I'll quote a few short things from the (fantastic!) articles shared in comments by Dan Fox and user1527. Morris Kline in 1954 wrote:
What have we been feeding the liberal arts students? The almost
universal diet has been college algebra and trigonometry. I believe
that these courses are a complete waste of time...
Kline proceeds to outline a plan for a historically-minded math-survey/appreciation course for liberal arts students, revolving around his textbook, Mathematics in Western Culture (published 1953, after having taught 3 sections of such a course at NYU in the prior two years).
Apparently the idea of a survey/appreciation course had been floating around for at least some decades before that, because Tucker writes in his 2015 historical survey:
While the early MAA educational activities focused on secondary school
preparation in mathematics, there was a 1928 MAA report (MAA )
addressing complaints about the first two years of college
mathematics; also see Schaaf . It acknowledged calls to offer a
survey course of mathematical ideas with historical aspects for
Tucker notes that calculus didn't become a standard freshman college subject until a major disruption in the 1950's, when the Cold War response to Sputnik -- and observations that WWII was won largely by pure mathematicians working in ballistics, signaling, rocketry, cryptography, and nuclear design -- caused a massive social call and glorification of math and physics. Physics faculty started expecting calculus usage in freshman physics courses, and math departments followed suit. Up until that time, a student taking first-year courses would likely have only college algebra and trigonometry available, from my reading here.
On that latter major revolution that Tucker describes in the 1950's, he points out that in the early 1960's, as many as 5% of incoming college students were interested in being mathematics majors, while by 1975 it had dropped to 1.1%, and has stayed at around that level ever since (partly explained by the spin-off of computer science and statistics majors).