Have you ever wondered if your zodiac sign is compatible with Barnumbia?

When I tell people that I am a history major, they sometimes say something along the lines of “I could never memorize all those years and dates.” I usually respond that most of history isn’t about memorizing these things, but after a while, I realized I did have a project that required exactly that skill. I wanted to find exactly when Columbia and Barnard were founded so I could make a star chart for them. As I found, there are many possible ‘foundational moments’ for both: there is no singular start of an institution. With this in mind, this article attempts to isolate two foundational moments that symbolically could work as a ‘birth’ of Barnard and Columbia. And, of course, makes a star chart for both.

Barnard College

Frederick A.P. Barnard advocated for a women’s college connected to Columbia during his tenure as president of Columbia along with Annie Nathan Meyer, who organized and advocated a college from outside the school administration. While talks to create Barnard went back to 1883, and much of the agitation for a college occurred in 1888, in the words of Robert McCaughey, author of A College of Her Own: The History of Barnard, “an 1888 starting date is hard to credit.” There are four potential “birthdays” in 1889: the April meeting when the Columbia Board approved a provisional charter (the first time “Barnard College” was mentioned); the August 8 signing of the charter by the Governor of New York; the September 30 start of entrance exams, and the October 7 beginning of classes.

The charter is only a provisional one—the official one was finally granted June 5, 1894—and cannot be traced back to one single date where the school ‘began:’ the convoluted relationship with Columbia began early and gives no clear one date of inception. As one booster of the school wrote in 1890 looking back on the first year, “Brick and mortar, however imposing, do not make a college” but instead “it is the instruction.” The first day a Barnard student began their educational journey, then, must be when the school began. This was September 30th, 1889: to be precise, Barnard College Information advertised that the first exam to enter Barnard—Greek—was at 10 am. There is a caveat to this day, however: in a letter to the New York State board responsible for granting a charter dated July 1, a supporter of Barnard wrote that entrance exams had already “begun and some 20 or 24 students have expressed their purpose of joining the first freshman class.” This was a letter sent to the state as a way of promoting the school: they should get a charter because there was interest. While there may have been exams before, the date of September 30 still marks the first time students attended with the knowledge that it would begin their educational journey. The date of September 30, 1889, makes Barnard a Libra Sun, Sagittarius Moon, and Scorpio Rising.

A Libra sun means Barnard is diplomatic and a good listener. Barnard is an idealist, loving beauty and righteousness. As Cosmo warns, however, these traits can also make Barnard an equivocator or gossip if they are not careful. The Sagittarius moon, meanwhile, makes Barnard fiercely independent, and happiest when seeking knowledge about the world alone. The Scorpio rising shows inner courage: Cosmo describes it as defining someone who is passionate.

Columbia College

Columbia has its mythical starting date of 1754 when King’s College was founded in New York. There are many fewer records from this date, and many of the records that we have do not provide the same richness of details as when Barnard was founded. As most of the records are meeting notes or letters, there are fewer accounts produced at the moment, or, as Barnard’s records kept, ephemera about anticipated events. The sources that do exist, moreover, contradict: while Columbia currently celebrates Charter day on October 31, a 1756 source cited May as an anniversary of the school, and The Gazette describes 1 PM on August 23, 1756, as the time the president Rev. Samuel Johnson laid the cornerstone. We have both a wealth of dates we could choose, and simultaneously not enough: each has values and drawbacks. To move forward and find one date, we must borrow some tools from microhistory.

Historians use the term ‘microhistory’ to describe accounts that focus on one specific person or event, rather than looking at social, political, or economic trends. As the historian Jill Lepore describes, while they are close to biographies, there are several key differences. While microhistories may focus on important figures, at the heart of them is the idea that “if biography is largely founded on a belief in the singularity and significance of an individual’s life…microhistory is founded upon almost the opposite assumption: however singular a person’s life may be, the value of examining it lies not in its uniqueness, but in its exemplariness, in how that individual’s life serves as an allegory for broader issues affecting the culture as a whole.” While we may not have a specific answer, by describing the world of the founders of Columbia, we can approach something closer to one. As the author of The Cheese and the Worms, one of the most famous works of microhistory describes, the project of microhistory “could translate itself into an account that filled the gaps in the documentation to form a polished surface,” continuing this point with a footnote: “historical evidence is always lacunous, by definition…[b]ut new research questions create new lacunae”—lacunae meaning an unfilled hole in research. “What time was Columbia founded?” does not have an exact answer, and it is only when the question is asked is this lacuna founded. A microhistory of the first president of Columbia, Samuel Johnson, and the religious controversy surrounding the founding of Columbia may try to fill it.

The Reverend Johnson was initially picked by the interim board of trustees to lead the school in a meeting on November 22, 1753. There was no school at this time, but the meeting set in motion the process of Rev. Johnson taking his position. On January 7 the head of the board, William Livingston, notified Rev. Johnson of this plan, and on January 17 Rev. Johnson wrote back, thanking them for the honor, but expressing his fear that his age (and his susceptibility to smallpox, having never had it before), may keep him from the position. This fear was ill-placed, however. It would not be his health issues, but rather his religious connections that would hinder the school’s founding. Throughout the year, despite Livingstone’s letter to Johnson, he would go on to attack the school as an Anglican conspiracy.

Throughout 1753 and 1754, Livingstone would attack the idea of the school in his newspaper The Independent Reflector, and in meetings surrounding the school itself. A majority of the board was Anglican, and wished to create the school as a primarily Anglican institution–the proposed charter even ensured the president had to be a member of the Church of England. Livingstone attacked the school on those grounds As he described it in an article published April 12, 1753, such an institution would be an “encroachment.” In a trustees meeting in May of 1754, when the charter was being discussed, he introduced twenty points against the school in the meeting notes; he repeated these same criticisms when the legislature was considering the charter in October. It even appeared at times that the college would not even get off the ground.

By October Rev. Johnson even wrote that he believed his own congregation thought, as a result of this ‘controversy’ “to think I have no meaning and the whole business of a Chh. College, and all my pretenses of waiting for a Charter or any Settlement, [are] but a mear [sic.] joke.” The charter was, in fact, signed on October 31, yet on November 1 Johnson still believed that “the Governor is resolved to pass the Charter soon.” News spread slowly in colonial times, meaning that even if October 31 is “Charter Day,” the interim and soon-to-be-official first president of the school did not know: the first letter that informed him was addressed November 4th from the trustee Henry Barclay. In this letter, Johnson was informed that “there are but eight of the Dutch Church [a reformed Calvanist tradition], most of them good men and true, and two Dissenters” on the board. As a result, Barclay was “puzzled [about] what to advise you as to resigning your mission,” as Rev. Johnson was employed in Rhode Island at the time, and it was not guaranteed that he would be appointed immediately. Rather, he advised that “you should put off the resignation for a fortnight or three weeks” to make sure all can go well. While the fledgling school had a charter, it still needed money, and one proposal from two of the Dutch members would be a Dutch Professor of Divinity in exchange for financial support from the Dutch church. These accommodations seemingly worked, and on December 3, Reverend Johnson sent his resignation to the Society for Propagation of the Gospel in Providence, Rhode Island, effective three weeks later. They received this letter by December 14 agreeing with his resignation date to be Christmas, December 25.

Christmas is, in many ways, a fitting time to mark the beginning of Columbia. It is still 1754, meaning that symbolically this date works as a starting date, and marks when the first president officially could commit full-time to his job. As this resignation was sent before, furthermore, there is a certain simultaneity that does not exist with other dates surrounding the beginnings of Columbia, including even when the charter was signed. Christmas, fittingly, marks when the religious controversy surrounding the founding of Columbia concluded (at least in part, with Rev Johnson finally taking this position above the protests of Livingston and others. With Lepore’s definition of microhistory in mind, we can see broader religious tensions of colonial America at this moment and ground it through Johnson’s resignation in late December. As he resigned effective Christmas, I will use daybreak in Rhode Island, at 7:13 AM. This makes Columbia a Capricorn Sun, Taurus Moon, and Capricorn Rising. 

A Capricorn Sun with Taurus Moon can describe a stoic personality. As one Bwogger described, Columbia’s chart shows that they are “likely a bit stubborn and rigid, especially as it comes to interpersonal relationships, but also very much stable and grounded emotionally. there’s a clear desire for stability and for this person to create an environment that matches their mental state.” As the chart is dominated by earth signs, additionally, Columbia has a strong desire to plan, even if this may not be in a way traditionally seen as ‘neat.’ Cosmo, meanwhile highlights that “Capricorn Risings have their mind on the money and money on the mind, it’s that simple:” perhaps this is something to look out for. Further research may include checking the compatibility of Barnard and Columbia’s chart, but unfortunately, that is outside the scope of this paper.

Works Cited:

Board of Trustees Charters, By-Laws, Statutes, and Amendments, 1882-1990; BC 1-01; Barnard Archives and Special Collections, Barnard Library, Barnard College.

Board of Trustees Correspondence, 1883-1977; BC 1-07, Folder 1.2; Barnard College Archives and Special Collections, Barnard Library, Barnard College.

Columbia College. “Columbia College Papers, 1703-1964, Bulk 1754-1920.” Series I: King’s College Papers, 1703-1784, UA #0224, Box 1

Columbia College. “Columbia College Papers, 1703-1964, Bulk 1754-1920.” Series I: King’s College Papers, 1703-1784, UA #0224, Box 99

Columbia University. “Columbiana Manuscripts, 1572-1986, Bulk 1850-1920.” Series III: King’s College Manuscripts, UA#0166, Box 15

Ginzburg, Carlo et al. “Microhistory: Two or Three Things That I Know About It.” Critical Inquiry, Vol 20 No 1 (1993). Pp 10-35 

Holmes, Monisha. “Everything You Need to Know About Scorpio Risings.” Cosmopolitan, August 19, 2022, https://www.cosmopolitan.com/lifestyle/a37320350/scorpio-rising/

Holmes, Monisha. “Everything You Need to Know About Capricorn Risings.” Cosmopolitan, November 17, 2022. https://www.cosmopolitan.com/lifestyle/a38098237/capricorn-rising-ascendant/

Johnson, Samuel. Samuel Johnson President of King’s College: His Career and Writings, Volume IV, Founding King’s College. Eds. Herbert and Carol Schneider. New York: Columbia University Press, 1929.

Lepore, Jill. “Historians Who Love Too Much: Reflections on Microhistory and Biography.” The Journal of American History, Vol 88 No 1 (2001). Pp 129-144.

McCaughey, Robert. A College of Her Own: The History of Barnard. New York: Columbia University Press (2020). 
Ward, Kerry. “Libra traits and personality explained.” Cosmopolitan, 14 January 2022, https://www.cosmopolitan.com/uk/horoscopes/a28887642/libra-traits/

Original College Seal, as made by Rev. Samuel Johnson via Columbia Rare Books and Manuscript Library