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The History of Columbia College

Black and White Photo of the Front Gate

The history of Columbia College is rich and varied. Founded in 1851, Columbia College has been helping students advance their lives through higher education for more than 150 years. As a private, non-profit, coeducational liberal arts and sciences college, the college takes pride in its small classes, experienced faculty and quality educational programs.

Originally founded as Christian Female College, the college was the first women's college west of the Mississippi River to be chartered by a state legislature. The college changed its name to Columbia College in 1970 when it changed from a two-year women's college to a four-year coeducational college.

In the 159 years since the college’s modest beginning, Columbia College has flourished in size and has become a nationally recognized educational institution. Throughout its long history, Columbia College has always focused its efforts on delivering quality education and providing for every type of student across the country.

Columbia College is steeped in time-honored traditions that students and alumni embrace from generation to generation.


A Look Through Rogers Gate

1851  On January 18, the General Assembly of the State of Missouri approves the charter of Christian Female College. John A. Williams serves as the school’s first president. Twenty-nine acres and an unfinished home were purchased from the estate of Dr. James H. Bennett for use as a campus in Columbia, Missouri. Seven young women are taught by President Williams on April 5, the first day of class.

1853  The first graduation ceremony is held. Sallie Bedford is valedictorian of this class of six. The oldest diploma in the college archives is from the second graduation ceremony held in July 1854.

1856  President Lanceford B. Wilkes (Second)

1858  President Joseph K. Rogers (Third)

1871  On January 25, former art and music student at Christian Female College Lavinia “Vinnie” Ream unveils her commissioned likeness of President Abraham Lincoln in the rotunda of the United States Capitol, where it still
stands today.

1877  President George S. Bryant (Fourth)

1883  President William A. Oldham (Fifth) The Conservatory of Music is founded. It provided a respected part of the curriculum until 1959.

1893  President Franklin P. St. Clair (Sixth) dies several months after taking office. His wife, Luella St. Clair, fills the office and becomes the college’s first female president (Seventh).

1897  President Emma F. Moore (Eighth)

1899  The first telephone comes to campus.

1900  The dedication of St. Clair Hall, planned to be a joyous celebration of Luella St. Clair’s accomplishments
and Franklin St. Clair’s memory, is darkened by the death of their young daughter Annilee. Orginally it contained administration offices, parlors, a library, art and kindergarten facilities, a dining room and three floors of dormitory rooms for 150 students. The first Ivy Chain Ceremony is held at commencement, beginning an enduring tradition that continues today.

1903  Women’s basketball is the school’s first competitive athletic team.

1911  The golden jubilee is celebrated 10 years late due to President St. Clair’s desire to build Dorsey Hall before
inviting alumnae back to campus. St. Clair donated the stained-glass window in Dorsey Chapel in memory of her daughter.

1912  President St. Clair secures funds from trustees, alumnae and friends to erect the stone entrance, Rogers
Memorial Gate, as a memorial to President Rogers.

1913  The school becomes a junior college offering an associate in arts degree.

1914  The Christian College Alumni Bulletin is first published and the first May Queen, Hazel Davies Banks, is

1919  A natatorium is built at a cost of $25,000. It was renamed Gerard Pool in 1972 to honor aquatics instructor
Sue Gerard and razed in 2002 to make way for the Atkins-Holman Student Commons.

1920  Built under the direction of President St. Clair in the last year of her presidency, Missouri Hall is used as a
dormitory for 65 years. After renovation and rededication, the Tudor-Gothic style building continues to serve as a cornerstone of the main campus. President Edgar D. Lee (Ninth)

1925  The Halloween grand march, only one of the important traditions implemented by Marion Hertig, is inaugurated.

1926  The 75th anniversary of the school’s chartering is recognized.

1929  President Lee encourages the Board of Trustees to drop “Female” from the school’s name and, in December, the charter is revised. The 1929 commencement invitations reflect the change and read simply “Christian College.”

1935  President Eugene S. Briggs (Tenth)

1938  President James C. Miller (Eleventh)

1943  Jane Froman ’26 is the first female volunteer to entertain troops overseas during World War II. She is
severely injured in an airplane crash en route to a European USO performance.

1951  The centennial celebration features an address by United States Senator J. William Fulbright and a
memorable performance by Froman.

1956  President Kenneth H. Freeman (Twelfth)

1958  The first annual alumni homecoming is held on campus.

1963  The Christian College National Alumnae Association, now Columbia College Alumni Association (CCAA), is

1965  President W. Merle Hill (Thirteenth)

1966  Deborah Bryant ’65 is crowned Miss America.

1968  The first scholarships to international students are offered through President Hill’s connections to the Experiment in International Living. Larry Young ’76 wins an Olympic bronze medal in longdistance walking. He won the bronze again in 1972.

1969  Kirk Williams is the first and only male resident student to enroll for the fall semester.

1970  On July 1 the school’s name is changed to Columbia College. Fifty-four men arrived on campus to join the school’s first truly coeducational class.

1971  Baseball records the school’s first modern athletic victory, over Central Methodist College.

1973  The college begins to offer four-year degree programs and founds the Extended Studies Division during this academic year. Establishing the school’s commitment to the military, the first Nationwide location is founded at Army Troop Support Command Headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri.

1974  This is the first season of men’s basketball and men’s soccer. Soccer continues until 1978 and is reorganized in 1987.

1975  The Evening Campus is founded and the college’s first computer arrives on campus

1977  President Bruce B. Kelly (Fourteenth) Rick Bueltmann ’78 is the first Columbia College athlete to earn All-American accolades. First Paper in Particular Exhibition.

1980  With the largest gift in school history at the time, Virginia Southwell Singletary encouraged the generosity of others. The Southwell Athletic Complex was named in her honor.

1983  Women’s volleyball plays its first season.

1984  President Donald B. Ruthenberg (Fifteenth) This is the first season of women’s fastpitch softball. Scooter, his jersey number a nod to the school’s founding in 1851, becomes the official mascot of Columbia College.

1987  Men’s soccer program returns to campus

1989  Softball achieves the first NAIA No. 1 ranking for a Columbia College team.

1990  The men’s basketball team makes the college’s first athletic NAIA national tournament appearance.

1995  President Gerald T. Brouder (Sixteenth)

1996  The first graduate degree program, Master of Arts in Teaching, is offered. The first Holiday Lighting Ceremony takes place on main campus. More than 4,500 white lights are now permanently installed along the perimeter of the buildings around Bass Commons.

1998  The women’s volleyball team wins its first NAIA national championship. Volleyball repeats this accomplishment in 1999, 2001 and 2015.

2000  Online classes are first introduced. The original offering of 10 courses has now grown to more than 800. John Schiffman honors his late wife, Althea Whitcraft Schiffman ’41, with the largest single donor gift to that time and establishes the school’s first endowed chair. Schiffman’s generosity leads to the first Schiffman Lecture in Religious Studies in 2002 and the first Schiffman Ethics in Society Lecture in 2003.

2003  Ground is broken on the Atkins-Holman Student Commons. The building stands as a testament to the many contributions of trustees, alumni and friends of the college.

2004  The school’s largest single gift to date, conferred by Carol Vinkemulder Frobish ’49, provides unrestricted funds to be used in the college’s best interest.

2008  Proud of being a military-friendly institution, the first annual Military Recognition Day is held on the main campus.

2010  The Federal Hall Building in downtown Columbia is purchased to house the Online Education Center and is rededicated as Federal Hall in 2011.

2012  A new tradition begins when new students and Scooter the Cougar “Storm the Gate” the first time during orientation.

2013  American Midwest Conference champions for the second year in a row, the men’s basketball team wins a school record 35 games and earns its first No. 1 national ranking. Undefeated in the regular season, the Cougars advance to the quarterfinals of the NAIA national tournament. With more than 80,000 alumni to date, the CCAA celebrates its 50th anniversary.

2014  President Scott Dalrymple (Seventeenth)

2015  Bill Wright ’09 becomes the first online graduate to be tapped president of the CCAA Board of Directors. Following his 700th victory and in honor of his amazing career, the basketball court at Southwell Complex is renamed Bob Burchard Court after Men’s Basketball Coach and Athletic Director Bob Burchard.

2016  The college transitions into a three-school structure with three founding deans: The School of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences, the School of Business Administration and the School of Natural Sciences & Mathematics. Daisy Willis Grossnickle ’66 completes her term as chair of Board of Trustees. Grossnickle served as chair for 11 years and trustee for more than 34 years. Baseball is reinstated after a 35-year hiatus from the program. Construction of the campus Quad (14) is completed. Designed to be a gathering place for students, alumni and the community, it features a zero-entry fountain, Christian College garden, amphitheater and security office. Columbia College launches a much-anticipated eSports team. The competitive online gaming team features 12 players and is housed in the state-of-the-art Game Hut.