Sam Proctor was one of the most influential Floridians of the last half century. Through his inspirational teaching, thousands of students were introduced to the history of our state and given a better understanding of the personalities and events that made Florida what it is today. He made history an exciting adventure.
-Former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham
Oral History with Dr. Proctor
- Dr. Mark Greenberg’s oral history interview, conducted on August 24, 2002 with Dr. Samuel Proctor, is available online through the University of South Florida Scholar Commons.
In 1967, the University of Florida Oral History Program first opened its doors under the leadership of Dr. Samuel Proctor. Dr. Proctor, born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1921, began his long and devoted association with the University of Florida as a freshman in 1937. Proctor earned his B.A. from UF in 1941 at the age of twenty, and earned an M.A. with a 560-page thesis on Florida governor Napoleon Bonaparte Broward in 1942 in only two semesters.
During World War II, Proctor worked at Florida’s Camp Blanding to combat illiteracy among American recruits, beginning a half-century career of teaching. After being honorably discharged in 1946, Proctor declined scholarships from Yale and Ohio State to return to the University of Florida. He changed his initial plans to attend the UF College of Law when Professor William Carleton (the namesake of Carleton Hall) convinced Proctor to help alleviate the postwar shortage of faculty members. His dissertation, finished in 1958, became a book celebrating UF’s 100th anniversary.
At the University of Florida
Dr. Proctor taught at his alma mater for a remarkable fifty years, starting in 1946. Proctor served as the first official University of Florida Historian and Archivist, and taught in the UF History Department. For decades, Proctor was one of the world’s foremost scholars of Florida history. He was also a pioneer in the field of oral history. The UF Oral History Program at the University of Florida, which he established in 1967, is now one of the largest in the nation and has been renamed the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP) in his honor. He authored or edited countless articles, publications, and books, including the history of the University of Florida.
During his tenure, Proctor held chairs as Distinguished Service Professor of History and Julian C. Yonge Professor of History. He served as the Director of the Center for Florida Studies and as the History Curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Proctor raised over $250,000 to help establish the UF Center for Jewish Studies, served as the editor of the Florida Historical Quarterly (FHQ) for forty years, and founded the UF Oral History Program in 1967. He was named president of the national Oral History Association in 1973.
As a board member of the National Register of Historic Places, Proctor helped preserve many of the historic buildings on campus and celebrated Gator history with his multiple publications. Through his extensive research, Proctor traced UF’s origins to 1853, decades before the doors opened at the Gainesville campus in 1906. During 2003, UF celebrated its 150th anniversary, an observance that was made possible largely by Proctor’s recordkeeping efforts that began more than 50 years earlier.
After retiring in 1993, Proctor continued his service as the FHQ editor and headed several university-connected committees for the University of Florida Alumni Association and University of Florida Foundation. He was an active member of several state and national committees and was a heavily sought-after lecturer, consultant, and expert witness. His many honors include the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Florida Historical Society, where an award was established in his name. He remained the official University of Florida Historian until his death in 2005.
Dr. Samuel Proctor passed away on July 10, 2005. The Samuel Proctor Fellowship Fund in History Endowment was established in Proctor’s honor for graduate students in history. The fund provides graduate students, known as Samuel Proctor Scholars, with resources and support. As Proctor was also instrumental in establishing the University of Florida’s Center for Jewish Studies, the Samuel and Bessie R. Proctor Fund at UF is awarded in memory of his wife to undergraduate students majoring in Jewish Studies.
Proctor’s research, dedication and guidance of multiple programs ensured his lasting legacy. The Center for Jewish Studies has graduated over 100 students since 1987, the Florida Historical Quarterly continues as a well-respected journal, and at the University of Florida, the Samuel Proctor Endowment aids the history department’s graduate students. The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program has one of the largest archives of interviews in the Southeastern United States, and SPOHP is dedicated to building on Dr. Proctor’s legacy. In 2005, Department of History professor David Colburn remarked that, “no one has done more to advance the history of the state and the University of Florida.”
A book of original historical essays, titled “Florida’s Heritage of Diversity: Essays in Honor of Samuel Proctor,” which was published in his memory and dedicated to him by distinguished Florida historians in 1997. The final essay was devoted to his life and work.
Sam is so much a part of this university’s history, and he stood for all of the right things that you want a faculty member to stand for. He cared greatly for his students and stayed in close touch with them. He invested enormously in UF by participating in every major committee on campus, and the historic buildings would not still be standing were it not for his leadership. No one has done more to advance the history of the state and the University of Florida.
-Provost Emeritus David Colburn
In The News
- “Samuel Proctor Has Long Been the Last Word in Florida History,” Sam Hodges, The Orlando Sentinel, September 20, 1987.
- “Sam Proctor: Historian, Teacher, Legend,” from the UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, 1996.
- “Remembering Samuel Proctor, (PDF)” memorial program from B’nai Israel of Gainesville, October 16, 2005.
- “‘Dean of state history’ dies at Gainesville home,” Bob Arndorfer, The Gainesville Sun, July 11, 2005.