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The Cooper Union Archives & Special Collections

Through the Lens of Missing Yearbooks

by Mary Mann on 2021-05-26T00:00:00-04:00 | 0 Comments

Missing yearbook image, created by Mark Rossi

"[O]ur class did not progress according to the traditional pattern. During the years of our stay at Cooper, we witnessed the most extensive changes that had occurred in decades...While most of us were lowly Freshmen, just getting used to the tough exams and excessive homework, we became, suddenly, citizens of a country at war. The full significance of this change was not apparent at once. But soon we realized that we could not make of Cooper Union an ivory tower in which to escape from the responsibilities of the times."

- The Cable, 1944

Today we say goodbye to not one but two classes of Cooper Union graduates. Due to the responsibilities of our times - the need for social distancing during a pandemic - the class of 2020 didn't have a commencement ceremony last spring. For the same reason, neither class will have a yearbook, a rare occurrence since the first Cooper yearbook, entitled The Cable, was published in 1922.

"Until 1943, the Cable had been published annually for over twenty years," reads the 1944 Cable. "The disturbing influences brought about by the national crisis prevented the publication of the 1943 Cable." The effects of war on the student body and culture are starkly seen in the size of the classes. "We were eighty in September, 1940," reads the introduction of the Art School seniors, "now in our senior year, fifteen are left."

It would be over another twenty years before a second fissure would appear in this otherwise unbroken tradition of class photos, candid snaps, and inside jokes. There's no 1965 Cable, and though the editions on either side of the gap don't refer to its absence, we might glean some context clues from current events: the first U.S. combat troops landed in Vietnam in 1965, followed soon thereafter by the first major protest of the Students for a Democratic Society, and a summer lit by burnt draft cards.

The shock of the U.S. entering another war had faded by 1970, but the war itself was still going, and the Cable for that year suggests that tensions were high at The Cooper Union. This may have contributed to the lack of a 1971 yearbook, the only other omission in the long line of Cables.

"When the Central Intelligence Agency came to recruit on campus the dialogue between students and the administration was more heated and the climax more dramatic. A group of about one hundred and fifty students met in the Wollman Lounge to discuss possible action on the matter, and finally, in a tense scene, the leaders of the group asked President White, who had come at the students request, to remove the C.I.A. man from campus. President White reluctantly agreed, and the recruiter left as furtively as he had come. While the students both condemned and condoned the confrontation, the denouement left few people indifferent, and perhaps that is where its greatest value lies."

- The Cable, 1970

The Cooper classes of 1943, 1965 and 1971 may lack yearbooks, but we can still see them in the Archives: through the eyes of the classes above and below them, between the lines of annual reports and minutes, in the ephemera that they left behind. In the same way we hope to hold the memory of the classes of 2020 and 2021, who have studied and worked and made it through a wild time in history. Congratulations, graduates!


Interested in learning more? View a guide to our collection of yearbooks on the Archives website. You can also view digitized versions of some of our yearbooks on Internet Archive. We are adding to this collection regularly, so if you don't see what you're looking for, please check back another day, or reach out to us at 

Interested in supporting the preservation of Cooper history? You can become a Friend of the Cooper Union Library for as little as $25 (or as much as you want!) View our webpage on giving to the library for more information. 

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