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 student. The stage was set and the first two college students enrolled in Lincoln College in the fall of 1866.
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. 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 one African-American man, 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
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