Columbia (//; kə-LUM-bee-ə) is the female national personification of the United States. It was also a historical name applied to the Americas and to the New World. The association has given rise to the names of many American places, objects, institutions and companies, including the District of Columbia; Columbia, South Carolina; Columbia University; "Hail, Columbia" and Columbia Rediviva; the Columbia River. Images of the Statue of Liberty (Liberty Enlightening the World, erected in 1886) largely displaced personified Columbia as the female symbol of the United States by around 1920, although Lady Liberty was seen as an aspect of Columbia. However, Columbia's most prominent display today is being part of the logo of the Hollywood film studio Columbia Pictures.
Columbia is a New Latin toponym, in use since the 1730s with reference to the Thirteen Colonies which formed the United States. It originated from the name of the Genoese explorer Christopher Columbus and from the Latin ending -ia, common in the Latin names of countries (paralleling Britannia, Gallia, Zealandia, and others).
The earliest type of personification of the Americas, seen in European art from the 16th century onwards, reflected the tropical regions in South and Central America from which the earliest European travellers reported back. Such images were most often used in sets of female personifications of the Four Continents. America was depicted as a woman who, like Africa, was only partly dressed, typically in bright feathers, which invariably formed her headdress. She often held a parrot, was seated on a caiman or alligator, with a cornucopia. Sometimes a severed head was a further attribute, or in prints scenes of cannibalism appeared in the background.
Though versions of this depiction, tending as time went on to soften the rather savage image into an "Indian princess" type, and in churches emphasizing conversion to Christianity, served European artists well enough, by the 18th century they were becoming rejected by settlers in North America, who wanted figures representing themselves rather than the Native Americans they were often in conflict with.
Massachusetts Chief Justice Samuel Sewall used the name Columbina (not Columbia) for the New World in 1697. The name Columbia for America first appeared in 1738 in the weekly publication of the debates of Parliament in Edward Cave's The Gentleman's Magazine. Publication of Parliamentary debates was technically illegal, so the debates were issued under the thin disguise of Reports of the Debates of the Senate of Lilliput and fictitious names were used for most individuals and placenames found in the record. Most of these were transparent anagrams or similar distortions of the real names and some few were taken directly from Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels while a few others were classical or neoclassical in style. Such were Ierne for Ireland, Iberia for Spain, Noveborac for New York (from Eboracum, the Roman name for York) and Columbia for America—at the time used in the sense of "European colonies in the New World".
By the time of the Revolution, the name Columbia had lost the comic overtone of its Lilliputian origins and had become established as an alternative, or poetic name for America. While the name America is necessarily scanned with four syllables, according to 18th-century rules of English versification Columbia was normally scanned with three, which is often more metrically convenient. For instance, the name appears in a collection of complimentary poems written by Harvard graduates in 1761 on the occasion of the marriage and coronation of King George III.
The name Columbia rapidly came to be applied to a variety of items reflecting American identity. A ship built in Massachusetts in 1773 received the name Columbia Rediviva and it later became famous as an exploring ship and lent its name to new Columbias.
No serious consideration was given to using the name Columbia as an official name for the independent United States, but with independence, the name became popular and was given to many counties, townships, and towns as well as other institutions.
In part, the more frequent usage of the name "Columbia" reflected a rising American neoclassicism, exemplified in the tendency to use Roman terms and symbols. The selection of the eagle as the national bird, the heraldric use of the eagle, the use of the term Senate to describe the upper house of Congress and the naming of Capitol Hill and the Capitol building were all conscious evocations of Roman precedents.
The adjective Columbian has been used to mean "of or from the United States of America" such as in the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, Illinois. It has occasionally been proposed as an alternative word for American.
Columbian should not be confused with the adjective pre-Columbian, which refers to a time period before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. Columbia should also not be confused with the modern-day Republic of Colombia.
One century scarce perform'd its destined round,
When Gallic powers Columbia's fury found;
And so may you, whoever dares disgrace
The land of freedom's heaven-defended race!
Fix'd are the eyes of nations on the scales,
For in their hopes Columbia's arm prevails.
Especially in the 19th century, Columbia was visualized as a goddess-like female national personification of the United States and of liberty itself, comparable to the British Britannia, the Italian Italia Turrita and the French Marianne, often seen in political cartoons of the 19th and early 20th century. The personification was sometimes called Lady Columbia or Miss Columbia. Such an iconography usually personified America in the form of an Indian queen or Native American princess.
The image of the personified Columbia was never fixed, but she was most often presented as a woman between youth and middle age, wearing classically-draped garments decorated with stars and stripes. A popular version gave her a red-and-white-striped dress and a blue blouse, shawl, or sash, spangled with white stars. Her headdress varied and sometimes it included feathers reminiscent of a Native American headdress while other times it was a laurel wreath, but most often, it was a cap of liberty.
Early in World War I (1914–1918), the image of Columbia standing over a kneeling "Doughboy" was issued in lieu of the Purple Heart medal. She gave "to her son the accolade of the new chivalry of humanity" for injuries sustained in the World War.
In World War I, the name Liberty Bond for savings bonds was heavily publicized, often with images from the Statue of Liberty (Liberty Enlightening the World). The personification of Columbia fell out of use and was largely replaced by the Statue of Liberty as a feminine symbol of the United States.
After Columbia Pictures adopted Columbia as its logo in 1924, she has since appeared as bearing a torch similar to that of the Statue of Liberty, unlike 19th-century depictions of Columbia. The Columbia Pictures logo is the most famous and prominent display of Columbia to many current Americans.
Statues of the personified Columbia may be found among others in the following places:
Since 1800, the name "Columbia" has been used for a wide variety of items.
Political cartoon from 1860 depicting Stephen A. Douglas receiving a spanking from Columbia as Uncle Sam looks on approvingly
A defiant Columbia in an 1871 Thomas Nast cartoon shown protecting a defenseless Chinese man from an angry Irish lynch mob that has just burned down an orphanage
Columbia in an 1865 Thomas Nast cartoon asking the government to allow black soldiers to vote
Columbia at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific
Lady Columbia recognized World War I Doughboy soldier as having suffered injury due to his willingness to serve humanity
Columbia Calls – Enlist Now for U.S. Army, World War I recruitment poster by Vincent Aderente
Columbia depicted in an American Committee for Relief in the Near East poster
(Minus the torch and the book, Columbia herself had been called 'Liberty' long before F. S. Bartholdi's sculpture was dedicated in New York harbor in 1886.)
America alone was a savage. An early predilection for exhibiting her as a naked cannibal, toying with a severed head or a half-roasted human arm, gave way in the seventeenth century to less threatening but still muscular images. She became, for example, a barbaric queen, borne aloft in a giant conch shell, scattering baubles from her cornucopia to the European adventurers crowding below [...].