August 8, 2017

McSeveney, historian of the Gilded Age, dead at 86

Retired history professor Samuel T. McSeveny has died at the age of 86.

Samuel T. McSeveney in an undated photo (Vanderbilt University)
Samuel T. McSeveney in an undated photo (Vanderbilt University)

Samuel T. McSeveney, a historian and teacher at Vanderbilt University for nearly 30 years, died Aug. 5. He was 86.

“He was far more than a colleague to me—he was a role model as a teacher and scholar, always generous with his time for students and colleagues,” said Thomas A. Schwartz, professor of history at Vanderbilt.

McSeveney, professor of history, emeritus, was an expert on late-19th century American history, in particular the Gilded Age and political history of New York City and the Northeast. He was the author of The Politics of the Depression: Political Behavior in the Northeast, 1893-96. He is the namesake of the Samuel T. McSeveney Award, bestowed each spring since 2012 to the author of the best research paper or essay written for a freshman history seminar at Vanderbilt.

McSeveney was born Oct. 3, 1930, in New York City, the child of two immigrants who met in 1924 on Ellis Island. His father was from Northern Ireland and his mother from Scotland. He graduated from Brooklyn College in 1951 with a degree in history and went on to earn his master’s degree in American history at the University of Connecticut in 1953. From 1953 to 1955 he served in the Army and then earned a doctorate in American history in 1965 from the University of Iowa.

Before arriving at Vanderbilt in 1972, McSeveney taught at Brooklyn College and California State University-Los Angeles.

From 1990 to 1994, McSeveney chaired the history department at Vanderbilt. He served the College of Arts and Science from 1989 to 1991 as chair of the admissions committee and also was on the officer education advisory committee from 1996 to 1999. He chaired the ROTC Advisory Committee in 1996 and 1997 and served on the Rhodes-Marshall-Churchill Scholarship Competition committee working to identify, assist and select promising students for scholarships from 1996 to 1999.

During his career, he won grants from the Social Science Research Council, American Philosophical Society, National Endowment for the Humanities, American Council of Learned Society and others. At Vanderbilt, he received the Ernest A. Jones Faculty Advisor Award (1988) and the Jeffrey Nordhaus Award for excellence in undergraduate teaching (1990). In 2000, he was awarded the Chancellor’s Cup for “the greatest contribution outside the classroom to undergraduate student-faculty relationships in the recent past.”

“Sam’s files are filled with the numerous and glowing comments of students about his teaching—in particular, his accessibility outside of class and his clear concern about students on an individual level,” said Marshall Eakin, professor of history. “He was a kind and generous colleague. We will miss his gentle grace.”

Paul Conklin, professor of history, emeritus, said that McSeveney was highly respected throughout Vanderbilt. “[lquote]He had an unbelievably high reputation with students,” Conklin said. “Hundreds of students kept in touch with him.”[/lquote]

After retirement, McSeveney frequently taught classes through Vanderbilt’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

Survivors include his wife Sandra McSeveney, son Daniel McSeveney, daughter-in-law Lisa McSeveney and grandson Connor McSeveney.

A memorial service was set for 3 p.m. Aug. 26 in the Cumberland Room at the University Club of Nashville. Memorial contributions may be made to the Samuel T. McSeveney Award fund at Vanderbilt, with a check made out to “Vanderbilt University” and directed to Christen Harper, Department of History, 2301 Vanderbilt Place, PMB 351802, Nashville, TN 37235.