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Columbian College of Arts and Sciences

Columbian College of Arts and Sciences offers The George Washington University's undergraduate and graduate programs in the arts and sciences. Founded in 1821 as Columbian College--the cornerstone of the University community--the school housed all undergraduate arts and sciences programs. The graduate program dates its formal establishment to 1905, although in 1888 the University became one of the first institutions in the United States to award a Doctor of Philosophy degree. The Columbian College of Arts and Sciences has always been composed of faculty who were leaders in their fields, successfully producing outstanding scholars. The academic programs have included many "firsts" -- the first in the country to have a statistics program in arts and sciences, the first to offer a formal program in American Studies. Columbian College of Arts and Sciences has been the cornerstone of a dynamic campus community in the heart of the Nation's Capital, providing undergraduate education in liberal arts and sciences. It is also responsible for advanced study and research leading to Master's degrees and the Doctor of Philosophy in these fields. In its early history, there was no distinction between Columbian College, the institution, and Columbian College, the School for liberal arts:

The Department of Arts and Sciences (an earlier name of Columbian College of Arts and Sciences) was essentially the old Columbian College in the District of Columbia. It was the trunk of the educational tree from which branches had grown from time to time as the widening concept of the liberal arts and sciences, as referred to in the Charter, had resulted in a more complex system. 

Elmer Louis Kayser, Bricks Without Straw

In the same way, the histories of Columbian College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences have always been interwoven. Even after the Graduate School took on a totally separate character, the faculties remained largely the same. Originally, Columbian College was composed of only two departments: a Theological Department (discontinued after two years); and a Classical Department with Professors of General History, Belles Lettres, Rhetoric, Moral Philosophy, Learned Languages, Anatomy and Physiology, Chemistry, Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, and Botany. Three young men who had completed the rigorous program of study in the Classical Department were awarded the first Bachelors of Arts in 1824. Seven years later, the young College had conferred its first Master of Arts degree. By the middle of the 1800s, the College offered the degrees of Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts, and Bachelor of Philosophy.


As Washington was changed by the Civil War into a rapidly developing urban community with greater needs for educational training, Columbian College began offering its first evening classes for advanced students. The old Classical Department was then placed under a "Collegiate Department" which contained seven fields of study. When the College became Columbian University in 1873, this Collegiate Department was renamed Columbian College. Having the central core of undergraduate education adopt the name the institution held for its first 83 years was not only a response to the importance of maintaining strong ties to its past, but also to the sentiment of the faculty, students and alumni. Included in the new College were the Schools of English, Greek, Latin, Modern Languages, Mathematics, Natural Science, and Philosophy. Candidates for admission, unless they had graduated from the Preparatory School, were required to take an examination in spelling, English, grammar, geography, history and arithmetic.

In 1888, the first women students entered Columbian College. One of these students (the first female graduate of Columbian College) was Mabel Nelson Thurston. Her acceptance was hedged with restrictions: she could not attend classes, but was directed to meet with her professors individually for her assignments. Her course examinations were held each month with the faculty member. She persevered, however, and was rewarded with the Gold Medal for scholarship. Another important event in the life of Columbian College occurred in 1888 when the first Doctor of Philosophy degrees were awarded, in course, to Andrew Montague, Professor of Latin in Columbian College and to James Howard Gore, Professor of Mathematics and German in the College. This event established the University as one of the first Ph.D.-granting institutions in the United States. The degree was "to be modeled according to the curriculum prescribed for such a degree by the highest institutions of the country" and was open to those students who had attained the baccalaureate."

In 1892, the School of Graduate Studies was established by order of the Corporation of the University at its annual meeting, and formally opened for new students at a reception held on Thursday, the 5th of October 1893. The first opening address was delivered by the President of the University, James C. Welling, who called it "the crowning complement of our university system." In the fall of 1893, 24 graduate students enrolled in the School that opened with 24 professors. The school offered 72 courses in ancient and modern languages, history and philosophy, mathematics, the natural and physical sciences, and civil and electrical engineering. Outstanding scholars were added to the faculty (e.g., Cyrus Adler in the field of history, explorer A.W. Greely in geography, and Frank W. Clarke, in chemistry) and graduate teaching assistants were hired.

Daily lectures were conducted, to the extent possible, in the early portion of the day, to enable the student to attend the afternoon debates of Congress and other lectures offered throughout Washington. The School, as it does today, attracted many part-time and full-time students working in government and other occupations within the District of Columbia. Both Columbian College and the Graduate School have been committed to providing an opportunity for people in the Nation's Capital with full-time employment to enjoy the benefits of higher education.

Consolidation of the Department

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Columbian College and the Graduate School were consolidated under the Department of Arts and Sciences. In 1904, when the University became The George Washington University by an Act of Congress, the Department of Arts and Sciences was reorganized with a Faculty of Graduate Studies and a Faculty of Undergraduate Studies that included Columbian College. Undergraduate studies were overseen by William A. Wilbur, who not only served as dean throughout the first quarter of the century (1904 - 1928), but also made a lasting impression on thousands of students in his very personal course--Freshman Rhetoric. By the 1930s, the University was well established in the Foggy Bottom area. The city was growing and the institution had become a true urban university. In the same year, another major reorganization took place in the curriculum of the University. Advanced degrees in professional fields became the responsibility of the professional schools, and an autonomous Junior College was established to administer the work of the freshman and sophomore years. The name "Columbian College" was assigned to the senior College, which included not only the work of the junior and senior years leading to the Bachelor's degree but also the additional year leading to the Master's degree. Dean Henry G. Doyle headed Columbian College from this period through the mid-1950s. One of his accomplishments was to successfully establish the first Phi Beta Kappa chapter in the District of Columbia at the University in 1938.

Dean Doyle's successor was Calvin Darlington Linton, a Milton scholar who brought the deanship a combination of erudition, quick wit, and firm principles; he guided the College through the troubled years of student unrest in the late 1960s and into more stable times of the '70s and early '80s. His tenure (1957-83) was a time of expansion of faculty and programs, reorganization of curriculum, and almost complete retreat from the parietal rules that had governed student life.

The School of Graduate Studies, which awarded the degrees of Master of Arts, Master of Science, and Doctor of Philosophy, was discontinued. In its place, a Graduate Council was formed to administer all Doctor of Philosophy degree programs, with the President of the University, Cloyd Heck Marvin, serving as its first chair. The creation of the Graduate Council was viewed as a way to turn the process of earning the Ph.D. into a "master apprentice" relationship, conceived of as professional research training. To ensure a high quality Ph.D. program, the Council emphasized the need for personal supervision in research projects and limited both the number of Ph.D. students and the different fields of study.

When Columbian College became Columbian College of Arts and Sciences in 1962, the junior college ended. A few years later, a Graduate Council committee was appointed to examine the nature of the graduate school to administer, coordinate and regularize all work beyond the bachelor's degree. Consequently, the Graduate Council and the Graduate Division of Columbian College were consolidated into the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1967. The first dean of the newly formed Graduate School was Arthur E. Burns, who had previously served as the chair of the Graduate Council. Dean Henry Solomon (1974-1990) succeeded Dean Burns. Dean Solomon's years in the Graduate School were characterized by unprecedented growth in programs, by zealous effort to raise standards of admission and performance, and by dramatic development of specialized Master's and Ph.D. programs. These programs, some conducted in off-campus centers, were shaped to the needs of particular student populations. Additionally, he made research an integral component of graduate education at The George Washington University.

Dr. Robert Kenny became Dean of Columbian College in 1989. Following the retirement of Dean Solomon in 1991, Dean Kenny assumed the duties of Acting Dean of the Graduate School. During his tenure as Dean, Dr. Kenny presided over the consolidation of the two schools. Dr. Kenny, a thirty-year faculty member and Professor of History retired at the end of the Spring Semester, 1992. After Dean Kenny's retirement, Dr. Linda Salamon began her tenure as the first Dean of the combined schools. Dr. Salamon left this position in 1996. Dr. Lester A. Lefton served as Dean from 1997 to 2000. Dr. William Frawley became the new Dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences in 2002 and served until 2006. Diana Lipscomb served as interim Dean until August 1, 2007 when Marguerite Barratt began as the Dean of Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

Change in Name

In July 1995 the Board of Trustees voted to change the name of the Columbian College and Graduate Schol of Arts and Sciences to Columbian School of Arts and Sciences. It was changed back in 2001 in order to retain the early history of the university as Columbian College in the District of Columbia.

Over the years Columbian College of Arts and Sciences has molded and adapted, while maintaining high standards in education and student enrichment. The schools have served as the central pillar around which the University developed. The dedication and inspiration of the faculty and administrators, the enthusiasm of the students, and the continued encouragement and support of the alumni have helped the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences meet the challenges of reorganization, changing fads and new fashions. 


Deans of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences

Columbian College

No Dean

Columbian University

No Dean

Andrew P. Montague

Adoniram J. Huntington

No Dean

George Washington University

William A. Wilbur

Charles E. Hill

No Dean

Henry G. Doyle

Calvin D. Linton

Clara M. Lovett

Robert W. Kenny

Linda B. Salamon

1997 - 2000
Lester A. Lefton

William Frawley

Diana Lipscomb (Interim Dean)

August 1, 2007 - Marguerite Barratt