Columbia College in 1843

1843 "Statutes of Columbia College. [Stanford University, scanned by Google.]

“Statutes of Columbia College.” 1843. [Stanford University, scanned by Google.]

In July of 1843, the Board of Trustees revised and reissued the Statutes of Columbia College it periodically did this (and still does today). Graciously scanned and hosted by Google, the document gives a lot of insight into life at the College before the Civil War (but not very long after the Revolution, and therefore not very long after King’s College’s drastic rehabilitation from royalist enclave to republican college. See: the Statute’s section, “Historical Sketch of Columbia College.” The name King’s College appears exactly once, and is used almost at arm’s length, deep in the second paragraph: “The College was to be known by the name of King’s College.).

The 1843 Statutes’ various sections give an idea of life at the College—of its administration, its faculty, the curriculum offered, of its daily operation, expectations of students, how students were to be punished when they failed to meet expectations, etc. The Statues pass on many specific facets of life at Columbia College, and at least two general ones: Columbia was then far more intimate and far less libertine.

Consider the role of the President, as given in the first chapter of the statutes. His duties (then as now) were “to take charge and have a care of the College generally,” “[t]o report to the Trustees,” and “to preside at commencement […] and shall sign all diplomas.” But duties were also expected of him that he’d never carry out today; to wit, “to visit the classes,” to “assemble the classes ever day, except Sunday, at half past nine o’clock, A.M.” (Not only did the President visit classes—the College was small enough that he assembled it every day!)

Nathaniel Fish Moore, Columbia College 1802 and president of Columbia College from 1842-49. CUL.

Nathaniel Fish Moore, Columbia College 1802 and president of Columbia College from 1842-49.[ CUL.]

(Nathaniel Fish Moore, former professor of classics, was president at the time of these Statues. But he was more of a scholar than an administrator: according to Columbia University Libraries, “Moore found administrative work very uninteresting, and having private means, resigned in 1849.” His image is at right.)

Exceedingly different was that an administrative apparatus as exists today simply did not. Underneath the President and Trustees were the Board of the College—composed of the faculty of Columbia College in “precedence according to the dates of their appointment.” The Board met weekly to oversee all parts of the College not managed by the President or the Trustees, and to adjudicate student violations.

As far as classes, all students took the same course: four hours per day, five days per week, after Chapel. Classics, German, English literature, geometry, chemistry, astronomy, mechanics, physics, and, deliciously, “Principles of Taste and Criticism, theoretically examined and practically applied,” decidedly a course that Columbia College could stand to offer today. Skipping class was not permitted, and tardiness was noted. Admission depended upon knowledge of Latin and Greek, familiarity with various classical authors, and mathematics. Tuition was $90, due at commencement (something like $2200 today).

But the greatest difference is in student behavior. Students were to “observe the strictest decorum” in class, and “attend without delay” any summons from the President or professors. Erring students would “be admonished, degraded, suspended, dismissed, or expelled, according to the nature and aggravation of his offense.” Crimes included “swearing,” intoxication, striking a student, “keep[ing] the company of infamous persons,” and, to be safe, “be[ing] guilty of any other known vice.” Students were to be expelled for undergoing “any professional study during his academical course” or for resisting “the authority of the President and Professors.” Parents were immediately notified in all cases. First offenses were dealt with discretely, by the President. Subsequent ones were brought before the Board of the College, which could call witnesses.  The Librarian, every semester, sent the President a list of student who were in arrears over fines or late books.

Exams were twice per year—”close and rigid” so that “every Student [be] left to stand or fall upon his proper merits.” Deficient students could be expelled, though the statutes also advocated for “due tenderness […] that the effects of perturbation may be avoided as much as possible.” At the end of every exam, a “Testimonial of Merit” was awarded to the best student, with “Special Testimonials” going to the best student of each department, excluding the general testimonial winner.

Commencement required that some students chosen by the Board give an exercise or oration, on the pain of his not graduating. No “person of immoral character” would graduate with honors. No graduate would be allowed to obtain a Master’s degree within three years of a Bachelor’s.

Two students could be selected by the Trustees to be educated at Columbia for no tuition; every religious denomination in New York City was allowed to have one student educated for free, in order to be a minister. Anyone with $1,000 could start a scholarship and thereby pick one student in the College for free education. For $20,000, a religious order could endow a professorship and then fill that seat.

The Board, under the rubric of the Statutes, then established the Regulations. Students were to be attendant at all chapel meetings; absentees were reported to the President.
Nor could students miss class without leave—indeed, they couldn’t even leave campus without leave, or linger when they had leave. The entire document ends with two fairly funny items:

9. No Student shall bring into the Chapel or any of the lecture rooms, any cane, umbrella, or newspaper, nor any book other than those used in his course of study.

10. No missiles, of any description, shall be thrown by any Student within the College nor upon the Green, except in such games of recreation as the President may permit before and after the hours of attendance.

The ninth and tenth regulations make for a fairly abrupt end to a document—and descriptive ones. No distractions were permitted to students: not horseplay, alcohol; not even other books.

The Statutes provide a picture of an entirely different Columbia College—not its first iteration, as King’s College, but of an intermediate level between its royalist founding and its two-stage journey uptown.

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