About Washburn

History of Washburn

Washburn University has a rich history dating back 150 years. Our university was founded in 1865 by members of the Congregational Church on the principle that all people – regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or family income – have the right to earn an education.

Programs of study have been added through the years and today Washburn's legacy of providing opportunity to all who seek an education continues for more than 7,000 students in more than 200 academic programs. Washburn offers programs that lead to certification, associate, bachelor, master's, doctor of nursing practice and juris doctor degrees.

Learn much more about the history of Washburn University through this 11-page chapter provided to incoming students in the First Year Experience.

Our namesake: Ichabod Washburn

Photo of Washburn University benefactor Ichabod Washburn

Ichabod Washburn worked his way from indentured apprentice to captain of industry. The businessman was also a fervent Congregationalist, abolitionist and philanthropist who believed in the rights of all people to an education.

Washburn was sent at age 9 to learn leather harness-making because his widowed mother could not provide for him. He later became an apprentice blacksmith and learned machinery. By the time he was 33, in 1831, Washburn had developed a machine and technique that made wire stronger and easier to produce, which ultimately lead to his fortune.

His innovations in wire led some to call him a father of the industry. His company, Washburn and Moen Wire Works, named for Ichabod and his son-in-law and partner Philip Moen, was the largest wire producer in the world for a time. It was the primary domestic producer of piano wire and crinoline wire, which became an affordable alternative to whale bone in the popular hoop skirts of the 1850s and ’60s. Washburn and Moen produced tons of telegraph wire and after Washburn’s death the company secured a patent for and mass produced barbed wire, which fenced the homesteads of the American West.

When Horatio Q. Butterfield, a professor and lead fundraiser at financially struggling Lincoln College in Kansas, visited Washburn’s home in Worcester, Mass. in October 1868, the businessman apparently liked what he heard. Founded by the Congregational Church in 1865, the school enrolled women and men, including an African-American, in its first class. The college also offered scholarships to honorably discharged Union soldiers among others. Washburn, a church deacon, pledged $25,000 to the college. The following month, the one-building institution was renamed Washburn College, at Butterfield’s recommendation, in recognition of the pledge. Washburn died Dec. 30, 1868 after complications of a stroke. He never set foot on his namesake campus.

Non Nobis Solum

Washburn’s motto, “non nobis solum,” speaks directly to the university’s founding principles. It means “Not for ourselves alone.” Charlotte Leaitt, professor of English, suggested the motto in the early 1900s.

This month in Washburn history

  • Oct. 30, 1895: Classes are suspended so students can bid farewell to President Peter McVicar at the railroad station. He resigned due to health reasons.
  • Oct. 30, 1901: Washburn receives $50,000 for the establishment of an astronomical observatory. The identity of the donor, Zenas Crane, isn’t revealed until after his death in 1917.
  • Autumn 1910: Faculty prohibit intercollegiate athletics for women.
  • Oct 1, 1918: A national Student Army Training Corps is organized so students can stay in school while training for military service. Members reside in barracks near the football field at 17th and MacVicar.
  • Oct. 15, 1949: Student Council moves the homecoming dance to campus from Meadow Acres Ballroom after they learn the facility has a segregation policy.
  • Oct. 20, 1951: Homecoming festivities include a 22-float parade through downtown and naming of the Hobo King and Queen.
  • Oct. 13, 1956: Carnegie is remodeled and dedicated as the new home of the Washburn School of Law.
  • Oct. 21, 1965: KTWU begins broadcasting as the first public television station in Kansas.
  • Oct. 18, 1966: Members of the Wulf Pack, a men's pep club, use rubble from the buildings destroyed in the tornado to install the letters WU in the slope at the north end of Moore Bowl. The stones were painted white.
  • Oct. 20. 1969: A new fine arts building is formally dedicated and "Fountain of Learning," a water feature donated by Sagamore and Nonoso, is activated. The building will be named Gravey Fine Arts Center in 1975 .
  • Oct. 14, 1971: Alumnus Earl Sutherland receives the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for his discoveries concerning the mechanisms of the action of hormones. A bronze bust of him is installed in Stoffer Science Hall in 1995.
  • Oct. 22, 1980: Betty Friedan, founder of the National Organization of Women, visits campus.
  • Oct. 22, 1980: Betty Friedan, founder of the National Organization of Women, visits campus.
  • Oct. 5, 1987: Homecoming events sport the theme "This Bod is American Made" and include a street dance in College Hill and crowning of a Hobo King and Queen.
  • Oct. 22, 1994: Dedication of $2 million KTWU building.
  • Oct. 10, 1996: Grand opening of the first Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition.
  • Oct. 6, 2001: The Living Learning Center is dedicated. The 400-bed residence hall connects to the remodeled Memorial Union.
  • Oct. 8, 2004: Ribbon cutting at Student Recreation and Wellness Center (SRWC). The facility features a 30-foot climbing wall, track and gymnasium.
  • Oct. 19, 2007: The Business Technology Center opens to Henderson Learning Resource Center and showcases the Mayo Schmidt Finance Lab and the Wright/Gustavson classroom.
Today's Ichabods are making history

Learn about what Ichabods are doing to make a difference from the Washburn University news service.

Honorary Degree Recipients

Honorary Degree Recipients
Washburn's Early Years, 1865-1914
thumbnail image of video

Washburn 1915-1965
thumbnail from video 2

Washburn 1966-1990
screenshot from video of tornado damage to campus

Washburn 1991-2004
thumbnail; group of students posing during service project