While on a family visit last week in Fairfield, Connecticut, I volunteered to help my sister shelve books in the library at my niece’s elementary school. I went to tackle the backlog of Dewey decimal books, and ended up making two very impromptu presentations on Columbia.
I heard that she would be presenting on Washington, DC that day, so I told her about my project and she asked me to speak! The first presentation, completely off the top of my head, flowed well. The second group got more information, but with less flow. Considering I had prepared nothing, and had never spoken to a group of 2nd graders about Columbia or anything else, I did pretty well!
This whole event would have been so much more “perfect” had I presented in another part of town, at the Timothy Dwight Elementary School.
Timothy Dwight was the pastor at Greenfield Hill Congregational Church. While a chaplain in the Connecticut Continental Brigade in 1777 he wrote a song all about the promise of America—called “Columbia“. The song was so beloved by soldiers throughout the Continental Army that it soon resembled a national anthem. This is how Columbia, as a name filled with the promise of liberty and progress, spread throughout the land. Dwight went on to become president of Yale, as did his namesake and grandson. Yale’s Timothy Dwight College, built in 1935, bears their name.
Of course, Columbia became the name of a great university in New York City (more on that naming later in the year). Luckily for any particularly prideful and rivalrous alumni of Columbia University, Dwight became president of Yale after he wrote the song. And thinking of things collegiate, I left from Connecticut to go to my 25th Vassar reunion. Once upon a time, Yale proposed that Vassar move to New Haven. Happily, she pursued co-education in Poughkeepsie.
This Timothy Dwight story, and the story of the naming of Washington, District of Columbia, will both be covered in America By Another Name. I’m starting my IndieGoGo fundraising campaign soon. Donations will be tax-deductible. Please wish me good fortune!