About Bard

Bard Archives

The Bard Archives and Special Collections website serves to showcase some of the materials available for study, as well as to provide enhanced access to selected materials in the collections. Due to the obsolescence of certain technologies, in some cases this site represents the only means of experiencing the originals.


Presidents of Bard College*

  • George Franklin Seymour 1860–1861
  • Thomas Richey 1861–1863
  • Robert Brinckerhoff Fairbairn 1863–1898
  • Lawrence T. Cole 1899–1903
  • Thomas R. Harris 1904–1907
  • William Cunningham Rodgers 1909–1919
  • Bernard Iddings Bell 1919–1933
  • Donald George Tewksbury 1933–1937
  • Harold Mestre 1938–1939
  • Charles Harold Gray 1940–1946
  • Edward C. Fuller 1946–1950
  • James Herbert Case Jr. 1950–1960
  • Reamer Kline 1960–1974
  • Leon Botstein 1975–

*Holders of the office have been variously titled president, warden, or dean.

History of Bard

The Bard College of today reflects in many ways its varied past.

Bard was founded as St. Stephen’s College in 1860, a time of national crisis. While there are no written records of the founders’ attitude toward the Civil War, a passage from the College’s catalogue of 1943 applies also to the time of the institution’s establishment:

“While the immediate demands in education are for the training of  men for the war effort, liberal education in America must be preserved as an important value in the civilization for which the War is being fought. . . . Since education, like life itself, is a continuous process of growth and effort, the student has to be trained to comprehend and foster his own growth and direct his own efforts.”

This philosophy molded the College during its early years and continues to inform its academic aims.

The Early Years

John Bard, ca. 1890
St. Stephen’s College was established by John Bard in association with leaders of the Episcopal Church in New York City. For its first 60 years, St. Stephen’s offered young men a classical curriculum in preparation for their entrance into the seminary. But even as a theologically oriented institution, St. Stephen’s challenged its students to be active participants in the direction of their intellectual paths over the four years of study. In support of this venture, John Bard donated part of his riverside estate, Annandale, to the College, along with the Chapel of the Holy Innocents, which is still in use.

With the appointment in 1919 of Dr. Bernard Iddings Bell as warden, the College began a period of transition to a broader and more secular mission. Social and natural sciences augmented the classical curriculum, and the student body was recruited from a more diverse population. In 1928, a time of increasing financial uncertainty, St. Stephen’s became an undergraduate school of Columbia University—and a nonsectarian institution. Over the next decade, under the leadership of Dean Donald G. Tewksbury, Bard further integrated the classical and progressive educational traditions, in the process becoming the first college in the nation to give full academic status to the study of the creative and performing arts. In 1934, the name of the College was changed to Bard in honor of its founder.

Beginning in the mid-1930s and throughout the war years, the College was a haven for distinguished writers, artists, intellectuals, and scientists fleeing Europe. Among these émigrés were philosopher Heinrich Bluecher and his wife, the social critic Hannah Arendt; violinist Emil Hauser, founder of the Budapest String Quartet; precisionist painter Stefan Hirsch; labor economist Adolf Sturmthal; and Werner Wolff, a noted psychologist. Bard’s international outlook was reflected in a variety of programs and initiatives, as well as in its faculty. During the war, the College welcomed an elite group of soldiers who were to be trained in the French and German languages and cultures; and in the late 1940s, Eleanor Roosevelt was a frequent participant in Bard’s international student conferences.

Women Come to Bard

Archery on campus, late 1940s
Bard underwent another “redefining” moment in 1944, when it opened its doors to women. The decision to become coeducational required Bard to end its association with Columbia, thus paving the way to its current status as an independent, nonsectarian liberal arts college. The same year marked the arrival of the first female faculty members. Barbara Dupee ’46 recalled those days in The Bardian (Spring 1998), particularly her encounters with novelist Mary McCarthy: “She was more like a student than a teacher in some ways. She would sit in what was called the Store, a place where you could get coffee, like a soda fountain. We were reading Russian novels . . . and Mary was always there, trying to finish the assigned reading. It was just madly lively.”

In addition to McCarthy, the faculty of the postwar years included Saul Bellow, F. W. Dupee, Ralph Ellison, Anthony Hecht ’44, William Humphrey, and Theodore Weiss. This partial list indicates that Bard had assumed a place of eminence in the teaching of literature and writing and was attracting leading thinkers in the social sciences. The College also continued to demonstrate its commitment to global issues of education and democracy. In 1956, Bard provided a haven for 325 Hungarian student refugees after their participation in that country’s revolt against its Stalinist government. Gyula Nyikos, the chief English instructor for these students, said of Bard’s president at the time, “Jim Case didn’t open the doors; he flung them open.”

Changing Times

President Botstein, late 1970s
The 1960s marked a period of significant growth for Bard. Under the stewardship of Reamer Kline, who served 14 years as president of the College, the number of students and faculty increased, as did campus facilities, and the curriculum was expanded, particularly in science and the visual arts. Bard also demonstrated an early commitment to civil rights. In 1962, Bard was among the first colleges to award an honorary degree to Martin Luther King Jr.

In his preface to Reamer Kline’s 1982 history of the College, Leon Botstein, who became Bard’s 14th president in 1975, noted a common belief tying together Bard’s various incarnations as a training ground for Episcopal clergy, a progressive campus, and an outpost of European and American intellectualism. He wrote, “All are expressions of the one continuing conviction that by education, by leadership, and by means of institutions formed for the purpose, it is possible mightily to improve the quality of life—and to build a better society.”

Under Botstein, Bard has continued to innovate, take risks, and broaden its global outlook in pursuit of these goals. He has overseen curricular innovation—including the nation’s first human rights major and the Language and Thinking Program, an intensive three-week presemester workshop for first-year students—and the development of a new model for the liberal arts college as a central body surrounded  by affiliated institutes and programs that strengthen core academic offerings. This  model is flexible enough to include programs for research, graduate study, and community outreach, yet each satellite program is designed to enhance the undergraduate experience by offering students the opportunity to interact with leading artists, scientists, and scholars.

Affiliated programs on campus and across the United States include Bard College at Simon’s Rock: The Early College (1979), in Great Barrington, Massachusetts; Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts (1981);  Levy Economics Institute of Bard College (1986); Center for Curatorial Studies (1990); Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture (1993) in Manhattan; Center for Environmental Policy (1999);  Bard High School Early College (2001) in Manhattan, Queens, and Newark, New Jersey; Master of Arts in Teaching Program (2004); Bard College Conservatory of Music (2005); Hessel Museum of Art (2006); Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities (2008); and Longy School of Music of Bard College (2012), in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

A number of important initiatives developed within The Bard Center, which was established in 1978 to present artistic and intellectual programs. Bard Center Fellows and visiting scholars and artists give seminars and lectures to undergraduates and the public. Programs include the Distinguished Scientist Lecture Series, which has brought 45 Nobel laureates to Bard, and the Bard Fiction Prize, awarded to emerging writers who spend a semester in residence at the College. Also under the Bard Center auspices is the Institute for Writing and Thinking, which has had a major impact on the teaching of writing in high schools and colleges around the country. The Bard Music Festival, which each year illuminates the work and era of a specific composer, presented its first season in the summer of 1990. The Festival’s home since 2003 has been The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College, a venue designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry.

International Reach

Al-Quds students
Bard has also expanded its presence abroad under Botstein’s leadership, and furthered its efforts to promote freedom of inquiry internationally. In 1990, the College initiated the Program in International Education (PIE), which brings students from emerging democracies in Eastern and Central Europe, southern Africa, and Central Asia to Bard for one year of study. PIE also offers Bard students the opportunity to study at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand. This program is one of many overseen by the Institute for International Liberal Education, which was founded in 1998 to develop long-term collaborations between Bard and other leading institutions around the world. These partner campuses now include Smolny College, the first liberal arts program in Russia, which was founded in 1999 as a joint venture of Bard and St. Petersburg State University; Al-Quds University in the West Bank, which collaborated with Bard in 2009 to create the College for Liberal Arts and Sciences and a Master of Arts in Teaching Program; American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where Bard established a dual-degree program in 2010; and the European College of Liberal Arts in Berlin, which became a Bard satellite institution in 2011, now called Bard College Berlin: A Liberal Arts University.

Distinguished Faculty and Alumni/ae

Professor Chinua Achebe

During Botstein’s tenure, the range and distinction of Bard’s faculty have continued to grow. Noted writers and artists who spent time at the College include Nobel laureates Orhan Pamuk, José Saramago, and Isaac Bashevis Singer; writers Philip Roth, Toni Morrison, and Cynthia Ozick; filmmakers Arthur Penn and Adolfas Mekas; artists Roy Lichtenstein, Romare Bearden, Kenneth Noland, and Elizabeth Murray.

Today, Bard and its on-campus affiliates boast eight recipients of MacArthur fellowships: poets John Ashbery (emeritus) and Anne Lauterbach, artist Judy Pfaff, journalist Mark Danner, choreographer Bill T. Jones, soprano Dawn Upshaw, musician George Lewis, and novelist Norman Manea. Other renowned and award-winning faculty members include writers Chinua Achebe (emeritus), Teju Cole, Daniel Mendelsohn, Francine Prose, Luc Sante, and Mona Simpson; poet Robert Kelly; composers Joan Tower and George Tsontakis; anthropologist John Ryle; photographers Stephen Shore and Gilles Peress; filmmakers Peter Hutton and Kelly Reichardt; journalist Ian Buruma; religious scholar Jacob Neusner; and Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer Elizabeth Frank.

Bard alumni/ae have also been an influential force in the arts and in the physical, social, and political sciences—and in the life of the College. A short list includes actors Blythe Danner ’65, Chevy Chase ’68, and Adrian Grenier ’98; playwrights Nick Jones ’01 and Thomas Bradshaw ’02; dancer Arthur Aviles ’87; sculptor Rita McBride ’82; photographers Tim Davis ’01 and Lisa Kereszi ’95; groundbreaking artist Carolee Schneemann ’59; musicians/songwriters Richard M. Sherman ’49 and the late Robert B. Sherman ’49, Donald Fagen ’69 and Walter Becker ’71 (founders of Steely Dan), and Billy Steinberg ’72; scientists László Z. Bitó ’60, who was instrumental in developing a drug used to combat glaucoma, and George Rose ’63, an influential biochemist and biophysicist; journalist Matt Taibbi ’92; and environmental writer Elizabeth Royte ’81.

Several recent graduates exemplify Bard’s emphasis on active engagement. As a student, Max Kenner ’01 began a project to bring higher education into New York State prisons. Today he oversees institutional initiatives for the College and serves as executive director of the Bard Prison Initiative, which enrolls more than 300 incarcerated students and has granted degrees to approximately 250 such students since 2005. Stephen Tremaine ’07 turned a student project to help rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina into a full-time initiative: Bard’s Early College in New Orleans Program, which brings college-level courses and teachers directly into public high schools. Other alumni/ae have assumed leadership positions with Bard’s graduate and affiliate programs, including Nayland Blake ’82, chair of the ICP-Bard Program in Advanced Photographic Studies; and Jonathan Cristol ’00, director of Bard’s Global and International Affairs Program in New York City.

Recent Initiatives

Bard Prison Initiative students
Bard celebrated the 150th anniversary of its founding in 2010, and as part of the Commencement festivities, the Board of Trustees announced a comprehensive fund-raising campaign to support the core programs of the College and fund the endowment, capital projects, and annual operating expenses; the campaign is scheduled to conclude in January 2015. New construction projects on campus include additions to Kline Commons and the Stevenson Gymnasium; the László Z. Bitó ’60 Conservatory Building, which is scheduled for completion in January 2013; a new residence hall in the Village Dorm complex; a music practice facility; and the Alumni/ae Center, which houses the Office of Development and Alumni/ae Affairs, alumni/ae meeting and exhibition spaces, and Two Boots Bard, a restaurant.

In January 2011, Bard launched the first-of-its-kind Citizen Science Program, a two-and-a-half-week curriculum required for all first-year students. The January session, which focuses on the significance of science in everyday life, is part of a multipronged initiative aimed at improving science literacy throughout the College. These efforts include curricular innovations, expanded opportunities for student research with partners like Rockefeller University and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, and upgraded facilities. The state-of-the-art Gabrielle H. Reem and Herbert J. Kayden Center for Science and Computation opened in 2007; the Center’s Lynda and Stewart Resnick Science Laboratories opened in 2009.

The Center for Civic Engagement was established in 2011 to support and coordinate a wide range of initiatives that engage Bard students, faculty, and staff with critical issues facing society. The Center also sponsors lectures, conferences, and workshops; facilitates internship, volunteer, and service-learning opportunities; awards fellowships; and fosters partnerships with institutions around the globe.

Also in 2011, the College opened its third Bard High School Early College campus in Newark, New Jersey, and announced the launch of Take a Stand, a program that supports social change through music. Take a Stand is an initiative of Bard, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Longy School of Music. Bard and Longy merged in the spring of 2012, and the College is working with the Cambridge, Massachusetts, conservatory to develop new graduate programs in music.

Looking Ahead

Bard High School Early College
Bard’s innovative Master of Business Administration in Sustainability Program is set to accept its first students in the fall of 2012. The two-year M.B.A. program, a collaboration of the Bard Center for Environmental Policy and the Levy Institute of Economics, will be based in New York City and provide a rigorous education in core business principles and in sustainable business practices, with a focus throughout on economics, environment, and social equity.

Bard also has several new joint-degree programs with the Center for Environmental Policy and Master of Arts in Teaching Program that allow students to complete their undergraduate degree and an M.S. or M.A.T. degree in five years. Three additional joint-degree programs are planned. The new 3+2 initiatives, reflecting areas of particular academic strength and demand, include programs in domestic public policy and in international affairs that will lead to B.A. and M.P.A. degrees, and a program in cultural preservation and material culture, drawing on faculty at the College and at the Bard Graduate Center, which will lead to B.A. and M.A. degrees in art history.