Columbia College Chicago was founded in 1890 as the Columbia School of Oratory by Mary A. Blood and Ida Morey Riley, both graduates of the Monroe Conservatory of Oratory (now Emerson College), in Boston, Massachusetts. Mary Blood became the College’s first president, serving in this capacity until her death in 1927. The women established a co-educational school that “should stand for high ideals, for the teaching of expression by methods truly educational, for the gospel of good cheer, and for the building of sterling good character” in the Stevens’ Art Gallery Building, 24 E. Adams Street.
After the death of Ida Riley in 1901, the school changed its name to the Columbia College of Expression in 1905 and the institution added coursework in teaching to the curriculum. In 1927, the college became a sister institution with the Pestalozzi-Froebel Teachers College, a family-run school centered on training its students for teaching kindergarten, and moved to seventh floor of what is now the 618 South Michigan Avenue building, purchased by the College in 2005. In 1934, a renewed version of Columbia emerged, focusing on the growing field of radio broadcasting.
In 1944, the College left its partnership with the Pestalozzi-Froebel school and changed its name to Columbia College with Norman Alexandroff as its president. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, the College broadened its educational base to include television, journalism, marketing, and other mass communication areas. Prosperity was short lived, however, and by 1961, Columbia held fewer than 200 students and a part-time faculty of 25.
In 1961, Mirron (Mike) Alexandroff, son of Norman Alexandroff, who worked at the school since 1947, became president, and created a liberal arts college with a “hands-on minds-on” approach to arts and media education with a progressive social agenda. He established a generous-admissions policy so that qualified high school graduates could attend college courses taught by some of the most influential and creative professionals in Chicago. For the next thirty years, Alexandroff worked to build Columbia College into an urban institution that helped to change the face of higher education. In 1964, the college moved into rented warehouse space at 540 N. Lake Shore Drive; by 1969, the college's enrollment had reached 700.
With this renewed focus on building its academic program, the institution was awarded full accreditation in 1974 from the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. In 1974, when Columbia’s enrollment exceeded 2,000, the College purchased the Fairbanks Morse Building at 600 S. Michigan (currently the Alexandroff Campus Center). Classes were first held in the renovated South Michigan building in 1977. In 1984, the College received full accreditation for its graduate programs.
From 1992 until 2000, Dr. John B. Duff served as the College's president. During his tenure, Columbia College changed its name to Columbia College Chicago and the school continued to expand its educational programs and add to its physical campus by purchasing available buildings in the South Loop. This played a significant part in Columbia’s presence in the South Loop and downtown Chicago. Today, Columbia’s campus occupies almost two dozen buildings and utilizes over 2.5 million square feet.
In 2000, Dr. Warrick L. Carter became president of Columbia College Chicago. Under his leadership the College has created new student-based initiatives, such as Manifest, the annual urban arts festival celebrating Columbia’s graduating students and Shop Columbia, a store where students can showcase and sell their work on campus; partnered with local universities to construct the University Center of Chicago; purchased new campus buildings; added new curricula; and oversaw Columbia's first newly constructed building, the Media Production Center.
Today, Columbia continues its mission of providing a strong arts and media education. Through the vast diversity of students and graduates, the school brings a rich vision and a multiplicity of voices to American culture, encouraging students to “author the culture of their times”.
Building on its heritage of creativity, innovation, and strength, Columbia College Chicago continues to challenge its nearly 12,000 students to realize their abilities according to the school’s motto, “esse quam videri”– to be rather than to seem.