Celebrate 150

Today's Ichabods are making history
Walking Ichabod facing right

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

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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 Leavitt, professor of English, suggested the motto in the early 1900s.

This month in Washburn History

  • Summer 1880: The College Hill neighborhood is born when Washburn purchases land north of campus and encourages faculty members to build homes there.
  • June 6, 1885: Alumni Association is organized.
  • June 15, 1887: Teacher education instituted.
  • June 3, 1909: Thomas Gymnasium is dedicated.
  • June 15, 1910: A quartet of Westminster chimes are installed in the tower of Thomas Gymnasium. Kuehne Bell Tower holds the same bells today.
  • June 6, 1912: Jessie Nye becomes the first woman to graduate from Washburn School of Law.
  • June 5, 1913: The last class graduates from the Washburn College of Medicine. The college merged with the University of Kansas.
  • June 1, 1952: Washburn Municipal University becomes Washburn University of Topeka.
  • June 8, 1966: An F5 tornado strikes Topeka, demolishing eight buildings and destroying more than 600 trees on campus. Ichabods rally and summer classes proceed on schedule in alternate locations. Villages of portable classrooms are installed for the fall semester, prompting the nicknames “Tornado Tech,” “Trailer University” and “Instant U.”
  • June 23, 1972: President Richard M. Nixon signs Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The regulations, which include provisions prohibiting discrimination in athletics based on gender, go into effect in 1975. Washburn was one of the first Kansas universities to officially sanction athletic programs for women.
  • June 16, 1984: Members of the community attend an open house at the new Petro Allied Health Center facility.
  • June 9, 1986: Kansas resident tuition increases to $59 per credit hour from $53.
  • June 1, 1987: Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F Major by Bach opens the inaugural concert of the Sunflower Music Festival in White Concert Hall.
  • July
  • July 1, 1941: Washburn College officially becomes Washburn Municipal University.
  • July 1, 1973: The economics and business administration department is reorganized to establish the School of Business.
  • July 1982: Previously part of the College of Arts and Sciences, the nursing program becomes the School of Nursing.
  • July 4, 1982: Fireworks illuminate the night sky at the first Go 4th! Independence Day celebration, which attracts thousands of spectators to campus.
  • June 13, 1992: Dedication of an addition to the School of Law building takes places, which includes a four-story $5 million library.
  • 1993: Mulvane Mountain-Plains Art Fair debuts, continuing the museum’s 60-year tradition of hosting art fairs.
  • 1998: The 110-year-old Warner & Swasey refracting telescope in Crane Observatory is refurbished.
  • June 21, 2005: A ribbon cutting opens the new art building, followed by tours of student exhibit areas, studio spaces and computer lab.
  • 2009: Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity moves into their new house on MacVicar Ave.
  • June 14, 2014: Entertainment is enhanced at Yager Stadium at Moore Bowl with the addition of a 30 x 40 foot HD display video scoreboard. The board provides in-game live stats and video replay.

Explore our history and celebrate 150 years

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

Washburn's Early Years, 1865-1914
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Washburn 1915-1965
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Washburn 1966-1990
Screenshot from video of tornado damage