Mission & History
Free Speech at the Heart of Boston
The Ford Hall Forum is the nation’s oldest continuously operating free public lecture series. Its mission is to foster an informed and effective citizenry and to promote freedom of speech through the public presentation of lectures, debates and discussions. Forum events illuminate the key issues facing our society by bringing to its podium knowledgeable and thought-provoking speakers, including some of the most controversial opinion leaders of our times. These speakers are presented in person, for free, and in settings that facilitate frank and open debate.
The Forum began in 1908 as a series of Sunday evening public meetings held at Ford Hall on Beacon Hill by George W. Coleman, a prominent Boston businessman. Coleman’s unique format, which provided equal time to speakers’ remarks then questions from the audience, gave any interested citizen the opportunity to debate issues with some of the most influential figures of the day. According to Coleman’s vision, the lecture series would enable the “full, free, and open discussion of all vital questions affecting human welfare.”
Since Coleman’s time, the Forum has gone on to host discussions with the some of the most intriguing figures in our nation’s modern history, including Maya Angelou, Louis Brandeis, W.E.B. DuBois, Robert Frost, Al Gore, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Henry Kissinger, Ayn Rand, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Malcolm X, to name just a few. While the original Ford Hall no longer exists, the Forum’s public conversations have continued throughout the Greater Boston area with the generous support of foundations, corporations, academic institutions, and individuals.
As we embark upon our second century of serving Greater Boston and beyond, we hope you will join us in this public conversation that has been informing, provoking, inspiring, engaging, and illuminating for one hundred years and counting.
“For a century now, the Forum has provided the people of Boston and visitors from around the globe the chance to hear and engage in dialogue with some of the world’s most important voices and leaders. From Martin Luther King, Jr. to Garrison Keillor and Corazon Aquino to Eleanor Roosevelt, the Forum has given different people from different cultures a chance to exchange ideas and foster understanding.
“As a former speaker, I have seen first hand the good the Forum contributes to our society. Venues like the Ford Hall Forum allow people to gain a more complete understanding of the world the live in and the neighbors they live with. Additionally, because the speaker series is free and open to the public, it is a great example of inclusiveness.”
~ Deval Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts
The original Ford Hall once stood at the corner of
Ashburton Place and Bowdoin Street.