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Voices from the Great Hall

Identifier: RG.001

Scope and Contents

Collection consists of sound and moving image recordings, photographs, press releases, announcements, and ephemera documenting events in the Great Hall at The Cooper Union from 1915 to the present. Original sound and moving image recordings of events from 1941 to the present comprise most of the collection and include many media formats (lacquer discs, vinyl recordings, reel to reel audio tapes, audio cassettes, DAT, CDs, Umatic, Umatic: S, Betamax, VHS, S-VHS, MiniDV, HDV, and DVDs). Among the speakers represented in sound and moving image recordings are poet and author Carl Sandburg, cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, architect Louis I. Kahn, psychologist and writer Timothy Leary, feminist, journalist, and activist Gloria Steinem, nearly every New York City mayor from the 1950s to the present, and Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. The paper and photographic materials cover a larger time span and document numerous additional events beginning in 1915. Born-digital and digitized material representing surrogates for items in the collection – as well as additional works in The Cooper Union Library Archives and Special Collections dating back to 1859 – are also included. These items can be explored via the website


  • 1915 - 2021
  • Majority of material found within 1951 - 2021


Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers without restriction.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to publish materials must be obtained in writing from The Cooper Union Archives and Special Collections. Researchers are responsible for seeking third-party permissions. For more information, please email

Biographical / Historical

Since its opening in 1858, The Cooper Union’s Great Hall has provided a platform for social activism, education, culture, and electoral politics. The largest open space designed for public gatherings and civic functions in New York City below 14th Street when it was built, the Great Hall has hosted lectures and debates that include the earliest workers' rights campaigns, the birth of the NAACP, the women's suffrage movement, the founding of the Red Cross, and Abraham Lincoln’s February 27, 1860 “Right Makes Might” address, which propelled him to the United States presidency. Prominent thinkers from every field, including 11 aspiring, sitting, and former Presidents, have spoken from the Great Hall stage.

Programming in the Great Hall has been the responsibility of both The Cooper Union and external groups over time. During the late nineteenth century, The Cooper Union hosted public lectures on government, political economy, and the American Revolution, which evolved into the Free Saturday Evening Lectures, coordinated by Abram Hewitt. In 1893 and 1894, Columbia University and the New York City Board of Education added additional lectures. The People’s Institute took over programming in 1898, providing free lectures until 1934. Subsequently, The Cooper Union resumed programming responsibilities by creating the Division of Social Philosophy, naming its event series “The Cooper Union Forum" and holding programs several nights per week. This programming body was renamed the Division of Adult Education in 1955, and in the 1980s, the Office of Continuing Education began hosting Great Hall events. Today, programming is coordinated through the Office of Communications, which produces events and often hosts those of outside organizations.

Beginning in 1949, when Johnson E. Fairchild started his tenure as the chairman of the Division of Social Philosophy, Forum programs were recorded and broadcast locally on the radio by WNYC on Thursday nights at 9pm as “The Cooper Union Forum.” Selected lectures were syndicated nationally on educational radio stations through the National Association of Educational Broadcasters (NAEB). Additionally, in 1962, the Monday night “Great Issues” lectures were broadcast on local television channel WUHF. Since the late 1970s, recording of the lectures has been carried out primarily by technicians and students working in The Cooper Union’s AV/Multimedia Services department, with some programs recorded for broadcast by networks such as C-SPAN and PBS.

This collection was compiled from multiple sources during the Voices from the Great Hall Digital Access Project, funded by the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation from 2018 to 2021. In the decades previous to their transfer to the Library, most recordings were stewarded by the AV/Multimedia Services department, in particular due to the efforts of one long-time staff member, Winston Wilkerson. The bulk of textual and photographic materials were assembled by the Office of Public Affairs and Office of Continuing Education during the course of their creation.


156.79 Linear Feet (98 record cartons, 56 audio cassette boxes, 31 phonograph record boxes, 1 CD/DVD box)

61 Terabytes

Language of Materials



The Voices from the Great Hall collection consists of sound and moving image recordings, photographs, press releases, announcements, and ephemera documenting events in the Great Hall at The Cooper Union from 1915 to the present. Materials are added regularly and can be explored via the website


The collection is arranged in ten series by material type, four of which have been further arranged in subseries. The contents of each series or subseries are arranged chronologically. The series and subseries arrangement of the records is as follows:

Series 1, Great Hall Background Files, 1990s-2000s; Series 2, Recordings Background Files, 1951-2000s; Series 3, Event Planning Files, 1998-2009: Subseries 1, They Were Giants Event Series, 1998-2001, Subseries 2, Office of Continuing Education Files, 2008-2009; Series 4, Season Announcements and Reports, 1915-2019: Subseries 1, People's Institute, 1915-1934, Subseries 2, Cooper Union Forum, 1938-1970, Subseries 3, Office of Continuing Education, 1997-2012, Subseries 4, Department of Communications, 2018-2019; Series 5, Press Releases, 1980-2005; Series 6, News Clippings, 1998-2001; Series 7, Event Programs, 1950s-2019; Series 8, Photographs, 1960s-1980s; Series 9, Sound Recordings, 1941-2012: Subseries 1, Lacquer Discs and Vinyl Recordings, 1941-1954, Subseries 2, Reel to Reel Tapes, 1951-1986, Subseries 3, Audio Cassettes, 1972-2006, Subseries 4, DAT, 1998-2006, Subseries 5, Audio CD, 1999-2012; Series 10, Moving Image Recordings, 1977-2021: Subseries 1, U-matic, 1977-2005, Subseries 2, U-matic: S, 1986-1996, Subseries 3, Betamax, 1985-1992, Subseries 4, VHS, 1988-2005, Subseries 5, S-VHS, 1989-2005, Subseries 6, MiniDV, 1999-2015, Subseries 7, HDV, 2008-2013, Subseries 8, DVD, 1996-2010, Subseries 9, Digital Video, 2014-2021

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The bulk of the sound and moving image recordings were transferred from The Cooper Union AV/Multimedia Services department, with additions from The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture, the School of Art, WNYC, and The Cooper Union Archives and Special Collections. Press releases, photographs, and event programs were transferred from the Office of Public Affairs and Department of Communications. Season announcements were transferred from the Department of Continuing Education. People's Institute announcements were moved from The Cooper Union Archives and Special Collections. Materials related to the They Were Giants series were transferred from Alumni Affairs and Development. Some recordings, announcements, and programs related to the CooperArts series were donated by Howard Stokar.

Chialin Chou and Elizabeth D. Muller
June 2021
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Cooper Union Archives & Special Collections Repository

Cooper Union Library
7 East 7th Street
New York New York 10003 United States