In 1858, Peter Cooper opened the school he had founded, located on Seventh Street, between Third and Fourth Avenues, and facing Astor Place. Known as "The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Art and Science," the school was open to men and women on the basis of merit only, and was free of charge. Classes in both art and science were held in the many classrooms during the evening. The top floor of the school was an astronomical observatory, and below it were lecture halls, laboratories, a museum, an art gallery, and a reading room. A large underground hall, situated as to be free of street noises, was located in the basement of the building. Cooper wanted all points of view represented there, and both Democrats and Republicans spoke from its podium. The inaugural speaker was none other than Mark Twain. In February of 1860, Abraham Lincoln gave the speech that launched his national career in this "Great Underground Hall." His very persuasive anti-slavery speech later became known as his "Cooper Union Address."
Source: Klein, Carol. Gramercy Park. An American Bloomsbury. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.
Photo: From Harper's Weekly, week of March 30, 1861.