History of Washburn University

It All Started February 6, 1865

Founders Day is a celebration of Washburn University and its long and storied past. From its founding on the heels of the Civil War to the 1966 tornado to the 21st century institution it is today, Washburn University is resilient, determined, well-established and standing the test of time.

Washburn was founded as Lincoln College, a private Congregational school, on February 6, 1865. Since few young people had a high school education at that time, the founders decided to offer a three year high school curriculum in addition to the college curriculum. Classes began January 3, 1866 with 38 high school students enrolled, including one African-American. The stage was set and the first two college students enrolled in Lincoln College in the fall of 1866.

The economy right after the Civil War made it difficult to raising money, so the fledgling college struggled to keep its doors open. The Board appointed Rev. Horatio Q. Butterfield, professor, to be its fundraiser in order to solicit money to help with expenses and to create an endowment to put the college on a more secure financial footing.

In the fall of 1868, Rev. Butterfield traveled to New England, home of many Congregational churches. Someone recommended that he visit Ichabod Washburn, of Worcester, Mass., a wealthy and philanthropic businessman who made his fortune in the wire industry. Washburn had retired by 1868 and was not in good health, but upon hearing about the college in Kansas that was educating women and African Americans, causes that he supported, he pledged $25,000. In gratitude for this pledge, the Board of Trustees voted on November 19, 1868 to change the school’s name to Washburn College.