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Washburn University

Photo of a Washburn University botany class in front of Rice Hall. In February 1865 Washburn University was created as Lincoln College on the northeast corner of 10th and Jackson Streets in Topeka, Kansas. Lincoln College was established by a charter issued by the State of Kansas and the General Association of Congregational Ministers and Churches in Kansas. Classes began in January 1866. Lincoln College was renamed to Washburn College in 1868 after a $25,000 donation given by church deacon, Ichabod Washburn. Even though Washburn College was given permanent land in 1865 by Colonel John Ritchie, construction did not begin until 1872. Rice Hall was the first building on campus, and the idea and development of limestone buildings came from President Peter McVicar during his time on campus. 

In 1904 Andrew Carnegie gave a $40,000 donation to Washburn for the construction of a school library. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, it is one of several libraries built by the Carnegie Corporation Library Building Program. Although not the school’s main library anymore, Carnegie still houses the department of education.

Washburn continued to expand and a School of Law was established and founded in 1903. Washburn also was home to a medical school for a short while before it closed in 1913. The Mulvane Art Museum, Benton Hall, and Whiting Field House were all added through the years. Washburn became a municipal university in 1941 when the citizens of Topeka voted in favor of the change. In 1952 Washburn College changed its name to Washburn University by the Washburn Board. In 1966 a tornado struck Topeka and damaged and destroyed many of the original buildings, as well as many trees on the campus. With the support from throughout Topeka and around the state, Washburn recovered from the damage. In 2011 7,230 students were enrolled at Washburn University.


More information on the university's history can be found on the Washburn University website

Entry: Washburn University

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: May 2012

Date Modified: July 2016

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.