Skip to Main Content

Samuel P. Capen

A young Samuel P. Capen is seen sitting in the Chancellor's Office working at a large desk.

Image ID: UA_30H_10_1

Samuel P. Capen sitting at his desk in the Office of the Chancellor, circa 1925

UB's Growth Under Capen

During Samuel Capen's inaugural address, he challenged the University of Buffalo to be different than the 586 other colleges and universities in the United States.  He said that if the university was willing to meet that challenge, UB could become one of the leading universities in the nation.  During Capen's administration as chancellor, UB experienced unprecedented growth and development.  Though he often refused to take credit for these advances, the following examples illustrate how Samuel Capen's actions, administrative policies and academic philosophies created an environment where the evolution of the University of Buffalo became possible.

UB's Physical Growth

"A university is not a group of buildings.  It is a group of persons assembled for the purpose of passing on the knowledge and the standards of conduct which the race has acquired, and for the creation of new knowledge and improved standards...If the group could meet and accomplish its purpose in an open lot, a university would be there." Samuel P. Capen, from 1922/23 The Report of the Chancellor and Other Administrative Officers


During Samuel P. Capen's tenure as Chancellor, twelve buildings were constructed or significantly renovated Erie County Almshouse buildings.  Aerial photos of the campus from 1921 and 1953 (seen below) illustrate this growth.


1926  Wende Hall*               1932  Townsend Hall*

1928  Hayes Hall*               1934  Harriman Hall

1931  MacKay Heating Plant               1935  Abbott Hall                      

1931  200 Winspear Avenue               1938  Clark Gymnasium           

1931  Beck Hall               1947  Parker Hall  

1931  Crosby Hall               1949  77 West Eagle 

*Erie County Almshouse buildings that were renovated for use by UB

The Campus, 1921 and 1953

Aerial photograph of the South Campus from Main Street, 1921

Image ID: UA_10_1_1

Aerial photograph of the South Campus from Main Street, 1921.  Samuel Capen and others referred to the early years of his administration as the "Cabbage Patch Days."  UB would continue to share the campus with Erie County Almshouse residents, who farmed on portions of the property, until 1928.  

Aerial photograph of the South Campus from Main Street, circa 1953

Image ID: UA_10_5_2

Aerial photograph of the South Campus from Main Street, circa 1953.  Taken from nearly the same perspective as the 1921 aerial photograph, the physical growth of the campus is apparent.  UB's first dorms (far left) and the soon to be named Capen Hall (top left) can be seen under construction.

Increased Admissions

"I do not hold with those who would limit the number of college students on the basis of any distinctions of race or sex or creed or social standing.  There is but one justifiable basis on which a university in a democratic community such as this can choose those who become members of it, the basis of ability" From Samuel P. Capen's inaugural address.


In 1922, there were approximately 1,800 students enrolled at the University of Buffalo.  Over the next ten years, that figure would balloon to over 4,000.  Thanks in part to the influx of students on the G.I. Bill, enrollment would reach 13,320 by the time Capen retired in 1950.

UB Students from 1920-1950

1920 class in chemistry in front of the School of Medicine building at 24 High Street.

Image ID: UA_80E_4

1920 class in chemistry in front of the School of Medicine building at 24 High Street.

Male and female students are standing seated throughout the Mixed Lounge, circa 1935.

Image ID: UA_80F_7

Students hanging out in the Norton Union (Harriman Hall) Mixed Lounge, circa 1935.

Four students are gathered around a fifth student reading the Bee student newspaper.

Image ID: UA_80G_27

Students reading The Bee student newspaper, 1947.

Students hanging out in Norton Union (Harriman Hall), circa 1950

Image ID: RG9-6-00-2_1950_p70

Students hanging out in Norton Union (Harriman Hall), circa 1950.

Schools Established Under Samuel P. Capen

"The urban university must fulfill its obligations to the community from which it draws its students and support.  It must correlate education with the interests of the city..." Samuel P. Capen from an interview with H. Katherine Smith in the Courier Express.


Between 1922 and 1950, seven schools were established at UB.  In the founding of each, you can see Samuel Capen's focus on the needs of the City of Buffalo 


1923  The Evening Session - UB's school of continuing education

1927  The School of Business Administration - today's School of Management

1931  The School of Education

1936  The School of Social Work

1939  The Graduate School

1940  The School of Nursing

1945  The School of Engineering

Townsend Hall

UB's first Townsend Hall, located at 25 Niagara Square

Image ID: UA_20U_5_1

UB's first Townsend Hall, located at 25 Niagara Square.  As the College of Arts and Sciences began its move to campus, Samuel Capen believed this building's location made it the ideal home for the Evening Session, UB's school of continuing education.

Growing the Faculty

One of Samuel P. Capen's first tasks upon becoming chancellor was to hire more full-time faculty for the university.  By 1942, the number of faculty at UB had grown from 35 full-time and 200 part-time professors to 185 full-time and 469 part-time professors.  He would accomplish this by personally visiting colleges and universities throughout the United States, recruiting among their young faculty and recent graduates.  Capen believed his policy of complete academic freedom for UB's faculty and students attracted and retained these talented young professors.


In his address at the Centennial Celebration in 1946 Capen said:

"To the free exercise of the mind, this university is irrevocably committed.  Any student or teacher may here investigate any subject that attracts him and may report anywhere, in or out of the classroom, the conclusions he has reached.  Any student or teacher may voice his opinions on any question no matter how unpopular they may be, or even how foolish.  He will not be restrained or penalized.  On the contrary, this university will defend against anyone who attacks him his rights of free inquiry and free speech.  This is what academic freedom means."

A.O. Levy Drawing of Samuel P. Capen

A drawing of Samuel P. Capen sitting at his desk by A. O. Levy, 1927

Image ID: RG9-6-00-1_1927_p3

A drawing of Samuel P. Capen by A.O. Levy, 1927

Programs and Innovations

According to Clifford Furnas and Julian Park, Samuel P. Capen "was not easily convinced of anything; but when he was, he would say something like 'sane but courageous experimentation is the law of educational progress' and such experimentation needs financial as well as moral support.  He was not stubborn or sensitive about experiments; he would not continue one merely because he started it, if it was not justifying itself."  The following are examples of innovative programs that were initiated during Capen's tenure as chancellor.


The inclusion of basic medical science in the curriculum of the School of Dentistry began in the early 1920s.  The School of Dentistry began requiring each student begin with two years of basic medical education, followed by two years of dental education combined with hospital experience. Initially, this was unpopular among prospective students and enrollment in the School of Dentistry declined.  However, that trend reversed and by 1927, enrollment began to grow.  By 1931, the school was turning away prospective students.


Another example of cooperation between UB's schools was the Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing.  Beginning in 1930, this program brought together faculty from the School of Medicine, the College of Arts and Sciences and the Evening Session.  The degree proved so successful that in 1940, the School of Nursing was established.


In 1925, the Bureau of Personnel Research was established at UB.  This office dealt with problems related to instruction and studied the characteristics and performance of the student body.  The Bureau surveyed students, provided academic advisement and career advice, and after graduation, job placement for graduates.


The Honors Plan was established in 1923.  In the beginning, a select group of the highest achieving junior and seniors were allowed to study independently under the general direction of the head of their department.  After eight years, all juniors and seniors were entered into the program and the title changed to the Tutorial Plan.

UB and World War II

Left to right are George Crofts, an unknown man dressed in a formal U.S. Army uniform and Chancellor Samuel P. Capen,.

Image ID: UA_30H_5

University Comptroller George Crofts (left) and Chancellor Samuel P. Capen (right) speaking with a representative of the U.S. Army, circa 1940. 

UB and World War II

During World War II, Samuel P. Capen spearheaded the University of Buffalo's involvement in numerous war training programs.  He corresponded directly to the U.S. War Department and offered UB as a location where specialized Army, Navy and civilian training could take place.  Thousands of cadets from the Army and Navy received specialized education in medicine, mathematics, physics, geography and history at UB.  Capen assigned faculty to extra teaching duties and allowed for the conversion of the Norton Union (today's Harriman Hall) into barracks to facilitate these programs.  Because of Capen's efforts, UB was not only able to provide substantial contributions to the war effort but the university was also able to survive a time when many students, faculty and staff left the university to serve their country. 


After the war, when millions of veterans began attending colleges and universities on the G.I. Bill, Capen said of these veterans:

"They have stepped up the intellectual tempo of our colleges.  They have proved a great inspiration to teachers and other students.  The veterans' entry into colleges and universities in these overwhelming numbers is one of the most promising things for the future of this country that has ever happened in our history.  It is inconceivable that 2,000,000 veterans...can go through our colleges and universities without injecting a new dose of competence, a new breadth of vision into society."



  • Bartholomew, A. Glenni. "Capen - Ninth Chancellor University of Buffalo." Buffalo Evening News, June 11, 1932.
  • "Big strides made by UB under chancellor Capen." Buffalo Courier Express, October 26, 1947.
  • Furnas, Clifford C. and Julian Park. "Samuel P. Capen (1878-1956)." University of Buffalo Studies, v.24, no.1, October 1957.
  • Capen, Samuel P. "Greater Buffalo's Greater University." The Buffalo Truth, Twenty-fifth Anniversary Number.
  • Memorandum Concerning Growth of the University of Buffalo in Twenty Years, circa 1942, Found in Samuel P. Capen's Biographical File
  • Report of the Chancellor and other Administrative Officers, 1922/23, 5-1-27 Reports of the Chancellor/President.
  • "Retiring Dr. Capen reviews his 28 years as chancellor of U.B." Buffalo Evening News, August 23, 1950.
  • Samuel P. Capen's Inaugural Address, October 28, 1922, 4-7-9: the Samuel P. Capen papers, box-folder 19.39.
  • Smith, H. Katherine, "Capen Boulevard Named for Chancellor of U.B."  Buffalo Courier Express, December 3, 1939.