MacCracken, Henry Mitchell, 1840-1918

Alternative names
Birth 1840
Death 1918

Biographical notes:

Henry Mitchell MacCracken, Presbyterian minister and university administrator, was born on September 28, 1840 at Oxford, Ohio. Graduating from Miami University in 1857, he served as a school superintendent and principal before attending Princeton Theological Seminary. After being ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1863, MacCracken held several posts in Ohio. From 1867 to 1869 he traveled in Europe, studying at Berlin and Tubingen, and served as deputy to the Presbyterian assemblies in Edinburgh and Dublin. In 1881 MacCracken became chancellor of the Western University of Pennsylvania (now the University of Pittsburgh). In 1884 he joined the faculty of New York University as professor of Philosophy. The following year he was appointed to the newly created position of vice chancellor, and in 1891 he became chancellor and served in that capacity until September, 1910.

From the description of Personal papers, 1852-1910. (New York University). WorldCat record id: 478449460

Henry Mitchell MacCracken was born on September 28, 1840 in Oxford, Ohio, the eldest son of Reverend John Steele and Eliza Hawkins Dougherty Welch MacCracken, and the great-grandson of Henry MacCracken of Sunbury, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, who was killed during the American Revolution in 1780. On the maternal side, he was a great-great-great-grandson of the English Colonel Charles Hawkins of Exeter, who was killed at the seige of Gibraltar in 1704.

Henry MacCracken's father, a minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, had received his education at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, graduating in 1839. His mother had taught in the Seminary in Steubenville, and subsequently in Oxford. MacCracken entered Miami in 1852 when he was twelve years old, and was graduated five years later in July 1857, before he had reached his seventeenth birthday.

Following graduation, MacCracken devoted a year to teaching classics at the Grove Academy in Cedarville, Ohio. In 1858 he became principal of schools in South Charleston, Ohio, where he also established a series of lectures in literature, science, ethics, and civil government for residents of the village. In 1860, he moved to Xenia and began theological studies at the United Presbyterian Seminary, while teaching Latin and Greek in a high school. He had decided to become a minister and soon identified himself not with the churches with which his family had been connected -- the Reformed Church or the United Presbyterian Church -- but with the larger organization known as the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

Following two years of study in Ohio, and caring for a church in Toledo in the summer of 1862, MacCracken completed his education at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1863. Shortly thereafter, he was called to become the pastor of the Westminster Church in Columbus, Ohio at the age of twenty-three. He resigned this post in 1867 in order to travel to Europe and pursue philosophical and theological studies in Germany, visiting Tubingen and Berlin, the stronghold of Hegelian philosophy. To help meet his expenses, he wrote weekly letters as a foreign correspondent to the Daily Gazette of Cincinnati.

When he returned to the United States in late 1868, MacCracken became Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Toledo. When a separate Synod of Toledo was organized, he was appointed Stated Clerk of the Synod. He continued his work as a writer, his sermons appearing weekly in the local newspaper, The Toledo Blade; and at the suggestion of Dr. Charles A. Biggs of New York, he undertook the translation of Ferdinand Piper's book, Die Zeugen der Wahrheit, adding to it the lives of certain American denominational leaders. Under the title of The Lives of the Leaders of the Church Universal, the book was published in 1879 by a number of denominational publishing houses in the United States, and by T. & T. Clark in Edinburgh. It was also during this period that MacCracken assisted with the establishment of the University of Wooster.

MacCracken married Catherine Hubbard, the daughter of the Reverend Thomas Swan Hubbard of Rochester, Vermont, on July 2, 1872 in Columbus, Ohio. Four children were born to the couple during their residence in Toledo: Mary Fay, John Henry, George Gere, and Henry Noble MacCracken.

In 1881, Henry MacCracken was chosen to the chancellorship of the Western University of Pennsylvania at Pittsburgh (now the University of Pittsburgh). By assuming this position, he resigned his pastoral duties to devote the remainder of his years to educational work. The position at Pittsburgh combined the duties of professor of philosophy with the administrative responsibilities of the chancellorship. It was during MacCracken's tenure when the university sold its property in Pittsburgh and moved to Allegheny, where an attempt was made to place the university's operations on a firmer foundation. In 1884 MacCracken was invited to join the faculty of the University of the City of New York (renamed New York University in 1896), as professor of Philosophy, a position vacated by the death of Dr. Benjamin N. Martin.

MacCracken had agreed to take this new teaching post but only if he was provided the opportunity to carry out ideas for the enlargement and development of the University. The plan was approved by the Council of the University, and the following year the office of Vice-chancellor was created, with powers which made him the active executive of the University, under the nominal chancellorship of Dr. John Hall. On June 1, 1891, MacCracken succeeded Hall, remaining chancellor of New York University until September 28, 1910.

During MacCracken's tenure as chancellor, he and the Council established and expanded the university's schools and departments, improved academic standards, increased enrollment, enlarged the physical plant, and effectively managed the University's finances by securing large private donations from benefactors such as Helen Gould, the daughter of Jay Gould, Mrs. Russell Sage, and Mrs. John Stewart Kennedy. MacCracken also conceived the idea for the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in 1900 and he arranged for the architect Stanford White to design a colonnade as part of the Gould Memorial Library on the University Heights campus of New York University. It was also in 1901 when MacCracken coauthored with classics professor Ernest G. Sihler, a history of New York University.

In 1910 Henry MacCracken became chancellor emritus and retained his seat on the University Council. But his retirement was devoted to travel, where he studied educational conditions around the world. He also turned again to his life-long interest in history, and delivered several historical addresses. Henry Mitchell Maccracken died in Orlando, Florida on December 24, 1918 at the age of seventy-eight.


Havighurst, Walter. Men of Old Miami, 1809-1873: A Book of Portraits. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1974. Jones, Theodore Francis, ed., New York University, 1832-1932. New York: New York University Press, 1933. MacCracken, Henry Mitchell and Ernest G. Sihler. Universities and Their Sons. New York University: Its History, Influence, Equipment and Characteristics. Boston: R. Herndon Company, 1901. MacCracken, Henry Noble. The Family on Gramercy Park. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1949. MacCracken, John Henry. "Henry Mitchell MacCracken: A Biographical Sketch," in Henry Mitchell MacCracken, In Memoriam. New York: New York University Press, 1923.

From the guide to the Henry Mitchell MacCracken Papers, 1852-1910, (New York University Archives)


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