Voices from the Great Hall

For over 160 years, Cooper Union’s Great Hall has been a bastion of free speech, social activism, education, culture, and electoral politics. The Voices from the Great Hall digital platform encompasses all known sound and video recordings made in the Hall and held by The Cooper Union dating back to John Dewey’s 1941 address "In Philosophy." This historical collection, which documents over 3,000 Great Hall programs, also includes photographs, fliers, press releases, and other ephemera dating back to 1859.

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Cooper Union Forum Scene
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Milton Glaser in the Great Hall

In conjunction with a winter 2020-21 exhibition and a panel this spring at The Cooper Union, we celebrate the work of one of the most influential graphic designers of the 20th century—Milton Glaser—who died in 2020. In this video, he speaks about his career in The Cooper Union’s Great Hall in 2017.

A Cooper Union alumnus who co-founded the revolutionary Push Pin Studios in 1954 and New York magazine in 1968, Glaser is known for his renowned I ♥ NY logo. He also created iconic graphic identities for DC Comics and Brooklyn Brewery, as well as unforgettable posters and album covers for Bob Dylan, John Cage, and more. His work for non-profit clients included campaigns for the World Health Organization’s Special Programme on AIDS and the United Nations, among others. Glaser was honored with the Lifetime Achievement National Design Award from the Cooper-Hewitt Museum and the National Medal of Arts in 2009. 

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Racial Justice

From its opening, the Great Hall has provided a platform for promoting racial justice, hosting lectures by abolitionist Frederick Douglass (eight speeches from 1863 to 1880), an address by Chief Red Cloud on the rights of indigenous peoples (1870), and numerous talks by 19th century reformers. In 1909, W.E.B. DuBois spoke in the Great Hall during the NAACP’s founding conference. Both the NAACP and CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) became a regular presence in the Great Hall into the 1960s, with the Cooper Union Forum organizing speeches by Walter White, Roy Wilkins, James Farmer, and Floyd McKissick. In recent decades, leading professionals, intellectuals, political figures, and artists of color have continued sharing their ideas and work in the Hall. From programs featuring Thurgood Marshall (1954 and 1956) and Cornel West (1993, 2004, 2009, and 2012) to John Lewis (2017) and Women of Color on Broadway (2020), the Great Hall continues to support and celebrate the ideals of justice and empowerment.