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Guide to the Records of Town Hall RG.37.25

New York University Archives

Collection processed by Katie Ehrlich.

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on May 31, 2022
Description is in English.

 Portraits of founders added to Series VI by John Zarrillo Edited by Rachel Mahre to reflect the digitization of audio materials  , July 2017 , May 2022

Historical Note

The Town Hall Inc. was organized as the League for Political Education in 1894 by six prominent New York women after a suffrage measure was defeated in the New York State Legislature. The purpose of the league was to educate the public about the issue by holding educational programs and lectures. The events were held at small rented venues. The League for Political Education gave birth to offshoot groups such as the Economic Club and Civic Forum. In 1904 the League became incorporated and changed its name to the Board of Trustees of the League for Political Education.

The building of an auditorium for the League for Political Education began in 1919 as the organization outgrew its small venues and sought a permanent home. The structure, which also included office space, was designed by architecture firm McKim, Mead and White. It opened January 1921 at 123 W. 43rd Street. It was dubbed the Town Meeting Hall.

Soon after the doors opened to lecturers and audiences, it was realized the auditorium had exceptional acoustics. And so the Town Meeting Hall became a venue for musical performance as well as political expression. Independent groups such as the New York University Club also rented space from the organization.

In 1930 the League for Political Education purchased the adjacent the building at 125 W. 43rd Street for its Town Hall Annex for more space. It subsequently sold the building in 1959. The league began hosting and broadcasting its "America's Town Meeting of the Air" radio lecture series in 1935. The series ran until 1956 and provided a forum for political and cultural experts to discuss current events issues.

The organization changed its name to The Town Hall, Inc. in 1937 to reflect its expanding programming. In the late 1950s Town Hall experienced a decline. It merged with New York University in 1958 and came under the jurisdiction of the Division of General Education (now the School of Continuing Education) until 1978 when the university divested itself from the organization.

Town Hall remains primarily a musical venue focusing on jazz and arts education.