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Samuel P. Capen

Samuel P. Capen retired on August 31, 1950.  He had stayed on as Chancellor two years past the mandatory retirement age (70) at the request of the UB Council.  When Capen was interviewed by the Buffalo Evening News on the eve of his retirement, he expressed the desire to "leave office without fanfare or flourish."  The University of Buffalo had other ideas.


At the 1950 commencement ceremony, Capen received an Honorary Doctorate in Civil Laws, the thirteenth honorary degree Capen had received throughout his career. The very next day, the Alumni Association created the Samuel P. Capen Award, to be given annually to a person who has made notable contributions to the university and its alumni family.  Also in June 1950, the UB Council established the Samuel P. Capen Chair in American History.  


Left to right are Julius W. Pratt, Samuel P. Capen and Julian Park.  All three men are wearing their formal academic caps and gowns.  Pratt and Park are placing a doctoral hood on Capen.

Image ID: UA_30H_11_2

Samuel P. Capen receiving an Honorary Doctorate in Civil Laws from UB.  Performing the hooding ceremony are History Professor Julius W. Pratt (left) and Julian Park, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (right).  June 7, 1950

UB Council Chair Seymour H. Knox (right) is handing Samuel P. Capen a rolled parchment.  Both men are wearing formal academic caps and gowns

Image ID: UA_30H_11_1

UB Council Chair Seymour H. Knox presenting Samuel P. Capen with an Honorary Doctor in Civil Laws degree, June 7, 1950

Left to Right, Samuel P. Capen standing with his successor Thomas R. McConnel

Image ID: BF_Capen_Samuel_P_001

Samuel P. Capen and his successor, Thomas R. McConnel, circa 1952.

More honors would follow.  Inn 1951, Samuel P. Capen was awarded the Chancellor P. Norton Medal, UB's highest honor.  On March 21, 1953 (his 75th birthday) the university published a book of Capen's speeches and essays on higher education titled "The Management of Universities."  That same year, the newly constructed Medical/Dental building was dedicated Samuel P. Capen Hall (now Farber Hall) on December 11.  Capen's brief remarks at the dedication would be the last time he would speak publicly at UB.


Today, Samuel P.. Capen is remembered in the North Campus building that bears his name.  Many find it particularly appropriate that the building that houses the Office of the President is named Capen Hall.  In the 1930s, without his foreknowledge, Capen Boulevard, near the South Campus was named after him.  The Capen Garden Walk is held annually in the neighborhoods surrounding South Campus.


In a letter to his successor Thomas R. McConnell, Samuel P. Capen would reflect:

"The daily acts of an administrator are written in water.  The wind passes over them and they are gone.  But the results of his administrative policy, if it is positive and constructive, remain.  They constitute another stratum in the long process of sedimentation by which universities are slowly formed and acquire stability and traditions and their individual characteristics...To know that he has been responsible for depositing one such stratum is the administrator's reward, if need needs one other than the fun of the job."


Samuel P Capen's greatest legacy is the University at Buffalo.  His policies and educational philosophy, his stout defense of academic freedom and his belief in sane but courageous experimentation fostered an era of unprecedented growth for UB and provided a firm foundation for the university we have become.


  • "Capen's term extended by U.of B Council." Courier Express, November 7, 1947.
  • "Double tribute is paid by U.B. to Dr. Capen on his 75th birthday." Buffalo Evening News, March 21, 1953.
  • Dr. Samuel P. Capen Dead; U.B. Chancellor for 28 years." [Source and date unknown. Found in Samuel P. Capen's Biographical File].
  • Edens, John A. "The legacy of Samuel P. Capen." UB Reporter, May 11, 2010.
  • Furnas, Clifford C. and Julian Park.  "Samuel P. Capen (1878-1956)." Cosmos Club Bulletin, v.9, no.11, October 1956, pp.2-5.
  • Letter from Samuel P. Capen to Thomas R. McConnell, May 21, 1954, 4.13, 4-7-19, The Samuel P. Capen papers.
  • ""Mr. Capen." The Reporter, November 10, 1977.
  • Park, Julian. "Samuel P. Capen (1878-1956)."  University of Buffalo Studies, v.24, no.1, October 1957.
  • "Retiring Dr. Capen reviews his 28 years as chancellor of U.B."  Buffalo Evening News, August 23, 1950.
  • Smith, H. Katherine. "Capen Boulevard named for chancellor of U.B." Buffalo Courier Express, December 3, 1939.