Harry Yandell Benedict, tenth president of the University of Texas, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on November 14, 1869, the son of Joseph and Adele (Peters) Benedict. In 1877 his mother, with Yandell and his brother Carl, moved to Texas to occupy land acquired during the Republic of Texas era by her grandfather, S. W. Peters, on the Brazos River in Young and Stephens counties; with them came Adele Benedict's father, H. J. Peters. Young Yandell was taught by his well-educated mother at home except for eight months when he attended schools in Graham and Weatherford. The family had a library of 1,000 books brought by the Peters family from Kentucky.
Benedict entered the University of Texas on examination in February 1889 and graduated with a B.S. with first honors in civil engineering in 1892. He received his M.A. in 1893. While completing his work at the university, he was a fellow (1891–92) and a tutor (1892–93) in pure mathematics. From 1893 to 1895 he served as an assistant at the McCormick Observatory at the University of Virginia. For the next three years (1895–98), he studied at Harvard, where he received his Ph.D. in mathematical astronomy in 1898. He was in charge ad interim of mathematics and astronomy at Vanderbilt University in 1899. In 1900 he married Ada Stone of Henderson, Texas. They had two sons.
Benedict joined the faculty of the University of Texas at the beginning of the 1899–1900 session as instructor of mathematics. He rose rapidly in rank until he became professor of applied mathematics and astronomy in 1907. He served as director of extension from 1909 to 1911. In 1911 he was made dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, a position he kept until 1927, when he was elected president. From 1913 until 1920 he also served as dean of men. He was president from 1927 until his death. During his presidency an extensive building program added fifteen new buildings to the campus. His dream was to see the completion of the University of Texas McDonald Observatory, but he died two years before it opened. He wrote Book of Texas with John A. Lomax (1916), Unified Mathematics with two other mathematicians (1915), A Source Book of Legislative History of the University of Texas (1917), Peregrinusings (1924), and numerous articles.
He was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a president of the Texas Academy of Science, and a member of the American Mathematical Society, the American Astronomical Society, the National Education Association, the Texas State Teachers Association, the Society for the Promotion of Engineering Education, the American Statistical Association, Phi Beta Kappa, Tau Beta Pi, the Fortnightly Club, Town and Gown, the Rotary Club, the University Club, and Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. He was a Democrat. Benedict was granted honorary doctor of laws degrees by Baylor in 1920 and Southwestern in 1929. He died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage on May 10, 1937. At the time, he was working on a history of the University of Texas; the unfinished manuscript is in the university archives. Benedict was buried in Oakwood Cemetery. Benedict Hall, on the UT campus, named in his honor, was dedicated in April 1953.