The 1920 endowment drive captured community interest and support, raising $5 million in pledges in ten days. The 1920 Endowment Campaign enabled the university to begin developing the Main Street Campus, recruit promising new faculty for the College of Arts and Sciences, and attract, as its first salaried chancellor, Samuel P. Capen, the noted educator and spirited defender of academic freedom. It consolidated the gains of the earlier Greater University of Buffalo movements and represented a turning point in UB's history. But the campaign's success was not serendipitous. Instead, it drew on the forceful drive of individuals who refused to squander an opportunity to advance the university as a comprehensive institution of higher learning.
By 1919, the University of Buffalo was slowly beginning to look like the multifaceted institution that Millard Fillmore, the first chancellor, had envisioned in 1846. From what had been a loose association of professional schools, the university now had a College of Arts and Sciences, housed in the recently acquired Townsend Hall on Niagara Square, and had taken the important step of permanently instituting a four-year curriculum.
Even with these successes, however, the university's future was in jeopardy. Campus and civic leaders had failed to raise the money needed to build on the 150-acre Main Street property acquired from the county in 1909. At the time of sale, the county stipulated that if the land were not used for educational purposes within ten years, it would revert to county control. University officials felt this deadline acutely. Despite the financial pressures, they were unwavering in their desire to create a "genuine, molding, humanizing culture," in the words of Mrs. Adelbert Moot, an especially articulate proponent of an arts and sciences college in Buffalo.
The university petitioned for and was granted a one-year extension. Even with this reprieve, there was insufficient time to raise the funds needed for such a large-scale endeavor. In 1920, University Council Chairman Walter P. Cooke was named acting chancellor, following the retirement of Charles Norton, who had proven, over a 15-year period, to be the single most powerful force in the successful founding of an arts and sciences college. From the start of his administration, Norton signaled his intention to acquire a large piece of land on which to expand the university.
Cooke, an inspiring civic leader, was ideally suited to further Norton's work, helping to ensure UB's survival at a time when economic factors threatened the noble dreams of its founders and earlier benefactors.
"The Spirit of the New Buffalo" brochure captured the vision behind the university's efforts. Inside, the community learned about "The University and Buffalo's Future" and "What Other Cities Have Done." Campaign volunteers strongly believed that building a university in Buffalo would bring new opportunities to the community's young men and women; these were aptly described in the brochure's "Our Debt to Buffalo's Boys and Girls" statement. "UB: Build for Buffalo" was the campaign motto.
The essays in the brochure repeatedly emphasized the intimate ties between the commercial, educational, moral and cultural elements that made up the city. Cooke struck a chord with Buffalonians who were concerned for their children's future and the city's welfare. His words also resonated with outside donors who were interested in education generally.
Before the formal campaign kickoff, the community had already rallied to support UB. To be a part of this massive endeavor, local residents joined teams‹organized according to professional and trade affiliations and their memberships in religious or civic groups.
With widespread community support in place, UB began its campaign on October 7, 1920 with a dinner at the Iroquois Hotel. Daily bulletins to the community supplied fund-raising updates. Volunteers gathered for daily lunches; these were important not only for morale, but for maintaining team focus as the campaign progressed.
The campaign made a tremendous case for supporting a local university that would offer education to those who were unable to attend college outside Buffalo and, more importantly, asked the question, "Why should they go elsewhere?" In a very short period, the drive took in $5 million in pledges from 24,000 subscribers. Julian Park, university historian and then-dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, neatly summarized the magnitude of the accomplishment, stating, "In ten days, a comparatively unknown and poverty-stricken university acquired funds, friends by the thousands, and international fame."
The drive's success allowed the university to purchase additional land adjacent to the Main Street site, creating a total land area of 178 acres. In 1922, when Samuel Capen took office as chancellor, he knew that much of this land would be devoted to the newest college and its departments, and pledged himself fully to the task of expanding the arts and sciences faculties and facilities.
In his inaugural address, Capen articulated, perhaps better than anyone, what it had taken to bring to life the arts and sciences at UB. "I doubt," he said, "whether any other college in the country has had so long a prenatal period; whether any other is a survivor of so many heartbreaking setbacks; whether the establishment of any other has required two full generations of perseverance and patience and sacrifice." He would make enormous inroads into this goal during his 28 years as chancellor, by recruiting faculty, introducing an innovative tutorial program, and by urging his colleagues to create, with him, their own progressive tradition of rigorous academic freedom.