Elmer Hewitt Capen

By David L. Maulsby
Elmer Hewitt Capen was born at Stoughton, April 5, 1838. He died at Tufts College, March 22, 1905.

He received his preparatory education at Pierce Academy, Middleborough, and at the Green Mountain Institute, Woodstock, Vt. He entered Tufts in 1856, and was graduated with the degree of A. B. in 1860. During the year 1859-60 Mr. Capen served in the Massachusetts legislature. He studied law with Thomas S. Harlow, of Boston, and at the Harvard Law School, but although admitted to the bar in 1864, he never practiced. Instead, he studied theology with the Rev. A. St. John Chambre, and in 1864 began to preach.

From 1865 till 1869 he was pastor of the Independent Christian church in Gloucester. The next year, partly on account of his wife's health, he removed to St. Paul, Minn., to take charge of the Universalist church there. In 1870 he was called to the First Universalist church in Providence, R. I. Here he remained for five years, meanwhile securing the erection of a fine church building.

In 1875 he was summoned to the presidency of Tufts College, a position he held until his death. Besides his administrative duties, he taught ethics, political science, and international law, until the establishment within the last few years of college departments including these subjects. His course in ancient law was continued into the year of his death. He also supplied the college pulpit.

President Capen was twice married: in 1866 to Miss Letitia Howard Mussey, of New London, Conn., who died in 1872; and in 1877 to Miss Mary Lincoln Edwards, of Brookline. His widow and three children survive him: Samuel Paul Capen,

Ruth Paul Capen, and Rosamond Edwards Capen. [2]

President Capen's honorary degrees are: A. M., received in 1877 from Tufts; D. D., 1879, from Lombard University; and Ll.D., 1899, from Buchtel College.

The offices he has held include, besides the presidency of Tufts College, the presidency of the New England Commission on Admission Examinations, from its establishment until its last meeting (1886-1903); membership on the board of trustees of the Universalist General Convention, from 1877 to 1895; membership on the State Board of Education since 1889, involving the chairmanship of the board of visitors of the Normal School at Salem and that at Fitchburg, and of the building committees of both institutions. He served as president of the New England Association of Colleges and Preparatory Schools, and of the lately-founded (1904?) Auxiliary Educational League. He was, also, since 1871, one of the trustees of Dean Academy. During the existence of the Massachusetts Law and Order League (1886-1900), he served as its president. Although never holding any local political office, Dr. Capen was chairman of the ward 4 delegation in the Somerville mayoralty convention in 1895, and led the revolt which resulted in the nomination of Albion A. Perry. Dr. Capen was also elected a delegate to the Republican National Convention of 1888, but did not serve. He was president of the Mystic Valley Club for five years; a charter member in his college days of the Theta Delta Chi Fraternity; an organization member ofthe Delta Chapter of Massachusetts, Phi Beta Kappa; and a director recently of the Bingham Hospital for Incurables. Besides, he held membership in the Twentieth Century Club, the University Club, the Boston Club, the New England Historic Genealogical Society, and the Somerville Historical Society.

President Capen's publications include the article on ‘The Philosophy of Universalism,’ in ‘The Latest Word of Universalism’; the article on ‘The Atonement,’ in the Universalist section of the Columbian Congress; the article on ‘Universalism’ in Hertzog's Religious Cyclopaedia; and the articles on ‘Universalism’ and Tufts College in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. More recent publications are a volume of ‘Occasional [3] Addresses,’ and a revised edition of the denominational service book, called ‘Gloria Patri.’

A few words are insufficient to summarize this lifetime of service. Dr. Capen's public spirit is indicated in his pursuance of a vast round of public duties outside the requirements of his college presidency. As a college president, he was eager to lead in the educational progress of his time. It is in accord with his spirit that Tufts was the first New England college to substitute modern languages for Greek as an admission requirement, to omit Greek as a requirement for the A. B. degree, and to grant the degree on the completion of a definite amount of work rather than of a definite number of years of residence.

The growth of the college to university proportions is a further tribute to his liberality and sagacity. As an administrator, President Capen believed in allowing faculty and students alike the largest possible freedom. He was the reverse of a martinet in government, while exacting manliness and respect from the student body. As an orator, he was eloquent and strong. As a man, he was considerate and magnanimous, a friend to all in distress, quick to perceive the good qualities of his associates, and to put them to use. In private he loved his family life, and was a man of warm friendships. Now that he is gone, we shall appreciate him better. We shall continue to miss him, while recognizing the beneficence of his departure at the height of his power and in the flower of his usefulness.

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