Cooper Union

Peter Cooper's Campaign Poster

The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, established in 1859, is among the nation's oldest and most distinguished institutions of higher learning. The college, the legacy of Peter Cooper, occupies a special place in the history of American education. As one of the first colleges to offer a free education to working-class children and to women, Cooper Union was a pioneer long before access to education became public policy. Cooper's example motivated the founders of other prestigious colleges, such as Andrew Carnegie, Ezra Cornell and Matthew Vassar.

At first, Cooper Union provided night classes for men and women in the applied sciences and architectural drawing. In addition, the college's Female School of Design, open during the day, offered free art classes as well as training in the new occupations of photography, telegraphy, "type-writing" and shorthand.

Cooper, however, founded more than a college. From the beginning, Cooper Union also provided a public reading room and library and a meeting place for artists and inventors. In the historic 900-seat Great Hall, the public heard social and political reformers as well as free lectures on science and government. Before they were elected, Presidents Lincoln, Grant, Cleveland, Taft and Theodore Roosevelt spoke in the celebrated auditorium. Abraham Lincoln gave his "Right Makes Might" speech from the Great Hall podium, assuring him the presidency. Woodrow Wilson and Bill Clinton are the only incumbent presidents to speak there. President Clinton, on May 12, 1993, delivered a major economic address on reducing the federal deficit. Today, the Great Hall continues as a home for public forums, cultural events and community activities.