John Bard, who founded St. Stephen's in association with the New York City leadership of the Episcopal church, came from a family of physicians and teachers, whose country estate, Hyde Park, lent its name to that Hudson River town. For its first 60 years, St. Stephen's offered young men a classical curriculum in preparation for entrance into the seminaries of the Episcopal church. In support of this venture, John Bard donated the Chapel of the Holy Innocents and part of his riverside estate, Annandale, to the College.
In 1928 the College opened a radically new chapter in its history when it became an undergraduate school of Columbia University. In 1944 Bard became a coeducational institution. As a result, it severed its relationship with Columbia University and became independent as a secular, nonsectarian liberal arts college affiliated with the Episcopal church.