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

  • Autumn 1874: College moves to permanent site and sets up a three-story limestone building that functions as classrooms, dormitory and office space. The building is not officially named until 1902.
  • Sept. 19, 1879: Work begins on a wood frame dormitory on campus to be named Hartford Cottage.
  • Sept. 16, 1896: Steam heat is introduced to campus from a new physical plant.
  • Sept. 17, 1903: Law school opens at 118 W. 8th Street with 41 students, four faculty members and 23 lecturers. Tuition is $50 per year.
  • Sept. 27, 1911: President William Howard Taft visits campus and dedicates a flagpole in
  • Sept. 28, 1928: Moore Bowl, a new football and track facility, is dedicated.
  • Sept. 19, 1960: A new science building is dedicated. It later is named for Bryan Stoffer, former Washburn president.
  • Sept. 27, 1969: The law building is formally dedicated, complete with a processional of more than 100 persons in academic regalia. Prior to the 1966 tornado, the School of Law was housed in Carnegie Hall.
  • Sept. 11, 1971: As Miss Kansas, Washburn student Sandy Rings wins the talent portion of the Miss America pageant with her ventriloquist rendition of "Toyland."
  • 1974: "Kansas," the self-titled debut album released earlier in the year by the progressive rock band Kansas, is a hit with students. Two members of the group attended Washburn and the band performed at Homecoming festivities in 1971.
  • Sept. 14, 1979: A ground breaking event marks the start of construction of Kuehne Hall.
  • Sept.16, 1996: Bod Squad is organized to promote school spirit at athletic events.
  • Sept. 3, 2003: Washburn’s first women’s soccer team debuts in a home game against Ottawa University.
  • Sept. 13, 2003: Yager Stadium at Moore Bowl is dedicated. The renovated stadium features covered chairback reserved seating and new lettering on the north slope. The three-story Bianchino Pavilion contains hospitality suites and a press box, media lounge and concession stand.
  • Sept. 16, 2006: Mulvane Art Museum reopens after a $1.3 million renovation and features the Sabatini Art Lab and additional gallery space, classrooms and preparation and conservation areas.
  • Sept. 4, 2009: Whiting Field House renovation ribbon cutting. The basketball arena was split into two floors to create a strength and conditioning room and practice court. Office space and classrooms also added.
  • Sept. 18, 2011: The Mulvane Art Museum sets an attendance record with 60,412 visitors to “The Art of the Brick” exhibit which featured 28 LEGO sculptures by Nathan Sawaya. 

Explore our history and celebrate 150 years

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

Recent memory ~ 1991-2004
video thumbnail; group of students posing during service project

Washburn 1966-1990
Screenshot from video of tornado damage

Washburn 1915-1965
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Washburn's Early Years, 1865-1914
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