Frederick Augustus Porter Barnard

Frederick Augustus Porter Barnard (1809-1889) was an American educator and scientist who, as president of Columbia College, worked to develop the institution into a modern university.

Frederick Barnard was born in Sheffield, Mass., on May 5, 1809. He attended Yale from 1824 to 1828, graduating second in his class. After two years of teaching at the Hartford, Conn., grammar school, he returned to Yale as a tutor. His growing deafness led to his acceptance in 1831 of a position at a Hartford school for deaf-mutes, and a year later he moved to the New York Institution for the Deaf and Dumb. In 1837 he was appointed professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at the University of Alabama, where he remained for 17 years, the last six as professor of chemistry. In 1854 he moved to the University of Mississippi as professor of mathematics and two years later became head of that institution.

Barnard's scientific activities and the many papers he published in his fields led to his election as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1860. Since the Civil War prevented further meetings until 1866, he remained president for the longest term in the history of the association.

The Civil War ended instruction at the University of Mississippi. Although a slaveholder, Barnard was a strong unionist. He refused a request from Jefferson Davis to aid the South in exploiting its natural resources and moved to Washington, D. C., where he worked on war maps for the Coast Survey. In 1863 he published a Letter to the President of the United States by a Refugee, denouncing slavery, the Southern "conspiracy, " and Northern Copperheads; this letter was widely noticed in newspapers and periodicals.

Shortly afterward he was elected president of Columbia College in New York City. He took office in 1864, and throughout his 24-year term he strove to develop the college into a modern university. He revived a feeble school of mines that would become a leader in its field. He pushed for the elective system for undergraduates, introducing many new, advanced courses. Upon the foundations of a strong college he hoped to erect a graduate school of distinction. He worked to strengthen the schools of law and medicine and hoped to start a school of education offering comparable professional training. Lack of resources prevented the full realization of his ambitions in his lifetime.

An early advocate of higher education for women, Barnard pushed hard, though unsuccessfully, to engage Columbia in this task. When, six months after his death, Columbia opened a college for women, it was named in his honor.

Barnard continued to publish scientific papers until the year before his death. In 1888, at the age of 80, he asked to be relieved of his duties. He died on April 27, 1889.


Further Reading on Frederick Augustus Porter Barnard

John Fulton, Memoirs of Frederick A. P. Barnard (1896), written with the assistance of Barnard's wife, contains many useful excerpts from his writings. William F. Russell, ed., The Rise of a University, vol. 1: The Later Days of Old Columbia College (1937), is composed of selections from Barnard's annual reports as president of Columbia; arranged in topical order, the reports clearly present his ideas and attitudes. A description of what it was like to serve on the Columbia faculty under Barnard is in John W. Burgess, Reminiscences of an American Scholar: The Beginnings of Columbia University (1934).

Additional Biography Sources

Chute, William Joseph, Damn Yankee!: The first career of Frederick A. P. Barnard, educator, scientist, idealist, Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1978.