Isaac Tichenor Goodnow

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Isaac Tichenor Goodnow

Birthdate: (80)
Birthplace: Whitingham, Windham County, Vermont, United States
Death: March 20, 1894 (80)
Manhattan, Riley County, Kansas, United States
Place of Burial: Manhattan, Riley County, Kansas, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of William Goodnow and Sibyl Goodnow Whitney
Husband of Ellen Douglass Goodnow
Brother of William E Goodnow; Emeline Whitney; Lucinda Parkerson and Mary Ann Webber
Half brother of Ann Ross French and Solomon Whitney, Jr

Managed by: Private User
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About Isaac Tichenor Goodnow

Isaac T. Goodnow

There are certain names that should be preserved in the annals of Kansas with testimonials of pride and admiration, and one of these is Isaac T. Goodnow, who was a member of a notable group of liberty-loving men whose efforts had much to do with making Kansas a free state and opening the way for her to become the great and prosperous commonwealth she is now. He assisted in the founding of educational and religious institutions, he co-operated with others for business expansion and in every way during a long and singularly useful life displayed those qualities which promote comfort, peace and happiness.

Isaac T. Goodnow was born at Whitingham, Windham County, Vermont, January 17, 1814, and died at Manhattan, Riley County, Kansas, March 20, 1894. He was the fourth child of William and Sybil (Arms) Goodnow. His father was born at Petersham, Massachusetts, and was a descendant of one of three brothers who came to the Massachusetts Colony from England at an early day. When a young man he went to Vermont and for many years was a successful merchant at Whitingham. There, in 1806, he was married to Sybil Arms, a schoolteacher and a daughter of Josiah Arms, one of the early settlers of Brattleboro, Vermont.

When fourteen years of age heavy responsibilities fell upon Isaac T. Goodnow because of the death of his father. The support of the family devolved on him in a large measure, necessitating much self denial on his part as his hopes had already been centered on collegiate training and a life in one of the professions. Nevertheless he went to work as a clerk in mercantile establishments, faithful to his duties during the day and applying himself to study at night, hopefully looking forward and in the best way he could preparing himself for the wider environment that his ambition craved.

In 1832 Mr. Goodnow removed to the Town of Coleraine, Vermont, where he was converted and united with the Methodist Episcopal Church, of which he ever after remained a devoted and useful member. The religious emotions that had come to him aroused new hopes and aspirations for every day as well as a future existence and especially created a desire to secure a better education and with this end in view he became a student in the Wesleyan Academy at Wilbraham, Massachusetts, attending during the summer sessions, and taught in the public schools in the winter. Finally he became an instructor in the academy and was identified thus with the institution down to 1848, having been graduated therefrom and for ten years was a professor of natural science and of languages. In 1848 he was elected professor of natural science in Providence Seminary, Rhode Island, and remained there until 1855, when he resigned to go to Kansas with the avowed purpose of helping to make it a free state.

Carrying this project into execution, Professor Goodnow became in 1855, one of the founders of the City of Manhattan, Kansas. He joined the New England Emigrant Aid Company in their long journey to the far West, and with a colony started westward March 13, 1855, reaching Kansas City, Missouri, on March 18 after five days of steady travel. From there a committee of seven was appointed, its members being: Isaac T. Goodnow, Luke P. Lincoln, Charles H. Lovejoy, N. R. Wright, C. N. Wilson, A. Browning and Joseph Wintermute, as the advance guard of the emigrants and they pushed forward into Kansas.

It was a historic event, when, on March 24, 1855, just as the sun was setting, the travelers ascended Bluemont from the north, and from its summit looked down upon what is now the site of the beautiful and prosperous little City of Manhattan. This committee soon learned that there was a prior claimant to the land they sought. In the fall of 1854, George S. Park, of Parkville, Missouri, had located a town site on the Kansas River, on the southwestern part of the present site, and had named it Poliska. Also, on the northeastern part of the town site and upon the Big Blue River, in the same fall, Samuel Dexter Houston, of Illinois, S. W. Johnson, of Ohio, J. M. Russell, of Iowa, H. A. Wilcox, of Rhode Island, and E. M. Thurston, of Maine, had located the Town of Canton. Soon after this the Boston Colony arrived upon the scene and were invited to join the earlier immigrants to help build the town. They accepted the invitation and the name of the town, Manhattan, was agreed upon, this being done to comply with a clause in the constitution of the Cincinnati and Kansas Land Company, which had also arrived.

In 1857 Mr. Goodnow returned to the East and spent the summer in the New England states, raising, in the meantime, the sum of $4,000 for the building of the first Methodist Church edifice west of Lawrence, Kansas. Next, in connection with the plans of Rev. Joseph Denison and Rev. Washington Marlatt, he conceived the idea of establishing a college at Manhattan, to be under the auspices of the Methodist Church. Mr. Goodnow spent the years 1858, 1859 and 1860 in the East, and through his pleas raised the funds for the building of Bluemont College and for its equipment. The college was opened for students in the latter part of 1859, but Baker University, at Baldwin, Kansas, another Methodist institution, had, in the meantime been established, and it was deemed not wise to endeavor to maintain two Methodist colleges in the state, hence plans were made and carried to the end of making Bluemont College the nucleus of what is now the Kansas State Agricultural College. For many years Mr. Goodnow served on the board of trustees of Baker University.

As a lover of liberty, Isaac T. Goodnow ventured his all to help to make Kansas a free state and by men such as he, the end was accomplished. Not to him nor to any of his coadjutors did it appear what historic work they had a hand in achieving.

In the fall of 1862 Mr. Goodnow was elected state superintendent of public instruction and was re-elected in 1864. This office was one for which he was eminently fitted, and he was influential in shaping the educational policy of the state as to the public school system, its colleges, university and normal school. The Kansas State Agricultural College began its existence in July, 1863, while he was state superintendent of public instruction. In 1867 Mr. Goodnow was selected agent for the disposal of the 90,000 acres of the agricultural college lands and this position he held until 1873 with great success. For nearly seven years he was land commissioner for the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad, and during that time, from 1869 to 1876, he sold a great deal of land. While thus occupied he lived at Neosha Falls, Kansas.

Isaac T. Goodnow was married August 28, 1838, to Ellen D. Denison, of Colerain, Massachusetts. She was a daughter of Maj. David and Lucy (Avery) Denison, and was a sister of Rev. Joseph Denison, whose name is closely identified with the early history of Kansas. They were not blessed with children of their own but they reared as a cherished daughter a niece of Mr. Goodnow, Miss Harriet A. Parkerson, who survives them and is a universally esteemed resident of Manhattan, a lady of culture and many accomplishments. Mrs. Goodnow survived her husband for six years, leaving in her passing from life memories of noble qualities and a blameless existence.

In his political views Mr. Goodnow was a pronounced republican and had been an important factor in the party at times, but after 1876 he accepted no office of public responsibility. The evening of his life was passed in the city he had helped to found and was serene and unclouded, surrounded by all the comforts that loving care could bestow, and upheld by the consciousness that he had not lived in vain. Few men of his day were more widely known in Kansas, and also in the eastern states his acquaintance was wide and his friends many. Almost from childhood he unselfishly bore burdens for others and his public efforts were all directed toward helpfulness for those in need and not to advance his own fortunes nor add luster to his name.


Isaac Tichenor Goodnow (January 17, 1814–March 20, 1894) was an abolitionist and co-founder of Kansas State University and Manhattan, Kansas. Goodnow was also elected to the Kansas House of Representatives and as Superintendent of Public Instruction for the state, and is known as "the father of formal education in Kansas."

Career as educator

Goodnow was born in Whitingham, Vermont, and raised in New England. After the death of his father in 1828, Goodnow delayed his education and worked as a clerk. He eventually graduated from Wilbraham Wesleyan Academy in Wilbraham, Massachusetts in 1838. Also in 1838, Goodnow married Ellen D. Denison. Following graduation, Goodnow remained at Wesleyan Academy as a teacher until 1848. During this era, Goodnow was also awarded an honorary degree by Wesleyan University in 1845.

In 1848 Goodnow accepted a position as professor of natural sciences at the Providence Conference Seminary in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. He retained this position until December 1854, when he resigned at age 40 to move to Kansas Territory to support the creation of a Free-State town by the New England Emigrant Aid Company.

Kansas emigrant

Goodnow had been a committed abolitionist since at least 1840. After hearing a speech given by New England Emigrant Aid Company founder Eli Thayer in December 1854 about the need to fight against the proslavery influence in Kansas Territory, Goodnow decided that he would emigrate to Kansas Territory with the Company the following spring. Thereafter, he also began writing editorials and letters encouraging others to join the cause.

On March 6, 1855, Goodnow departed Boston, Massachusetts, with a group of New England emigrants that would ultimately number 75. On March 18, Goodnow's party reached Kansas City, where Goodnow met with the Company's representative Samuel C. Pomeroy and decided to form the Company's new settlement at the junction of the Kansas River and the Big Blue River. Goodnow and six other men traveled into Kansas Territory as an advance guard to establish the location.

When Goodnow's team arrived, two other small settlements had already been established at the chosen location, named Polistra and Canton. In April 1855, Goodnow and the other pioneers combined the settlements into a new town named Boston. Goodnow helped to draft the constitution for the Boston Town Company. Two months later, in June 1855, the steamboat Hartford, carrying 75 settlers from Ohio, ran aground in the Kansas River near the settlement. The Hartford passengers accepted an invitation to join the new town, but insisted that it be renamed Manhattan, which was done on June 29, 1855.

Goodnow established a claim just outside Manhattan, and was joined by his wife in July 1855. Other settlers arriving in Manhattan that year included his brother, William Goodnow; his sister, Lucinda Parkerson; and his brother-in-law, Joseph Denison.

Bleeding Kansas

After the Territorial Legislature in Shawnee Mission began passing proslavery laws in July 1855, Free-Staters met to decide how to respond. In August 1855, Goodnow attended the first territory-wide meeting of Free-State leaders. Ultimately, the group decided to form a shadow government and drafted the Topeka Constitution, although Goodnow did not participate in the constitutional convention.

In 1858, Goodnow was a delegate to the Leavenworth Constitutional Convention, which produced the most liberal of the three proposed Free-State constitutions.

Institution builder

Goodnow helped establish the Methodist Blue Mont Central College in Manhattan in 1858. Every year from 1857 to 1861, Goodnow spent several months in the East raising funds for the construction of Blue Mont Central College and Manhattan's Methodist church. The college building was finally constructed and opened for students in 1860.

Following Kansas's admission to the Union in 1861, Goodnow led a lobbying effort to have Blue Mont Central College converted to the state university. After failing in his efforts during the 1861 and 1862 legislative sessions, Goodnow ultimately succeeding in having the legislature convert Bluemont to Kansas State Agricultural College (later Kansas State University) in 1863 under the terms of the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act. While he was working on this issue, in 1861 Goodnow was also elected to the Kansas House of Representatives, and in the fall of 1862 Goodnow was elected state Superintendent of Public Instruction, a position to which he was re-elected in 1864.

In 1863, Goodnow helped found the Kansas State Teachers Association and served on the Board of the National Education Association.

In 1867, Goodnow was selected agent for the sale of the 90,000 acres (364 km2) of land granted by the federal government to Kansas State Agricultural College, a position he held until 1873. From 1869 to 1876, Goodnow was also land commissioner for the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad.


His biography, from A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans (1918) may be found here.

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Isaac Tichenor Goodnow's Timeline

January 17, 1814
Whitingham, Windham County, Vermont, United States
March 20, 1894
Age 80
Manhattan, Riley County, Kansas, United States
Manhattan, Riley County, Kansas, United States