Columbia History, Traditions, and Celebrations

Columbia is a community rich with non-traditional traditions, history and celebrations. Yes, Columbia has fun traditions like events. A notable example being Manifest, a massive end-of-year celebration that forefronts the work of graduating undergraduate and graduate students all wrapped up in a festival! Also, take some time to get to know the history behind the college. It is always inspiring to know what made this college what it is today.  

PS: Columbia was founded by a woman.  Just sayin’. 


Columbia College Chicago was founded in 1890 as the Columbia School of Oratory by Mary A. Blood and Ida Morey Riley, graduates of the Monroe Conservatory of Oratory, now Emerson College, in Boston, Massachusetts. The school focused on the teaching of elocution, public speaking, and physical culture. 

In 1904 the school changed its name to the Columbia College of Expression and in 1927, the college aligned with the Pestalozzi-Froebel Teachers College, adding coursework in education, broadcasting, and dramatic arts. The school left this partnership in 1944 with a revised name, Columbia College, and Norman Alexandroff as president, adding new disciplines that returning WWII veterans wished to study: television, advertising, film, and business. 

In 1961, Mirron (Mike) Alexandroff served as president, evolving the curriculum into a liberal arts foundation and a progressive social agenda. He added new programs to enhance the diverse arts and media fields already taught at the college. 

Columbia was awarded full accreditation in 1974 by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and soon thereafter purchased its first building, 600 S. Michigan Ave, in the South Loop, its permanent College home. In 1984, Columbia received full accreditation for its graduate programs. 

Dr. John B. Duff was named president in 1992, and during his tenure, the school changed its name to Columbia College Chicago, and expanded its educational programs, adding coursework emphasizing digital, media, design skills, and interdisciplinary studies. 

In 2000, Dr. Warrick L. Carter served as president and ushered in new student-based initiatives such as Manifest and Shop Columbia, worked to add more student housing on campus, and built Columbia’s first South Loop newly constructed building, the Media Production Center. 

In July 2013, Dr. Kwang-Wu Kim became Columbia College Chicago’s tenth president. He holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree and an artist diploma from the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University. He is an outspoken advocate for the arts, a proponent of expanding the role of creative practice in society and seeks to change the approach to how artists are educated. 

Dr. Kim has directed a campus-wide refashioning of college curriculum and an institution-wide commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, which he defines as “a commitment to becoming an anti-racist institution, a place where every voice can be expressed and heard, and every identity, narrative, and history is honored and valued.” He also built the second newly constructed South Loop building, the Student Center. 

Building on its heritage of creativity, innovation, and strength, Columbia College Chicago continues to challenge its students according to the school’s motto, “esse quam videri” – to be rather than to seem. The college encourages its students to author the culture of their times, with Columbia College Chicago graduates possessing the agile and flexible skills necessary to thrive in their careers as creatives.