Ichabod Washburn worked his way from indentured apprentice to captain of industry. The businessman was also a fervent Congregationalist, abolitionist and philanthropist who believed all people, including women and people of color, had a right to an education.
Washburn was sent at age 9 to learn leather harness-making because his widowed mother could not provide for him. By the time he was 33, Washburn had developed a machine and a technique that made wire stronger and easier to produce. His innovations in wire led some to call him a father of the industry, and for a time, his company was the largest wire producer in the world.
Horatio Quincy Butterfield visited Washburn’s home in Worcester, Mass., in October 1868. At that time, the financially struggling Lincoln College had been founded by the Congregational Church and admitted women and African-Americans from its inception. Washburn, a church deacon, pledged $25,000 to the school. The following month, the institution was renamed Washburn College in recognition of the pledge. Washburn died in December 1868 after complications of a stroke. He never set foot on his namesake campus.