Just as the Great Hall and the Women's School of Design occupied the Foundation Building in 1858, prior to the Cooper Union having its charter approved by the NYS Legislature on April 13, 1859, the deed of trust executed on April 29, 1859, and the first lecture given on November 2, 1859, so, too, the Cooper Union Alumni Association existed as an organization of alumni prior to its first Certificate of Incorporation on December 9, 1896. It is first mentioned in AY 1866, just two years after the first graduating class in AY 1864, when the trustees commit to consider removing the Picture Gallery from next to the Reading Room in order to make room for an "association of graduates."
[The trustee's] idea is to form a society of associates, who shall take charge of the Reading Room and Library, in substantially the same manner as the clerks manage the Mercantile Library—and which in that case has been productive of so much good to the class for which it is designed. This society will be open to the public for membership, at moderate annual dues, the whole of which will be expended on books, inasmuch as the room and light will be furnished by the Cooper Union, free of charge. Members only will have the right to take out books, for home use, but the public will have the right as now, to use the Reading Room and Library, free of charge. The management will be confided to a council, one half of whom shall be graduates of the Cooper Union, and the other half be elected by the members at large. The rooms now occupied by the Picture Gallery, seven in number, will be assigned to the use of the association, and it is designed to open them as a place of resort for the members for conversation, and such rational amusement in the way of games of chess or draughts as is afforded in well-conducted social clubs. Suitable and simple refreshments furnished at a reasonable price might also be provided, and the whole arrangement made so attractive and agreeable, that young men who desire to maintain a good character, and proper associations, will always find in these rooms suitable recreation and proper companionship. One room will be fitted up for the reading of essays and papers, and efforts will be made to secure the familiar discussion of all new and interesting topics in science and art by the leading authorities of the day.
Five years later, in AY 1871, seven graduates, one from each year, had joined a "General Committee" in order to, along with student representatives, address Peter Cooper on the occasion of his 80th birthday. The address is delivered by Robert Scott, from the college's first Class of 1894. An additional 32 alumni were listed as "subscribers" to the address.
Similarly, on April 5, 1883, a day after Peter Cooper dies, there is a meeting of the "Alumni of the Cooper Union" (capitals in the original), in which a preamble and two resolutions to be "recorded in our minutes" and a copy presented to Peter Cooper's family is reproduced in the AY 1883 Annual Report, with a "President" from the Class of 1878, a "Secretary" from the Class of 1882, and three "Committee" members, two from the Class of 1876 and one from the Class of 1878.
Five years later, in AY 1888, the "Cooper Union Alumni Association" (hereafter, CUAA) is listed in the Annual Report, with a President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, and three Executive Committee members, holding meetings "regularly" in Room 22 "on the third Saturday of each month, at which essays are read, followed by discussions, and any other business consistent with the objects of the society."It should be stressed that this CUAA has as regular members only graduates of the Scientific Class, who have received the Cooper Medal and Diploma. Those who have attended for three years may be admitted as "Associate Alumni," and members of the Board of Trustees and the Principal and Instructors of the Night School are eligible for "honorary membership."
In AY 1891, the "Alumni" (capitals in the original) "spontaneously" organize a celebration of the centennial anniversay of Peter Cooper's birthday, on February 12, "with suitable ceremonies" and "great enthusiasm and success," including an oration by the President of Columbia College in the Great Hall, to an audience "which filled the hall to overflowing," as well as an address from a Judge of the Court of Sessions, the Honorable James Fitzgerald, a former pupil of the Institute. Once again there is an effort to form the Society of the Associates, with the CUAA as the central body and allocated a suite of rooms, as per the Charter. A studio of "Associated Designers," whose female members are "last year's graduates," is mentioned.
In AY 1892, the CUAA requests that the Trustees provide a Bachelor of Science Degree, in addition to the Cooper medal and diploma, including retroactively awarding Bachelor Degrees to prior graduates. They also ask that "degrees" of Civil Engineer and Mechanical Engineer be awarded to graduates who have been practicing for three to five years and merit the degree (the equivalent of a Professional Engineering license). The trustees agree.
In AY 1893, the trustees suggest that the Alumni form an employment office, with the understanding that it can have no corporate connection to the Cooper Union. (In AY 1896, the Association for the Improvement of the Condition of the Poor (AICP, which later became part of the Community Service Society of New York) establishes a labor bureau, "without charge either to employers or to the workmen," with the Cooper Union supplying an office and the CUAA defraying expenses and forming a committee acting as managers, along with a "similar committee" of the AICP.)
In AY 1894, a Committee of Alumni provides the trustees with a detailed report full of suggestions, some of which the trustees agree to implement. That year the "Men's Alumni" make a motion that the women form their own Alumni Association. AY 1894 also records the first election of "associate" members of the Alumni Association, 17 alumni who attended for three years but did not receive medals and diplomas. At least one is elected after death.
Sure enough, in AY 1894, in addition to the CUAA, five "branch alumni associations" are "formed during the past year": an Architectural Branch, an Architectural Branch (Elementary), a Rudimental Drawing Branch, a Decorative Designing Branch, and a Woman's Art School Branch, all with Presidents and Secretaries. The Woman's Art School Alumni Branch has 180 members its first year, allowing pupils to become Associate Members. An independent Cooper Union Chemical Society is organized the same year, in February 1894, with a President, Vice-President, Treasurer, and Secretary, which holds two semi-annual dinners, as well as papers and special lectures. This brings the total number of alumni organizations to seven - two years before the original "Cooper Union Alumni Association" incorporates.
In AY 1896, before its incorporation in December, the CUAA has formed a Committee to help decide who should receive Engineer "degrees," and formed a second Committee with 8 recommendations to the trustees. Once again, some, but not all, of the recommendation are implemented. The Cooper Union Chemical Society starts to publish a Journal, and opens up its membership to "all those interested in the advancement of science."
In AY 1897, the Woman's Art School Branch inaugurates a class in Pen and Ink Illustration, "wholly self-supporting." Three female graduates attempt to form a "Society of Associated Designers," but it is never mentioned again. The CUAA, having formed itself into a "permanent society," is consulted by the Principal of the Night School about whether to raise admission standards, and agrees:
It is now nearly forty years since the present standard for admission was fixed. At that time there were no facilities, such as now exist, outside of Cooper Union, where evening students could acquire the necessary knowledge, but now the facilities for evening instruction being so much better, we think that the new condition should be recognized, and that standard established which will make those who have not advanced sufficiently go elsewhere, and enable Cooper Union to receive those whose ambitions lead them to seek knowledge up to the same point that they could only obtain elsewhere in the day colleges.
In AY 1898, after securing an agreement from Peter Cooper's children and grandchildren to provide an endowment of $550,000, the trustees suggest that the alumni might be persuaded to "assist" (unfortunately, the first alumni contributions are not received until AY 1902, from two individuals, one from the Class of 1874 and one from the Class of 1876).
In AY 1899, the Architectural Branch, Architectural Branch (Elementary), Rudimental Drawing Branch, and Decorative Designing Branch have merged into the Cooper Union Architectural Alumni Association, for students who have completed the four-year course in Architecture. The Alumnae Association of the Woman's Arts School changes its name to the Alumnae and Students' Association of the Woman's Art School. This leaves four associations: the CUAA, the Architectural Alumni Association, the Alumnae and Students' Association of the Woman's Art School, and the Cooper Union Chemical Society.
In AY 1901, the faculty find it "very desirable" to have an Advisory Council composed of delegates from the Alumni, from ASCE, ASME, ACS, ISEE, and the Architectural League. The CUAA reduces its meetings to four times per year, including an Annual Meeting on "Founder's Day," February 12, the first reference (later it is made clear that this is also an "Annual Dinner," held first at Delmonico's; this is separate from the afore-mentioned semi-annual dinner held by the Chemistry Society).The CUAA erects and unveils a tablet in honor of Peter Cooper "in the main corridor."
In AY 1902, the CUAA declares:
The objects of this Association are to promote the usefulness and influence of the Cooper Union; to unite in the bonds of fellowship those who have graduated from its halls of study; to further improve them through the medium of essays, discussions, and the encouragement of original study and investigation of the Arts and Sciences; to assist as far as possible worthy students of the school, and to co-operate with the Board of Trustees.
In AY 1903, the CUAA adopts resolutions on the death of Abram S. Hewitt, and presents the Cooper Union with a framed silver memorial plate to be "placed in the main hall" near the 1891 Peter Cooper centennial birthday tablet.
In AY 1904, the CUAA declares:
The principal objects of the Association are to promote such an active interest among its members as will make all of them work for the fullest development and advancement of their Alma Mater, rendering it whatever assistance of any kind they may be in a position to give, so that its present phenomenal growth may be maintained and its usefulness and capacity increased; to unite in the bonds of fellowship those who have graduated from its halls of study; to further improve them through the medium of essays, discussions, and the encouragement of original study and investigation of the Arts and Sciences; to assist, as far as possible, worthy students of the school, and to co-operate with the Board of Trustees.
At a meeting between the CUAA and the Board of Trustees, the trustees resolve:
their sincere appreciation of the offer of help made by them; and say to them that they shall at all times be glad to take advantage of their offer; that it is in accordance with the wishes entertained by Mr. Cooper and Mr. Hewitt, and for which provision was made by Mr. Cooper in his trust deed; that if at any time suggestions shall occur to the Alumni in the direction of the work of the institution, which they desire to communicate to the Trustees, they will always be thankfully received; that it is the wish of the Trustees to entertain the most cordial relations with the Alumni, and to keep them in close relation to the institution. The Trustees recognize the value of this, and are grateful for this proffer of service by the Alumni.
The CUAA also sets up a prize for the "best work in the Mechanical Drawing Class of the Night School of Science."
In AY 1908, the trustees encourage efforts to unite the four alumni organizations, but it does not come to pass.
In AY 1917, the Day School Class of 1911 has provided funds for a silver medal prize. This is in addition to prizes set up by the Cooper Union Architectural Alumni Association and the Cooper Union Chemical Society.
In AY 1918, a Committee of the Cooper Union Alumni and Associates establishes an Alumni and Associates Fund, raising over $7,800 from 34 alumni, 29 individuals, 6 companies, and the trustees. The Classes of 1897, 1905, 1907, and 1909 also set up general endowment funds.
Around 1919, the Cooper Union Alumni Federation is formed, after failure to form a General Alumni Association. The Federation unites (but does not merge) the Cooper Union Chemistry Society, the Cooper Union Architectural Alumni Association, the CUAA (which represents graduates of the Night School who obtained degrees in General Science, including Mechanical and Civil Engineering), and two new alumni organizations, one founded from graduates of the Institute of Technology (the Day School), and one from graduates of a new Department of Electrical Engineering. The CUHP has found a document, circa 1935, indicating that sixteen years later the Federation attends to "the celebration of Founder's Day, the decoration of the grave of Peter Cooper, the decoration of the monument of Peter Cooper in the Cooper Square, and the decoration of the bust of of Peter Cooper in the Hall of Fame."
In AY 1923, the Classes of 1898, 1911, and 1921 give group gifts to the endowment.
In AY 1924, the General Science Class of 1898, the Electrical Engineering and Chemistry Classes of 1922, and the Chemistry and General Science Classes of 1923 provide endowment funds.
By AY 1926, the Alumni and Associates Fund has grown to almost $23,000.
On February 1, 1943, the Cooper Union Alumni Association has a second incorporation, finally uniting the various alumni organizations into one.
On November 19, 2014, the CUAA President, CU President, and BoT Chair negotiate a "Joint Summary" detailing CUAA's independence from CU. A detailed description of the events that led to the secession can be found here.
On December 19, 2019, the Cooper Union History Project presents "A Brief Legal and Financial History of the CUAA" to the CUAA Council; the slides can be found here.
The Cooper Union History Project website is currently maintained by Barry Drogin. This page last updated: December 28, 2019.