Who are the Associates of Cooper Union?


associates-paleThe original Charter and Deed of Trust for The Cooper Union called for the establishment of the “Associates of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.”    Who are these Associates and were they ever formed? References to the Associates in the Charter and Deed  are summarized in the First Annual Report of the school (1859-1860):

The Society of the Associates.  By the eighth section of the charter it is provided as follows :   “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 improvements 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. The said Society shall consist of the said associates, and graduates of the institution hereby incorporated, whose diplomas may include such rights and privileges and of such other persons as from time to time shall be elected members thereof, always including the members of the Board of Trustees of the ‘ Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art,’ and all the members of the said Society shall, while members thereof, be members of the Corporation hereby created. The said Board of Trustees shall, from time to time, prescribe the conditions and terms of membership of the said Society, which, subject to the approval of the said Board of Trustees, shall make all rules and regulations for its own conduct and government, pass its own by-laws, and prescribe the duties and powers and annual dues of its members and officers ; and which said Society shall elect its own officers and members, and  shall, from its members, annually elect a council, consisting of at  least twenty-four members of said Society, which said council is  hereby authorized and empowered to do and perform all and  every act and thing whatsoever, by it provided to be done and  performed, in and by said deed. The said Society shall be inseparably connected with the ‘ Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art,’ the Trustees whereof shall be entitled and are hereby permitted to receive, and in whom shall vest all property whatsoever, which shall in any way be acquired by, or  at any time be granted, consigned, assigned, divided, or bequeathed  to the said Society, save only the current receipts thereof, which  property shall be held by the said Trustees, but in trust, however, for the corporation hereby created ; and which said property, so long as the same shall be held in trust, may at any time  be sold or disposed of by the said Corporation on the consent of  the Council of the said Society and of the Trustees of the said  Corporation.”   By the Trust Deed it is made the duty of the Trustees   ” To provide rooms, in the judgment of the Board of Trustees, suitable for the offices 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.   ” Fifth. The above-mentioned and described premises shall be forever subject to the visitation and examination, at all reasonable hours, of the council of said society so to be organized, and to be called the ‘ Association of the Cooper Union for the advancement of Science and Art,’ the terms and conditions of membership of which shall, from time to time, be prescribed by the Board of Trustees of the party of the second part; which said  society shall make all rules and regulations for its own conduct  and government, subject, however, to the approval of the Board  of Trustees of the party hereto of the second part, and shall pay  to the said Board of Trustees for the general uses, intents, and  purposes, of the corporation hereby created, hereby and in the  said act, and any acts amendatory thereof, provided or to be pro-  vided, all fees received on the initiation into said society of the  members thereof, and the said Board of Trustees shall consider  such suggestions of the council of the said society as shall, from  time to time, be communicated to them, and shall adopt such of them as in their judgment may be practicable and expedient, and  calculated to increase the usefulness of the institution herein contemplated.” Sixth. Upon the happening of any vacancy in the Board of Trustees, above provided for, which is above provided to be filled by election, unless such vacancy shall be filled as herein provided,  within one year of the time when such vacancy shall occur, the  same may be filled at any time before it shall be actually filled  by the Board of Trustees, by the said council of the said ‘ The  Associates of the Cooper Union for the advancement of Science and  Art,’ by election, in such manner as may be provided by the by-  laws of the said society.”

In this first annual report, the trustees defer the creation of the Associates, but state their intentions to invite various organizations to be the  original associates.  The Society of Arts in London is referenced as a similar association:

The Trustees have deferred the organization of this society only because it was deemed advisable first to establish and put in operation all the departments of instruction before undertaking the serious duty of prescribing the terms and conditions of membership, and the fixing the rules for the primary government of  the society. They have, however, decided to open the doors as widely as possible for membership, and hope to see in it an influential and respectable organization, representing all classes and interests in the community. They have therefore determined to invite as the original ” associates ” the members of over twenty- one years of age of the following societies, thus endeavoring to realize practically the idea of Mr. Cooper embodied in the name of “Union” given to the institution. The Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, the Chamber of Commerce, the Historical Society, the American Geographical and Statistical Society, the Society Library, Mercantile Library and Clinton Hall Association, the alumni associates, trustees, and professors of Columbia College, the New York University, and the Free Academy; the American Institute, the Mechanics’ Institute, the Horticultural Society, the American Institute of Architects, the Photographic Society, the National Academy of Design, the Century, the Atheneum,  the Lyceum of Natural History, the Law Institute, the Academy  of Medicine, the Sanitary Association, the clergy of New York,  and the Teachers in the Public Schools, and such other persons  as may, to the Trustees, appear to be desirable members.   When the results accomplished by the Society of Arts in London (an association corresponding nearly with the proposed society) are considered, the Trustees do not entertain a doubt that their invitations will be generally responded to, and that thus many thousands of our influential citizens will be brought into direct union and cooperation with them in executing the grand design of the institution “ the elevation and improvement of the working classes of this city and country.

In Cooper Union’s second annual report (1860-1861), the Trustees establish the rules  for the proposed Society of the Associates.  In the 1868 Annual Report, the trustees note that the establishment of the Associates of Cooper Union, might be a means to raise the necessary funds to create the Poly-technical school, also called for in the original Charter:

“How then can this initial sum be raised? Possibly by the gift of some noble mind who reads this Report. But the Trustees, bearing in mind their duty as prescribed by the Charter, will, in due season, if no other mode of the raising of the endowment shall present itself, attempt to secure the required aid through “the Society of the Associates of the Cooper Union,” which they are bound to organize when in their judgment the proper time as arrived.  Five hundred associates, giving $1,000 each or one thousand associates giving $500 each would accomplish the purpose, and the great and final object of the Cooper Union be achieved, not only in the creation of an Institute of Technology, “equal to the best Technological Schools in Europe,” as required in the Trust Deed, but in the organization of a Society of Associates of such enlightened liberality and powerful influence, as to place them among the most distinguished benefactors of mankind.”

The Society of the Associates still had not been established by 1897. The annual report in 1897 calls for its creation:

“In the trust deed, provision is made for the organization of a society, whose aim would be to promote the welfare of the community in general and of the wage earners in particular. The time would now seem to be propitious for the establishment of the society, which, if properly organized and conducted would not only contribute to the diffusion of knowledge, but do much towards promoting the communion of interests between employers and wage earners…The successful results achieved during the thirty-eight years of its existence by the Cooper Union is a conclusive answer to the pessimistic views of those who fail to find in material progress a corresponding development in the moral and intellectual forces of society.”

There is no mention of the Associates (other than in reference to the original deed of trust) in the subsequent annual reports through 1909.  Edward Mack in his 1949 biography, Peter Cooper: Citizen of New York, notes this about the Associates of Cooper Union:

“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 Cooper Union.” (pg. 266)

For more information about the current situation facing  Cooper Union: visit the  Friends of Cooper Union website.  For additional posts on Cooper Union click here.

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