Skip to main content

Norfolk Forum Collection

Collection ID: MG 77

Scope and Contents

The collection contains information about the business of the Norfolk Forum lecture series, its history, and the numerous speakers sponsored by the Forum. Included are information on the Forum's membership, board of directors, correspondence, committees, policies, season programs, brochures, news clippings, and speaker biographies. Also included are audiotapes and videotapes of Forum oral history interviews and select speakers, and numerous photos of various speakers and receptions.


  • circa 1930-2009, undated
  • Other: Date acquired: 10/09/2000



14.20 Linear Feet

Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Before publishing quotations or excerpts from any materials, permission must be obtained from Special Collections and University Archives, and the holder of the copyright, if not Old Dominion University Libraries.

Biographical or Historical Information

The Norfolk Forum is believed to be the oldest nonprofit, public lecture series in the U.S. Established in 1932 during the Great Depression by Dr. Vincent H. Ober and a handful of other Norfolk citizens, the Norfolk Forum held its first series of lectures during the 1933-34 season. Originally, the Forum was named the "Norfolk Portsmouth Forum of Public Affairs," but it changed its name to the "Norfolk Forum" during its first season. This name and a stellar reputation have stuck with the Norfolk Forum for over 70 years. The Forum incorporated on June 2, 1941. The Norfolk Forum's first membership drive began the summer before the 1933-34 season, consisting of a booth in the lobby of the Smith and Welton department store as well as requests taken by J.E. Capps, the Forum's president at the time. Approximately, 1,150 persons joined the Norfolk Forum during its first year, exceeding an initial goal of 1,100 people. The cost of a ticket for the first season was only $1. To this day, seasons typically begin in the fall and end in the spring, and usually consist of three to four speakers. The Norfolk Forum only sells season memberships, not tickets to individual speakers. The Norfolk Forum originally hosted speakers at the 1000 seat auditorium at Blair Junior High School. During the 1936-37 season, two out of the scheduled five speakers were hosted at the City Auditorium, which could seat double this number. The Norfolk Forum used the City Auditorium all of the 1937-38 season, and then returned to Blair Auditorium for the 1938-39 season. They continued using this space until the 1943-44 season. At that time they moved to the new 1,300 seat USO Auditorium, but the Norfolk Forum and the USO could not come to a mutual agreement of terms so the Forum moved back to Blair at the end of that season. Lectures continued at Blair Auditorium until the Fall of 1947. After that time, the Forum moved to the larger Center Theater. In 1972 the Norfolk Forum moved to the 2,481 seat Chrysler Hall and has sponsored speakers in this venue ever since. The Forum's speakers have included presidents, prime ministers, princes and queens, diplomats, politicians, comedians, writers, journalists, playwrights, poets, correspondents, Pulitzer Prize winners, spies, scientists, adventurers, comedians, musicians, actors and actresses, judges, and many professions too varied to list. Traditionally, male speakers are expected to appear in black tie, as their lecture, often accompanied by a reception, is considered a formal affair. A board of directors made up of local citizens governs the Norfolk Forum. The Forum is supported entirely by income from ticket sales and a grant from the Bruce Shafer World Peace Fund, which supports one speaker yearly on the topic of world peace.

Note written by Mel Frizzell

Language of Materials



Established in 1932, the Norfolk Forum is believed to be the oldest nonprofit, public lecture series in the U.S. The collection includes Forum business, history, events and event programs, speaker bios, promotional materials, photographs, oral histories, and video tapes of some of the speakers.

Arrangement Note

The collection is organized into eight series: Series I: Business; Series II: Events; Series III: History; Series IV: Publicity; Series V: Speakers; Series VI: Other Organizations; Series VII: Multimedia; and Series VIII: Photographs.

Source of Acquisition

Norfolk Forum

Method of Acquisition

Loan. Accession #A2000-9

Accruals and Additions

Additional accessions made in September 2004 and June 2010.

Processing Information

The collections was processed by Mel Frizzell, Special Collections Assistant, between 2011 and 2012.

A Guide to the Norfolk Forum Papers
Mel Frizzell
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the ODU Community Collections Repository

3000 Perry Library
4427 Hampton Blvd.
Norfolk VA 23529 US