Hunter College was founded in 1870 in order to provide a liberal education to young women who wished to become teachers. It was first known as the Normal College of the City of New York, “normal” as in école normale, a school for the training of teachers. The founding of the College was part of a master plan for free higher education for all the citizens of New York City. This system eventually became the largest municipal system of higher education in the United States. It led to the establishment, in 1961, of the City University of New York, of which Hunter College was a founding member.
The Normal College was intended to provide specialized teacher training but it gradually developed and expanded its curriculum until it became a fully accredited liberal arts college for women. In 1914, its name was changed to Hunter College of the City of New York to honor Thomas Hunter, its first president. Male students were admitted to the previously exclusively female student body beginning in 1964, but its importance to the education of women accounted for its national reputation. By 1970 more American women who had earned Ph.D.’s had received their undergraduate education at Hunter College than at any other institution in the United States. It is no exaggeration to say that in its first century of existence no college in the United States contributed more to the education of women than Hunter College.
As the College grew the curriculum expanded to include new disciplines. The Art Department had been a part of the curriculum since the early 1900s. The early part of the century saw the development of art history as a part of the Liberal Arts in American higher education and in the 1930s Hunter began to offer courses in art history taught by its studio faculty. In 1958 a new chairman of the Art Department was elected, the art critic Eugene Goossen, and he elevated the level of professionalism in the discipline by bringing into the faculty an array of art historians and critics. Among Goossen’s hires in art history were William Rubin, later Director of the Museum of Modern Art, Leo Steinberg and Janet Cox-Rearick.
Within the decade of the 60s the department offerings expanded to a full range of subject areas in the History of Art: Ancient, Medieval, Islam, Renaissance, Baroque, Nineteenth Century, and the Modern Period. The department’s continuing commitment to excellence is reflected in its professors throughout its history: Rosalind Krauss, Linda Nochlin, Wayne Dynes, and William Agee, among many others, have been members of the faculty at Hunter. It continues to offer its undergraduate and graduate students a full range of courses in the Western tradition, and now is embarking on a campaign to expand these areas and to include non-Western faculty as well.