UB Yesterday: 1920

UB’s First Capital Campaign

By Jeff Klein


In 1920, the “Build for Buffalo” UB endowment fund campaign raised $5.2 million in just 12 days—the equivalent of about $65 million today.

Meant to fund construction on the mostly vacant land that would eventually become the South Campus, the campaign featured some 350 billboards and posters installed around the city, along with films and slides in movie theaters, signs on trolley cars and countless ads and promotions.

At the time, UB was a loose confederation of schools whose 1,000 students attended classes in buildings scattered across various downtown sites. It had purchased a 106-acre tract along Main Street and the city line in 1909, but with virtually no endowment the university was unable to do anything toward realizing the creation of a traditional campus.

Enter Walter P. Cooke, a prominent local attorney who had organized four wildly successful Liberty Loan campaigns during the recent world war (slogan: “Buffalo Never Fails”). He took over as chairman of the University Council in 1920 and quickly organized UB’s first capital campaign, appealing to the city’s populace to give for the benefit “of all Buffalo boys and girls—regardless of race, creed or class.”

“The workingman can send his sons and his daughters to the U. of B. while they live at home,” read one of the endowment fund appeals, “and if they are diligent they can even win scholarships which will give them tuition free.”

Thus was born a more egalitarian vision of UB as a university for the entire community. By the end of the year, the 24,000 persons who contributed to the Build for Buffalo campaign had enabled the establishment of a true campus and the growth of the College of Arts and Sciences. The campaign was “an achievement,” the president of Brown University said in a visit to Buffalo that Thanksgiving, “without precedent or parallel in the history of education in this country.”