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Teachers College, Columbia University
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TC: A Legacy of Innovators


A History of Anticipating ---
and Shaping the Future

Teachers College: The first 125 Years ... and counting


The world in which TC was created in 1887 faced challenges much like those of today.

Industrialization and technology were creating both vast wealth and deep economic uncertainty. A vast new influx of people was pouring into U.S. cities from rural areas and from other nations around the world. Communities were grappling with complex new problems of health, race relations, education and crime.

Teachers College Main Building. From The Southeast; Small Boy And Girl In Foreground (1894). © Gottesman Libraries at Teachers College, Columbia University.


Reflecting the collective consciousness of the era’s leading scholars, philanthropists, social reformers and public-minded citizens, Teachers College was conceived to meet all of these challenges. The result was an institution that, through the dynamic linking of theory and practice , not only met but also anticipated the needs of subsequent eras, serving as an ongoing and trusted source of solutions to which the nation has turned again and again. Or as The New York Tribune wrote in a 1915 obituary of the philanthropist Grace Hoadley Dodge, who was perhaps the single most important driving force in the College’s creation: “It was said of her that she had the 100-year look – that is, she looked ahead a century and made her plans accordingly.”

It all began humbly enough. In 1880, Dodge created a “kitchen garden” school in Greenwich Village to teach cooking, sewing, hygiene and other practical arts to poor, immigrant women. As the effort took shape, she realized that a new kind of pedagogy was in order – teaching that reflected an understanding of learners’ backgrounds and of how to present material in relevant, meaningful ways.

By 1887, with the help of the Columbia University philosopher Nicholas Murray Butler, and with a site at West 120th Street donated by the industrialist George Vanderbilt, Dodge’s kitchen garden school had evolved into something much greater: an entirely new kind of school devoted to teacher education. In 1892, with Butler as president and a board of trustees that included representatives of the city’s leading philanthropic families, including Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Trask, Macy, Dodge, Choate, Olney, Milbank and Hyde, the new institution formally incorporated under the name Teachers College.

By the turn of the century, under a new dean, James Earl Russell, the vision for Teachers College had expanded yet again, marrying humanitarian concern to help others with a broad-based scientific approach to human development. Working from four central imperatives – general culture, special scholarship, professional knowledge and technical skill – the College, during its first 25 years, launched the nation’s first programs in comparative and international education, nursing education, nutrition education, special education and education psychology. At the same time, TC’s teaching programs helped reshape the K-12 classroom from a place of formalized, rote learning into a center for hands-on experience in which learners played an active role in making sense of their own environment. This same outlook was reflected in schools that were founded and managed by the College, including the Horace Mann School and the Speyer School – the latter of which was among the nation’s first K-12 schools to provide a range of educational and social services to the surrounding community.

Grace Dodge Hall. Chemistry Laboratory With Students. (Ca. 1910). © Gottesman Libraries at Teachers College, Columbia University



In 1923, the College created an International Institute that, by the time it closed 15 years later, had drawn more than 4,000 students to TC, including a corps of Chinese scholars who returned home to lead the modernization of their country’s school system. The Institute also sent faculty members to study education systems around the world.
Over the years, TC faculty members and graduates have dramatically shaped the fields of social studies education, urban education, the study of gifted children, education technology, conflict resolution and psychotherapy, as well as pioneering efforts to create equal educational opportunities and outcomes.  Teachers College has also collaborated with governments and education institutions around the world, while also assisting in the creating of UNESCO in the wake of World War II and launching a teacher training program in East Africa that was the precursor to the Peace Corps.

After World War II, in response to rapid development of new professional roles, the College added programs in clinical and counseling psychology, speech and language pathology, audiology, post-secondary education, international education, and the teaching of English to speakers of other languages.

And during the past 25 years, responding to the growing need for educational services that reach beyond the traditional school environment, the College has designed programs for educators who will work in day-care centers, family assistance agencies, museums, libraries, businesses, nonprofits, telecommunications facilities, and other non-traditional locations.

TC’s past accomplishments constitute a living legacy, a foundation from which we are once again meeting society’s needs and anticipating the needs of the future. Our three highly complementary and interrelated areas of study -- education, psychology and health --span more than 60 programs of study. Our graduates go on to pursue careers in psychology, social and behavioral sciences, health and health promotion, educational policy, technology, international and comparative education, as well as education and educational leadership.

Our faculty members are leaders on many fronts, including:
  • Creating comprehensive educational opportunities through wrap-around services for students, their families and the communities that surround schools. Our new Teachers College Community School and our network of Harlem Partnership schools form the nucleus of this effort, together with work by our policy researchers and economists to understand the costs and returns on investment of providing comprehensive services.

  • The field of nutrition education and policy. TC is home to the nation’s oldest nutrition education program, and in the 1970s, Joan Gussow, now professor emerita, became, as the New York Times describes her, the matriarch of the eat-local-think-global food movement. Today, our nutrition faculty members are leaders in understanding the societal and psychological barriers to healthy eating – work that will soon be formalized in a new nutrition center on campus.

  • The broader field of policy, and advancing research-based policy recommendations that address issues in education, health, nutrition, psychology and other fields. This work is now coordinated through a new department of Education Policy and Social Analysis that brings together what is arguably the finest concentration of policy expertise in the nation.

  • Learning, and advancing a new understanding of how people learn, based on cutting -edge research in cognitive psychology, neuroscience and other fields.

  • Developing new models of teacher preparation that more tightly link field experience with new research about learning.

  • Leadership and research that is redefining traditional notions of leadership and creating new paradigms for well-run organizations.

“I am in awe of the vision of our founders and early leaders who created and nurtured a great institution dedicated to innovation and agile enough not only to adapt to the time but to lead change and set the standard for all other schools of education to come,” said TC’s President, Susan Fuhrman, in her 2012 State of the College address.  “Now is our time to reinvent ourselves once again – to build on our strengths, to embrace our distinctions and to create an institution that honors the past while transforming the future. We must continue to create with confidence and optimism. One of our founders, Nicholas Murray Butler, wrote, ‘Optimism is essential to achievement and it is also the foundation of courage and true progress.’ Let us remember his wise words as we re-dedicate ourselves to advancing the TC legacy for the next 125 years.”