About Washburn

History of Washburn

Washburn University has a rich history dating back nearly 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

  • Feb. 6, 1865: Lincoln College is established by a charter issued by the State of Kansas and the General Association of Congregational Ministers and Churches of Kansas.
  • Feb. 12-13, 1866: The first fundraising event, Lincoln College Fair, draws 500 and nets $600 to purchase furnishings for the school.
  • Feb. 14, 1893: Several male students assist the National Guard in holding order during the Kansas Legislative War. The students donate the $200 received for their services for the purchase of equipment to establish a gymnasium at Rice Hall.
  • Feb. 27, 1906: The Dramatic Club begins raising funds to build a college gate of rough, colored boulders at the entrance to campus on 17 Street.
  • Feb. 6, 1940: The University’s 75th year is observed with a dinner for 1,000 alumni and friends.
  • Feb. 6, 1965: Washburn’s 100th year celebration kicks off at Whiting Field House. Festivities are broadcast on WIBW radio and TV.
  • Feb. 6, 1967: Founders Day activities include installation of a time capsule in the cornerstone of the three-story addition to Morgan Hall. Items in the capsule include a tornado insurance claim report and a 1966 Christmas card sent by Washburn President John Henderson.
  • Feb. 1, 1985: Several hundred students gather at White Concert Hall to witness a debate between Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, leaders of the radical Yippie movement of the 1960s and co-defendants in the Chicago Seven conspiracy trial.
  • Feb. 12, 1992: The School of Applied and Continuing Education becomes the School of Applied Studies, social work and criminal justice departments join the school.
  • Feb. 18-21, 1993: A section of the NAMES project AIDS Memorial Quilt is displayed at Lee Arena. Volunteers read the names on the 115 panels and students hold a Hands Across Washburn rally.
  • Feb. 4, 2005: The University’s 140th celebration concludes with the unveiling of a redesigned crest and Ichabod logos.
  • 2008: Baseball opens with a new artificial turf, batting cages and bullpens at Falley Field.
  • Feb. 7, 2009: Washburn Symphony Orchestra accompanies the rick band Kansas in White Concert Hall for the recoding of a 35th anniversary DVD “There’s No Place Like Home.” Several of the band’s members attended Washburn in the early 1970s and an early version of the band played in the same venue during 1971 Homecoming activities.
  • Feb. 29, 2012: Governor Sam Brownback signs a bill authorizing the School of Nursing to offer a doctor of nursing practice degree.
  • Feb. 3, 2013: Michael Willholte, ba 2001, a reserve linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers, and Cary Williams, attendee, a starting cornerback for the Baltimore Ravens, square off in a memorable matchup at the Super Bowl in New Orleans. The Ravens won 34-31.
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
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Washburn 1915-1965
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Washburn 1966-1990
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Explore our history and celebrate 150 years

To volunteer, contact Rugena Hall in the President’s Office: 785.670.1556.