Why are we named Columbia?

The World's Columbian Exposition

As we welcome our new students to campus this week, many might be wondering why we are named Columbia. It must be that we are somehow related to the New York flagship, Columbia University, right?

Wrong. Typical to Columbia College Chicago fashion, we remain unique even within the context of our name.

The beginning of this academic year marks the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Columbia School of Oratory in Chicago by Mary A. Blood and Ida Morey Riley. Both educators of oratory and elocution, Blood and Riley met while teaching alongside each other in Ames, Iowa in 1887. When both had finished their Master’s degrees in Oration at Emerson College (then Monroe College of Oratory) in Boston, they decided to move to Chicago and open their own school.

At that time, studies in public speaking, elocution and oratory were highly valued. As stated in the 1905 Columbia College catalog, “Nowhere can the precept ‘know thyself’ be so fully realized as in a school of true expression.” As part of the larger Lyceum Movement in the United States, many associations, institutes and organizations were formed to help improve the social, intellectual and moral fabric of society through circuits of lectures.

Think of it this way: Today, we have access to immeasurable amounts of information at our fingertips through our mobile devices. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, access to new information was extremely limited. Therefore, attending these lectures or the World’s Fairs were among the most efficient ways to absorb and access information.

But why did Blood and Riley choose Chicago? And why did they name it Columbia?

When Columbia College’s founders were opening their school, learning the art of public speaking and expression had become a highly-demanded skill. Knowing that the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago would draw thousands people to the city, Blood and Riley cleverly situated their school at this location. They opened their school in August 1890, three years before the Chicago World’s Fair, which was to be called the Columbia Exposition. Blood and Riley named their school in honor of this enormous exposition, as did many other businesses at the time. But unlike Columbia College Chicago, many of these businesses only changed their names temporarily or have since gone out of business.

Columbia University in New York, however, was founded in 1754 and originally dubbed King’s College. After the Revolutionary War, the University renamed itself Columbia to embody the “patriotic fervor that had inspired the nation’s quest for independence.”  [http://www.columbia.edu/content/history.html]

Although Columbia University and Columbia College Chicago share “Columbia” within our titles, we have very different reasons for our choices. “Columbia” to us means expression, creativity, innovation and connections. From its very beginning and through its namesake, Columbia College has woven itself into the fabric of Chicago. Additionally, the original educational purposes and theories of Blood and Riley’s school have continuously informed the evolution of our pedagogies, curricula and student experiences. The art of self-expression is still embedded in nearly all coursework and concentrations at Columbia.

To find out more about the College’s name, view the video, The Many Names of Columbia.

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