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Richard Fenno sitting at his desk.

Richard Fenno


On April 21, 2020, Richard F. Fenno, Distinguished University Professor Emeritus, passed away in Rye, New York, at the age of 93. Dick joined the University of Rochester in 1957 and served with distinction for over a half-century, only concluding his academic career in 2013 with the publication of The Challenges of Congressional Representation (Harvard University Press).

At Rochester, at a time when the University itself was transforming into a major research university, Fenno was instrumental in the development of the Department of Political Science into an influential, PhD-granting department. Working alongside William H. Riker, who arrived in 1962, a doctoral program was created, and over the years, Fenno mentored a large number of students who went on to distinguished careers that shaped the study of American politics and with whom he maintained enduring friendships. Fenno also assumed a prominent role in the undergraduate program, teaching generations of students about the ins and outs of the United States Congress and developing lifelong relationships with many. Fenno took particular pride in setting up the Washington Semester Program, where Rochester students could intern on Capitol Hill. In the same spirit, Richard and his wife Nancy, along with numerous friends and students, in more recent years began an endowment to award Richard and Nancy Fenno Summer Fellowships, so that University of Rochester undergraduate students could have unpaid internships in the political world during summers between academic years.

As a scholar, Fenno was the most renowned student of the United States Congress of his generation. While his early work included a number of non-legislative topics, most notably the role of the President’s Cabinet, the vast bulk of his studies—which includes a staggering 19 books—was on the Congress. Dick contributed seminal understandings of both the internal workings of the legislature and on how elected officials interact with their constituencies. Among his most notable publications are: The Power of the Purse (Little, Brown and Co., 1966), Congressmen in Committees (Little, Brown and Co., 1973), and Home Style (Little, Brown and Co., 1978; winner of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award and the D.B. Hardeman Prize). Fenno was known for his penchant for field work, spending much time in Washington and on the road with his subjects, lightheartedly referred to as "soaking and poking."

Fenno received numerous accolades in his career. Among them were a Guggenheim Fellowship and memberships in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. Not only was he President of the American Political Science Association, but the Association’s Prestage-Fenno Fund promotes and supports expanded opportunities for minority students contemplating advanced training in Political Science, and its Legislative Studies Section annually presents the Richard F. Fenno Prize for the best book on legislative studies.

Beyond all this, Dick Fenno will be long remembered as a caring, warm and gracious human being, teacher, colleague, and friend, not just to those with Rochester connections but to friends, students, and peers far and wide. Despite all his time on the road, Dick was always happy to come home to Rochester to do his writing and teaching during the academic year and to spend his summers with Nancy on his beloved Cape Cod. We are grateful that none of the host of tempting alternatives offered to Dick and Nancy ever lured them away from Rochester. He will be sorely missed.

For those who wish to learn more about Richard F. Fenno, and to explore his writings and research materials, visit The Richard F. Fenno, Jr. Papers, which are maintained and made accessible at the River Campus Libraries Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation) at Rush Rhees Library.

Explore the Fenno Papers

To explore Dick Fenno's writings and research materials, visit the Richard F. Fenno, Jr. Papers, maintained by the University's Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation.

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Politicsand Policy
Soakingand Poking
Scholarand Mentor