He was born in Oxford, Ohio and graduated from Miami University in Ohio in 1857. After a brief teaching career, he entered the Presbyterian ministry in 1863. From 1881 to 1884 he served as the sixth chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, then called the Western University of Pennsylvania.
In 1884 he was appointed professor of philosophy and vice chancellor of New York University, becoming chancellor in 1891. Before his retirement in 1910, the University Heights campus was acquired, a graduate school and schools of commerce and pedagogy were founded, and the university medical school was strengthened by union with Bellevue Hospital medical college.
MacCracken Hall, a residence hall at Miami University bears his name.
On a July 2013 episode of the satirical television program The Colbert Report, Henry Mitchel MacCracken, who penned a 1904 New York Times article on the moral risks of college men, was comically portrayed as a still active Times trends section editor after the newspaper published a similarly-themed article in 2013.
- Alberts, Robert C. (1987). Pitt: The Story of the University of Pittsburgh 1787-1987. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. ISBN 0-8229-1150-7.
See T. F. Jones, New York University, 1832–1932 (1933).
- MacCracken, Henry Mitchel (February 7, 1904). "Moral Risks Surrounding College Men In Big Cities" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved July 21, 2013.
- Kingkade, Tyler (July 19, 2013). "Colbert Lampoons New York Times College Sex Coverage (VIDEO)". The Huffington Post. Retrieved July 20, 2013.