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Finch College: A Model for Progressive Education in the 21st Century


Finch College was a women’s college in Manhattan, New York City that operated from 1900 to 1976. Established by Jessica Finch – an alumna of Barnard College and women’s rights activist – who desired to create an educational institution which prepared female students for life beyond academia, Finch was famed for its innovative curriculum, diverse student body and strong art program; although closed down more than four decades ago its legacy can continue to inspire educators and learners today.

A Curriculum that Blends Theory and Practice

Finch College
Finch College

Finch College was distinguished by a curriculum that combined theory and practice. Finch believed her education at Barnard College did not equip her with enough of both to succeed professionally. She decided to open a school that emphasized both practical education and liberal arts studies. She assembled an eclectic faculty that not only included academics from nearby Columbia University but also actors, fashion designers, politicians, poets, musicians and other professionals who worked in New York City. She developed a curriculum which combined liberal arts education and hands-on learning by emphasizing workshops and studio art lessons as part of its core.

Finch College offered a curriculum tailored to the needs and interests of its students. Majors and minors at Finch included art history, literature, business administration and psychology. Individual students could design their own interdisciplinary programs with assistance from advisors; independent study projects were encouraged along with internships and study abroad opportunities such as those found in France, Italy Spain England India among many others. In 1960 Finch introduced its intercontinental Study Plan that offered study abroad opportunities in countries like France Italy Spain England India.

Finch College’s curriculum was groundbreaking at its time, and can still serve as an example for educators and learners today. Given today’s rapid technological and social developments, a curriculum which fosters creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving abilities and lifelong learning is crucial in an era marked by rapid technological and societal advancement. Furthermore, an ideal curriculum would integrate theory with practice while offering opportunities for experiential learning, cross-cultural communication and global citizenship.

A Student Body that Celebrates Diversity and Inclusion

Finch College was distinguished by a student body that celebrated diversity and inclusion. One of the first colleges in the US to admit women of color from diverse social and economic backgrounds, as well as offering special tuition assistance and tutoring packages to minority and lower class backgrounds; Finch also attracted many international students, particularly from higher-income areas; creating a lively multicultural atmosphere in which all could learn from one another’s perspectives and experiences.

Finch College student body was deeply engaged and involved in extracurricular activities and social causes, with over 50 clubs and organizations catering to diverse interests including drama, music, photography, chess, skiing and sailing. The college had an active tradition of social activism, mirroring its founder’s dedication to women’s rights and social justice. Students were active participants in numerous movements and campaigns, such as civil rights activism, anti-war activism, environmental protection initiatives and women’s liberation movements. Furthermore, the students organized and hosted events such as lectures, concerts, art exhibits and film festivals which added cultural enrichment to both college life and community at large.

Finch College was known for having a student body that was diverse and inclusive during its time, serving as a model for educators and learners in the 21st century. Given our interdependent world, it’s increasingly essential that our student bodies reflect and respect the diversity of society, while being engaged with extracurricular activities and social causes that contribute to intellectual vitality of colleges as well as society as a whole.

An Art Program that Nurtures Creativity and Expression

Finch College was known for its robust art program that fostered creativity and expression, drawing students in with courses such as painting, sculpture, photography, printmaking ceramics textiles. Finch also boasted an exceptional faculty of artists who taught or displayed at Finch such as Edmond Casarella Hedda Sterne Andy Warhol Roy Lichtenstein Robert Rauschenberg Louise Nevelson to name just some.

Finch College also established the Finch College Museum of Art in 1959 as one of the nation’s earliest college museums, becoming one of the pioneering collections for college art museums across America. This museum had over 2,000 works donated by faculty, alumni and friends of Finch College; as well as hosting over 100 exhibitions by established and emerging artists like Pablo Picasso, Georgia O’Keeffe Jackson Pollock Mark Rothko Yoko Ono as well as publishing over 100 art related books that scholars and students relied upon.

Finch College’s art program was inventive and expressive for its time, and can still serve as an inspiration to educators and learners in the 21st century. In an age of digitalization and standardization, it is crucial that educators provide art programs which foster creativity and expression by introducing students to various forms and styles of art; furthermore it should support and showcase both faculty works and student works while creating dialogue and collaboration between college and art world.


Finch College was a women’s college located in Manhattan, New York City that operated from 1900-1976 and founded by Jessica Finch, a Barnard College alumna and women’s rights activist who wanted to establish an institution which prepared women for vocational life. Finch was known for its progressive curriculum, diverse student body and strong art program – traits which still provide inspiration today as educators and learners learn lessons about progressive education practices such as Finch can offer. Whilst Finch closed more than four decades ago its legacy and vision can teach us important lessons about empowering women today in this new century.

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