2017.

Residential Life at Columbia

To start your research into dormitory life at Columbia:

In-Person
  • Historical Subject Files
    This collection includes some administrative records such as guest cards, telephone records, receipts, etc. but also includes some volumes with correspondence from the Supervisor of student housing, 1930s. There are also more recent brochures and informational materials available. Look for Boxes 221-223 and 367-372.
  • Buildings and Grounds collection
    This collection, compiled by the Columbiana curators and University Archives staff, focuses on the individual buildings on campus. The records include newspapers clippings, articles, floor plans, correspondence, etc.
  • The Dorms, 1906-1916
    Published weekly by the students and for the students living Hartley, Livingston, and Furnald Halls on South Field, this newsletter offers a glimpse of the “dormite” life in the early days of dormitories on Morningside.
  • Residence Hall records, 1905-1934
    The collection consists of registers and/or ledgers used in the management of the Morningside campus's first residence halls. The majority of the books served as front desk registers for each hall. Organized by the resident's last name, the books include such information as the room number, mailbox number, move-in date, move-out date, and a forwarding address. The remaining books document the management of the buildings: applications, repairs, desk lamps, packages received, burglary reports, daily blotter, etc. There are also record books for when vacant rooms were rented not for the academic year or for the summer session but for short-term stays (with a daily and weekly rate) known as "transients." The records begin from the opening of the first two residence halls on campus, Hartley and Livingston Halls (opened in 1905) and include the early years of Furnald Hall (1913) and John Jay Hall (1926).
  • Office of University Residence Halls records, 1960s-1990s
    The collection consists mostly of housing reports from the 1970s and correspondence regarding space allocation in the dormitories, budget issues, quality of life concerns for dormitory residents as well as overall undergraduate housing issues. Of particular note is the folder “Space Allocation” which contains correspondence regarding the creation of a lounge area for homosexual students and space for minority groups such as the various Asian student associations.

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.

About the images

Postcard of the Alma Mater statue, circa 1915-1930. (Scan #4737) Will Csaplar Postcard CollectionUniversity Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University Libraries.