In 1931, the Ladies Advisory Council, under whose conservative aegis there had been a terrific struggle before students were permitted to make drawings from nude models rather than casts, realized that the school was behind the times. They looked around and picked Austin Purves, Jr., a young man fresh from such tasks as teaching at the Yale School of the Fine Arts, to succeed Frederick Dielman, aged eighty-four, as art director. After a year or so of effort, he succeeded in persuading the Ladies Advisory Council to recommend to the trustees that the day art school be made coeducational, like the night one. Shortly after this was done, in 1932, the ladies, on their own initiative, disbanded in favor of a coeducational advisory council, whose members [in 1937] include a number of male architects and painters as well as a few of the original ladies.
Mr. Purves's reforms in the art school have included revising the curriculum so as to coordinate the various courses; the introduction of obligatory entrance exams, which weed out six out of seven applicants; the revamping of a faculty of fifty, whose average age was over fifty, to one of thirty, whose average is thirty-two; and permission for male students to work in their shirtsleeves, which wasn't allowed before and which caused one enraged member of the old faculty to resign. "Now they can take off their pants, for all I care," says Mr. Purves.
The New Yorker, Spiritual Refuge, August 21, 1937
Among [Gano Dunn's] many public services, one which was perhaps the closest to his heart, as it was certainly one of his most continuous endeavors, was his association with The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. In 1925 he was appointed one of the five trustees of The Union and ten years later became their president, in which capacity he continued to serve until his death. One of his first acts as president of the trustees was a survey of the Union's activities in the light of its founder's purposes. Under his direction the Engineering School became a leader in giving the social sciences and the humanities a place in the professional education of engineers, and the Arts School embarked on a program of art education as distinct from mere training in technical skill. Dunn guided the investment politices of the endowment and was instrumental in increasing its income. At the 90th Commencement exercises of The Cooper Union in 1950 he was awarded the Peter Cooper Medal with a citation that read in part, "These fellow New Yorkers, Peter Cooper and Gano Dunn, separated by almost a century in time, have achieved in their individual ways great distinction in the application of science to the practical problems of life. In the character of both men are combined innate kindness and great integrity with creative inquisitiveness and incisive thinking. And both have devoted themselves to the furtherance of the American ideal of equal educational opportunity for all people of whatever race, creed, or color."
The Cooper Union History Project website is currently maintained by Barry Drogin. This page last updated: March 17, 2017.