John W. Burgess
John W. Burgess was a professor of political science at Columbia during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Burgess founded the Columbia School of Political Science in 1880, which developed into the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. He is now remembered as one of the “fathers of American political science,” and he was largely responsible for Columbia’s growth from a college to a university.
Burgess’s contributions, both in his scholarship and his service to the university, have a darker side. His master work, Political Science and Comparative Constitutional Law, argued for the natural political supremacy of white Protestants hailing from Northern Europe. Burgess also wrote several major works of history, including Reconstruction and the Constitution, 1866-1876, published in 1902. In this book, Burgess set the tone for historical scholarship for decades to come, criticizing Radical Reconstruction as an assault on white Southerners’ rights and calling the extension of suffrage to African Americans after the Civil War “one of the ‘blunder crimes’ of the century.” Along with his most famous student, William Archibald Dunning, Burgess helped to found the Dunning School of Reconstruction scholarship: a group of Columbia-educated historians who presented Reconstruction as a failure and helped to shore up Jim-Crow-era segregation and disfranchisement of African Americans.
Burgess had a significant impact on Columbia’s development as an administrator. In addition to guiding the formation of Columbia’s graduate program, he shaped university policies regarding the composition of the student body. He vocally resisted the admission of women to the college, and he also opposed the admission of Jewish students and African Americans. Barnard College, a separate institution for the education of women, was founded in 1889 as a compromise to Burgess’s views.
William A. Dunning
William A. Dunning was a professor of history and political philosophy at Columbia during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. A student of John W. Burgess, he received his Ph.D. from Columbia in 1885, and he soon became a popular and influential teacher. Dunning rose to fame as the founder of the “Dunning School of Reconstruction.” He shared the view of his mentor, Burgess, that Reconstruction was a failure, and his scholarship, including the book Reconstruction, Political and Economic, 1865-1877, portrayed African-American suffrage as disastrous and Reconstruction-era Republican state governments as corrupt and chaotic.
Dunning’s influence extended far beyond Columbia. He trained numerous graduate students, many of whom were Southern by birth, who went on to teach at universities across the nation. Through their scholarship and teaching, Dunning’s students perpetuated a racist interpretation of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction, that helped to unify the North and South in supporting, both tacitly and openly, principles of white supremacy in the Jim Crow era.
Dunning held prominent roles in the American Historical Association and American Political Science Association, furthering his influence across the academic profession. His interpretation of Reconstruction remained standard even long after his death in 1922. W.E.B. DuBois mounted a significant challenge to Dunning’s work in his seminal book, Black Reconstruction, published in 1935. But it was not until the 1960s that the Dunning School began to decline in popularity. Columbia historian Eric Foner’s major book, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, published in 1988, picked up where Du Bois left off in thoroughly refuting the portrayal of Reconstruction as a disaster. Still, elements of Dunning’s racist interpretation linger in public historical memory even today.
Franz Boas was a German anthropologist known for his theory of cultural relativism, which argued against the dominant assumption of the superiority of Western Civilization. Boas became the first professor of anthropology at Columbia in 1899, where he was an influential figure in training students, including Margaret Mead and Zora Neale Hurston, as well as in conducting his own research. He helped to establish the methods and ideas that ushered anthropology into recognition as a rigorous science. His students went on to pursue careers in anthropology departments throughout the United States.
Among Boas’s most significant contributions were his efforts to dispute racist scientific theories that promoted the supremacy of people of Northern European descent over members of other ethnic groups. In the United States, these theories supported the racist assumption that black Americans lacked intelligence. Pseudoscientific measures of race hierarchies were used to justify discrimination, disfranchisement, and segregation. Boas disputed these arguments with clear scientific evidence, debunking theories such as those that argued that skull and brain size varied between races and was a marker of intelligence. He demonstrated that brain size had no bearing on intelligence and asserted that there was little or no evidence that there were dramatic differences among human brains.
George S. Huntington
George S. Huntington was a comparative anatomist and a professor of anatomy at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons between 1889 and 1927. Huntington is known for his work in revolutionizing the teaching of anatomy to medical students. Whereas students had formerly learned anatomy through large lectures, with few opportunities for participating in dissections themselves, Huntington implemented small lab classes that gave students more hands-on experience. His changes to the curriculum at P&S resonated in medical schools across the country.
Huntington was also well-known for his work in comparative anatomy, through which he amassed an enormous collection of specimens of mammal skeletons and preserved body parts. Many of the specimens came from corpses that were used for instruction in P&S anatomy classes. Huntington displayed his collection in a museum that was housed within the anatomy department and was open to students, researchers, and curious members of the public.
While Huntington himself did not conduct much research on comparative human anatomy, he ascribed to the same racist scientific views of most of his professional colleagues. Anthropologists and other scientists who studied the relationship between race and human evolution, such as Ales Hrdlicka, used Huntington’s collection extensively to compare skeletons in attempts to document physical differences between different racial groups. Scientists like Franz Boas worked to discredit such research that rested upon faulty assumptions of white supremacy, but racist scientific views remained popular through the early decades of the twentieth century. Huntington’s collection is now housed at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
Charles Frederick Chandler
Charles Frederick Chandler was a professor of chemistry at Columbia’s School of Mines (now the School of Engineering and Applied Science) for over fifty years, between 1894 and 1918. In his academic work, Chandler made significant contributions to his field of industrial chemistry, including in sugar refining, gas manufacture, and oil refining. He also served as the president of the New York Metropolitan board of health from 1873 to 1883, where he improved public safety standards in several areas, including milk and water.
Chandler spent much of his career as a consultant to major industries in his field, including the Havemeyer family’s American Sugar Refining Company, which held a near-monopoly over the sugar business in the United States. The Havemeyers imported much of their sugar from Cuba, where slavery was not abolished until 1886. Chandler supported the family’s efforts to achieve a full monopoly over sugar refining. He argued for a distinction between the foreign production of sugar and its refining within the United States. Chandler thereby helped to naturalize the legal and intellectual separation between the production of goods overseas under harsh labor conditions and their processing or assembly in domestic factories that continues to characterize many industries in the twenty-first century. Chandler also defended the Havemeyers from accusations that their product contained traces of harmful adulterants, including tin.
Chandler was an influential figure on Columbia's campus. He chaired the chemistry department for most of his tenure and served as the dean of the School of Mines for thirty-three years. He used his close connection to the Havemeyer family to persuade them to fund the construction of a campus building that would house the chemistry department on the Morningside Heights campus. The sponsorship of this construction project symbolized the deep ties between Columbia’s chemistry department and commercial industrial interests. The building, Havemeyer Hall, opened in 1898 and still stands today.
Annie Nathan Meyer
Annie Nathan Meyer was a Jewish woman from Brooklyn, New York, who became a strong advocate for women’s education at Columbia University. She first came to Columbia in 1885 as a student in the University’s Collegiate Course for Women. The program provided tutoring and examinations for female students, but they were not welcome in traditional lecture courses. Annie Nathan left the Collegiate Course after a year to marry the prominent New York physician Dr. Albert Meyer, but her pursuit of women’s higher education had just begun.
Meyer campaigned vigorously for the creation of a women’s college in New York City. She supported coeducation within Columbia, but the idea faced opposition from trustees and faculty, including John W. Burgess. Instead, Meyer and other proponents of women’s education at Columbia, including Frederick A.P. Barnard and Seth Low, were forced to settle for the founding of a separate but affiliated women’s college as a compromise measure in 1889. Meyer approved of naming the college after Barnard to offset the qualms of his widow, who argued that her husband had opposed the concession.
Meyer remained active as a trustee of Barnard College until her death in 1951. She advocated for the higher education of black students, and she supported Zora Neale Hurston’s admission to Barnard as the college’s first African American student. She also spoke out about lynching and antisemitism. Despite all of her efforts, however, Meyer was never fully recognized as the founder of the college, and, as Hurston’s experiences there demonstrate, it remained a hostile place for black students well into the twentieth century.
Dean Herbert E. Hawkes
Herbert Hawkes served as the dean of Columbia College between 1918 and 1943. He is best known at Columbia as one of the chief founders of the college’s Core Curriculum. Hawkes began his career at Columbia as a professor of mathematics. He never taught in the Core, but he became a strong supporter of general education as opposed to limited curricula meant to prepare students for specific careers. Hawkes’s vision for the Core, including the Contemporary Civilization course, continues to shape the educational ethos of the college today.
In the early twentieth century, Columbia’s administration, including Dean Hawkes, aimed to cultivate an exclusively white, Protestant, and male student body. Having recently moved to Morningside Heights, the college worked to instill Christian values in its students through its curriculum and campus life, and with the advent of World War I, patriotism became another key pillar of a Columbia education. The Core Curriculum emerged as a response to the perceived threat posed by WWI to American and Western values. After WWI, Hawkes continued to work to shape the composition of the student body through intelligence testing during admissions. He also oversaw the development of the Core Curriculum as it became a key part of students’ academic training. The Core evolved to narrate the progress of the political economy, society, and culture of Western Civilization.
Even as the demographic landscape of New York, and the United States, changed around him, Hawkes sought to preserve Columbia as a white, Protestant institution, even going so far as to propose limits on the number of Jewish students who could be admitted. Hawkes oversaw the college in 1924, when Frederick Wells, a black law student, was the target of a cross burning on campus grounds. Though Hawkes upheld Wells’s right to live in his dormitory, he was reluctant to punish the white students who demanded his removal, let alone to confront broader patterns of racism and antisemitism on campus.
Lee D. Baker, “Columbia University’s Franz Boas,” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 55 (Spring 2004), 77-84.
“Franz Boas,” Columbia Department of Anthropology, http://anthropology.columbia.edu/department-history/franz-boas
“Burgess, John W.,” American National Biography Online, http://www.anb.org/articles/14/14-00087.html?from=../09/09-00058.html&from_nm=Barnard%2C%20Frederick%20Augustus%20Porter
“John William Burgess,” Columbia 250: Columbians Ahead of their Time, http://c250.columbia.edu/c250_celebrates/remarkable_columbians/john_burgess.html
“Charles Frederick Chandler,” Columbia 250: Columbians Ahead of Their Time, http://c250.columbia.edu/c250_celebrates/remarkable_columbians/charles_frederick_chandler.html
“Deans of the College,” Collumbia College, https://www.college.columbia.edu/about/dean/alldeans
“William A. Dunning Biography,” American Historical Association, https://www.historians.org/about-aha-and-membership/aha-history-and-archives/presidential-addresses/william-a-dunning/william-a-dunning-biography
Myrna Goldenberg, “Annie Nathan Meyer, 1867-1951” Jewish Women’s Archive, https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/meyer-annie-nathan
“Herbert E. Hawkes,” The Core Curriculum, https://www.college.columbia.edu/core/oasis/profiles/hawkes.php
Robert McCaughey, “Annie Nathan Meyer,” Making Barnard History, http://blogs.cuit.columbia.edu/ram31/trustees/annie-nathan-meyer/
John David Smith and J. Vincent Lowery, eds. The Dunning School: Historians, Race, and the Meaning of Reconstruction (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2013).
June Sochen, “Meyer, Annie Nathan,” American National Biography, https://doi.org/10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.0900505