A full-scale war began between Japan and China. Civil war raged in Spain. British Prime Minister Chamberlain hoped to appease Hitler’s Nazi Germany even as war clouds thickened. In the U.S. the depression continued while isolationist fervor grew. FDR had begun his second term, having been re-elected by a sweeping majority vote.
Less than sixty thousand people lived in the City of Fresno’s ten square miles. Fulton Street was the center of business. Electrically powered streetcars ran down the middle of the city’s major streets. Fresno’s Memorial Auditorium and the County Hall of Records, both W.P.A. projects, were completed. Fresno State Teacher’s College was permitted to drop the “Teacher” from its name. And in the neighboring town of Hanford, a woman of letters hoped to make an addition to our valley’s intellectual and cultural life by providing a venue for thinking adults to become better informed.
That woman was Clio Lee Aydelott. She was one of the founders of the San Joaquin Chapter of the League of Western Writers and in that capacity made frequent trips to San Francisco. While visiting “The City,” Clio became familiar with the lecture series that Dr. Alan Rappaport had established. Believing that our valley needed what she called this unique medium, Clio invited Dr. Rappaport to a meeting of the League of Western Writers. Clio and her colleagues convinced him to bring his lecture series to Fresno. On January 10, 1938, the first lecture of the Fresno Town Hall Forum was presented in the Hardy Theater. The series, which consisted of seven morning and six evening lectures, was so well received that a second season was booked for the fall of the year. Thus, this is Town Hall’s 79th year, but it is our 80th season.
Dr. Rappaport had already established Town Hall Forums in twenty U.S. cities, each organized on a similar pattern. He selected the speakers who traveled his lecture circuit. After operating for eight seasons under Dr. Rappaport’s direction, the women of Town Hall decided that they could produce the lecture series independently. In October of 1946 the newly formed San Joaquin Valley Town Hall of Fresno began the series of six morning lectures, which continue today.
In 1961 the series was incorporated as San Joaquin Valley Town Hall, Inc., a tax exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, with a mission to operate “… exclusively for educational literary, and scientific purposes…” The morning series moved from Hardy’s in 1960 to a season at Warnor’s Theater, then to a five-year stay at the Wilson Theater. When the Convention Center was ready for business, San Joaquin Valley Town Hall, Inc. moved into the Center’s Saroyan Theatre.
Over the years, Town Hall has brought almost 500 speakers to the Saroyan stage to provide stimulating, intellectual entertainment. We have gone beyond the stars with astrophysicist Brian Greene, and to the bottom of the oceans with Sylvia Earle. We discovered early human ancestors with paleontologist Meave Leakey, examined primitive societies with anthropologist Margaret Mead, and learned what futurist Alvin Toffler thinks lies in store for coming generations. We have laughed with Bennett Cerf and Ogden Nash, admired art with Joan Mondale and June Wayne, and examined our psyches with Mortimer Adler and Murray Banks. We looked at the theater with Clare Booth Luce, Joshua Logan, Agnes DeMille, and Michael York, and learned what inspired authors James Michener, Gore Vidal, Maya Angelou, Scott Berg, and Ray Bradbury.
We have been informed of world affairs by Condoleezza Rice, Henry Kissinger, Orville Schell, and Arthur Clark. We have reviewed American history with David McCullough, Michael Beschloss, and Doris Kearns Goodwin. We have heard from the political right with Victory Davis Hanson, and from the political left with Max Lerner. We have hosted a long list of print and/or electronic media reporters/columnists. David Broder, David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, Chet Huntley, Irvin R. Levine, Charles McDowell, Edwin Newman, Clarence Paige, Drew Pearson, James Reston, Steve Roberts, William L. Shirer, Mark Shields, and Helen Thomas are a small part of that list.
Another 400 some speakers have graced the Town Hall stage, each with knowledge and opinions to share. Clio Aydelott hoped that Town Hall would become “… a guide to forming a clearer and broader viewpoint…” As the bell ringer opens our 80th season, we believe Clio would be pleased.