In 1887, philanthropist Grace Hoadley Dodge and philosopher Nicholas Murray Butler established the New York School for the Training of Teachers. The founders sought to educate teachers of New York's poor children in a way that would combine humanitarian concerns for children with scientific approaches to human development.
The school, which officially became known as Teachers College in 1892, began its affiliation with Columbia University in 1898. It remains a financially independent institution, with its own president and trustees.
Even from the school's "modest beginnings as a school to prepare home economists and manual-art teachers," in the words of a historical summary provided by the college, the founders recognized that professional teachers needed "reliable knowledge about the conditions under which children learn effectively." As a result, the college's programs have always included such subjects as educational psychology and sociology.
The school offered the first classes in early-childhood education, taught in 1905 by Patty Smith Hill, the composer of "Happy Birthday," and the first course in the psychology of "exceptional" children, taught in 1907 by Naomi Norsworthy. And in 1909, Mary Swartz Rose developed the first nutrition-education laboratory.
The school launched publication of the Teachers College Record in 1900, and in 1909, it formed its Bureau of Publications, later known as Teachers College Press.
Over the course of the next several decades, the school established a number of centers dedicated to studying special issues in education. Among the groups created were the Institute of Philosophy and Politics of Education in 1965, the Institute for Urban and Minority Education in 1973, the Esther A. and Joseph Klingenstein Center for Independent School Education in 1977, the Institute of Research and Service in Nursing Education in 1981, the Institute for Learning Technologies in 1986, and the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching in 1990.
As of January 1995, the college had an annual $53 million general operating budget, an endowment of $72.8 million, and approximately 70,000 graduates worldwide.
Well-known Teachers College alumni include former U.S. Rep. Shirley S. Chisholm, former New Jersey governor and college president Thomas H. Kean, New York Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills, and sex-educator Ruth Westheimer.