A World Room Welcome

The announcement of Columbia’s 20th University President, Nemat “Minouche” Shafik, was held last week at the Journalism School’s World Room. Journalism Dean Jelani Cobb welcomed guests to the World Room and shared a bit of the history of the Statue of Liberty stained glass window that anchors the room. A history, which he rightly claimed, makes the room “particularly fitting as a place to deliver welcomes.”

“Liberty Lighting the World” stained glass window in the World Room, 301 Pulitzer Hall. Photo by University Photographer Eileen Barroso.

As Dean Cobb mentioned in his opening remarks, the World Room in Pulitzer Hall is named for Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper, the New York World, the then paper of record. The beautiful stained glass window of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty used to be at the World’s offices. Back in 1885, the people of France presented the statue as a gift to the American people. The American people were in turn asked to provide the pedestal for the colossal work. Fundraising efforts had not been very successful so Joseph Pulitzer found a way to encourage all Americans to become part of this project. He offered to publish the name of every contributor in his newspaper, no matter the size of their donation. Be it a cent, a nickel or a dime, all names were published in the paper. Pulitzer raised more than $100,000 dollars (in 1885!).

Columbia was also inspired by Pulitzer’s campaign. In April 1885, the student newspaper the Spectator published two columns encouraging students and alumni to contribute to Lady Liberty’s pedestal. The editorial by the Class of 1847 asked: “Could anything be more appropriate than for the colleges of the country … to combine in making up the sum still needed for completing the pedestal”? They argued that Columbia should “lead the van” and unite the colleges of the whole land to complete the pedestal. The Spectator also records that “a subscription list will be circulated in every class of every department … No one will be asked to give more than a quarter, though we shall be glad to receive any larger amounts.” Following Pulitzer’s example, all contributors to the Pedestal Fund were acknowledged in the issues of the Spectator by the name of the contributor and their subscriptions (and with some great artwork).

Columbia College Bartholdi Pedestal Fund illustration from the Columbia Spectator, May 13, 1885, page 93.

The “Liberty Lighting the World” stained glass window was conceived of by Pulitzer, constructed in 1905 and installed in the World Building on Park Row in 1908. The window became City property when the building was condemned to make way for a roadway leading to the Brooklyn Bridge in the 1950s. In 1954, Mayor Robert P. Wagner presented the window to the Graduate School of Journalism as a gift from the City of New York. (Columbia purchased the window from the City for $1.) The newly refurbished World Room was dedicated in 1961.