Elmer Hewitt Capen was born in Stoughton, Massachusetts, on April 5, 1838. He graduated from Tufts College in 1860. While in college, he was elected to represent Stoughton in the Massachusetts legislature for its 1859-60 session. He studied at Harvard Law School and was admitted to the bar in 1864. He briefly practiced law but soon felt called to the ministry. In 1865, he was ordained by the Independent Christian Church in Gloucester, Massachusetts, which he served until 1869. After a brief ministry in St. Paul, Minnesota, he was called to the First Universalist Church in Providence, Rhode Island, which he served from 1870 to 1875.
In 1875, he was elected president of Tufts College and became the first graduate to serve in that office. During his 30-year presidency, the Medical and Dental Schools were founded, the modern languages and sciences programs were greatly expanded, electives were added to the curriculum, and women were admitted to the college for the first time. Capen was especially remembered for his Sunday sermons in Goddard Chapel. He died March 22, 1905, in his home on Professors Row.
For more information, see the various articles about him in the April 1, 1905, and April 8, 1905, issues of the Universalist Leader. [Cabinet card photo (credit: Hardy, Boston): bMS 900/7 (6)]