Introduction | The Great Hall (1858-present) | Free Reading Room (1859-present) | Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration (1897-1963) | People's Institute (1897-1934) | Green Camp (1940-19xx) | Cooper Union Research Foundation (19xx-20xx) | C.V. Starr Research Foundation (20xx-present) | The Saturday Program (19xx-present) | The Associates (2015-present)
There are entities related to the Cooper Union. Some are explicitly described in the founding Charter, others have been created by the Board of Trustees or have been given space within the academic buildings of the college.
To regular courses of instructions, at night, free to all who shall attend the same, under the general regulations of the trustees, on the application of science to the useful occupations of life, on social and political science, meaning thereby not merely the science of political economy, but the science and philosophy of a just and equitable form of government, based upon the great fundamental law that nations and men should do unto each other as they would be done by, and on such other branches of knowledge as in the opinion of the Board of Trustees will tend to improve and elevate the working classes of the City of New York.
The Saturday evening free lectures provided, all through this period, virtually the only cultural instruction offered by the Union and the only means whereby Peter Cooper's desire to teach the social sciences was carried out. Recognized as a regular feature of the institution in 1868, they soon became a great success, drawing some fifteen hundred people weekly into the great auditorium. Getting the proper speakers to talk in the proper way on proper subjects was a task requiring endless time and experiment. The audience, "not much recruited from the general public," was made up "to a great extent of working people," who were "eager for facts but restive under purely literary lectures, or morally didactic ones" and would not listen to anyone on any subject for more than an hour and a half. "If you entertain, interest and stimulate them," one lecturer on China was told, "so that they think of the Chinese with greater tolerance, and are led to read and study more about them, it is as much as a single popular lecture can be expected to accomplish." Most speakers, even after being coached, proved unsatisfactory, especially the college professors on whom Hewitt at first largely depended. When he was very fortunate he managed to secure such speakers as the great John Tyndall, who gave his "Lectures on Light" at the Union in 1872, and enthralled large audiences with his experimental machines, his electric light, and his screen to show prismatic hues. Usually, since he could pay at the most fifty dollars and preferred paying only traveling expenses, Hewitt had to be satisfied with lesser talent, which had to be carefully scouted. "The course is not a medium for experiments."
Theoretically, to fulfill Peter's orders, the lectures should all have been on the social sciences, and consequently Hewitt got as many speakers through the American Social Science Association as possible. But since the audience tended to be the same each year, lectures couldn't be repeated, and appealing subjects were not endless. Besides, "Speakers on social science who are not 'cranks' are so rare!" Moreover, many subjects in this field were too controversial for Hewitt's liking, including women's rights, "living issues in economy," like the silver question in 1877, that "come too near party politics," and "partisan" discussions of the labor question. Indeed, the lecture program was not intended to promote partisanship on any subject or "to be used as a medium for the denunciation of any class of citizens. We want speakers who inform, not inflame, the minds of their audience."
As a consequence of all these things, Cooper Union lecture courses ranged in subject matter from accounts of round-the-world journeys to instructions in cooking and discussions of temperance, in which Peter Cooper had always been much interested. The nineteen lectures in 1875-6, for example, included talks on explorations in Africa and Iceland, on psychology, on music, on optics, on royal and domestic life in Siam, on the Greek Temple and the atomic theory, on the terrestrial history of the United States, and on the geological record of man.
On other than Saturday evenings the Great Hall was rented to outsiders, and became New York's favorite meetingplace. If there were restrictions placed on Cooper Union lecturers, there were none on what might go on at other times. In 1874 Hewitt freely permitted workers to meet at the Union to protest against police brutality so long as they paid the usual $250 and gave a bond in case of breakage. Peter Cooper allowed the notorious Victoria Woodhull, advocate of women's suffrage and free love, to use the Cooper Union platform, and when he was criticized for doing so, answered by letting her come again. He himself, according to one account, led the great atheist Robert Ingersoll to the platform after there had been threats of violence should he appear.
Mack, Edward C. Peter Cooper, Citizen of New York. New York, Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1949, pp 330-332
To the support and maintenance of a free reading-room, of galleries of art, and of scientific collections, designed, in the opinion of the Board of Trustees, to improve and instruct those classes of the inhabitants of the City of New York whose occupations are such as to be calculated, in the opinion of the said Board of Trustees, to deprive them of proper recreation and instruction.
Director Charles Sprague Smith (1897-1910)
Director Frederic Clemson Howe (1910-1916)
Director Edward F. Sanderson (1916-1922)
Director Everett Dean Martin (1922-1934)
To provide rooms, in the judgment of the Board of Trustees, suitable for the officers of a society to be organized, as provided in the act hereinbefore specially referred to, and to be called "The Associates of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art," and to furnish to such society for its general meetings, on one evening of each week, the great hall of the building, if the council of the said society shall require it so often.
The Trustees of the Corporation hereby created, may at any time associate with themselves such persons as they shall see fit, as members of the Corporation hereby created, and with such persons, organize a society with the style and title of "The Associates of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art," the objects and purposes of which shall be the encouragement of science, arts, manufactures and commerce; the bestowal of rewards for such productions, inventions and improvement as tend to the useful employment of the poor, the increase of trade, and the riches and honor of the country; for meritorious works in the various departments of the fine arts; for discoveries, inventions and improvements; and generally, by lectures, papers and discussions thereon, and other suitable means, to assist in the advancement, development, and practical application of every department of science in connection with the arts, manufactures, and commerce of the country.
One of his main objects was to set up a society called "The Associates of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art," to consist of groups from the various sciences and professions - editors of the press were specifically to be included - who would use the facilities of the Union for lectures and discussions and who would encourage the sciences and the arts by awards for inventions and improvements.
Through no one's fault the Associates never did get organized. The second report of the trustees in 1861 voiced the hope that they soon would be and published the prospective rules in full; in 1864 a pamphlet was printed on the subject and scientists were urged to take the lead in setting up the organization; in 1865 Peter gave the American Geographical Society, of which he was one of the oldest members, rooms in the Union as temporary headquarters. But that was all that ever came of the Associates, despite Hewitt's efforts to get the Lyceum of Natural History and other scientific groups to meet at the Cooper Union.
Mack, Edward C. Peter Cooper, Citizen of New York. New York, Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1949, pp 259, 266-267
All current students, all current full-time faculty, and all alumni of Cooper Union should collectively be deemed to constitute the Associates of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, but they shall not be members of the corporation. The elected alumni, full-time faculty, and students who serve as members of or representatives to the Board of Trustees should collectively constitute the Council of the Associates. The Board may approve any plan for further organization or expansion of the Associates that is presented to it by a majority of the Council of the Associates.
By deeming all students, faculty, and alumni as Associates and those elected members of the Associates to the Board to comprise the Council, not only will such societies come into existence for the first time as intended by Cooper, but they will ensure greater participation and oversight by students, faculty, and alumni in the governance of the school. The Associates were envisioned as a society to be created for the purpose of advising and overseeing the Board. Indeed, the Deed of Trust sets forth that a majority of the council of Associates were empowered to petition the court for removal of a Board member for cause. However, the societies never came to fruition. The proposed modification serves to constitute the organizations and integrate them into the governance structure of the school. Cooper's vision of the societies' purposes of engaging students, faculty, and alumni in the operation of the school and promoting academic endeavors in the fine arts and sciences is, thus, realized through the proposed modification.
The Cooper Union History Project website is currently maintained by Barry Drogin. This page last updated: March 17, 2017.