Founded in 1889, Barnard was the only college in New York City, and one of the few in the nation, where women could receive the same rigorous and challenging education available to men. The College was named after educator and mathematician Frederick A.P. Barnard, the tenth and recently deceased president of Columbia College, who had argued unsuccessfully with his trustees for the admission of women to Columbia. Barnard’s founding was sparked by the impressive efforts of Annie Nathan Meyer, a student and writer who helped persuade Columbia’s trustees to agree to an affiliated college dedicated to the higher education of women.
The first Barnard class of 14 students met in a rented brownstone at 343 Madison Avenue; the teaching staff consisted of six young men, all with instructional appointments in Columbia College. Barnard’s first female instructor, the botanist Emily L. Gregory, was hired in 1891. Then in 1897, the College moved to its present site in Morningside Heights, across Broadway from the then newly-named Columbia University.
In 1900, Barnard was included in Columbia’s educational system with provisions unique among women's colleges: it was governed by its own trustees, possessed of its own faculty and dean, and responsible for its own finances, while enjoying access to Columbia’s upper-level courses and its libraries, and awarding Barnard graduates the University’s degree. Somewhat ironically, when Columbia College went co-ed in 1983, as Frederick A.P. Barnard had wished nearly a century before, it would have been easy for Barnard to be subsumed. Instead, the Barnard community and President Ellen Futter fought to sustain the College’s autonomy while working out a durable agreement reflecting the new reality of a coeducational Columbia College.
Barnard was, from the beginning, a place that took women seriously and challenged them intellectually, and in that, the College has never wavered. Today, under President Debora Spar, Barnard’s place in higher education is undeniably sound and strong. Over the course of 125 years and eleven women leaders—from winning the right to hire our own faculty in 1900, to the pivotal protests of 1968; from adapting to the widespread co-education movement of the 1970s to the opening of the Diana Center in 2010—Barnard has flourished.