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Isaac T. Goodnow, 1814-1894

Materials relating to Isaac T. Goodnow

Born on January 17, 1814, in Whitingham, Windham County, Vermont, Isaac T. Goodnow, one of Manhattan’s principal founding fathers, attended the local schools and looked forward to a collegiate education. At age fourteen, however, Isaac Goodnow’s father died, and the boy had to work for four years as a clerk while pursuing his studies in the evening. After converting to Methodism in 1832, Goodnow attended Wesleyan Academy at Wilbraham, Massachusetts, graduated from the academy, and then taught there as a professor until 1848. In that year he accepted the position as professor of natural sciences at the Providence Seminary at East Greenwich, Rhode Island, and remained there until he resigned to journey to Kansas Territory.

As early as 1840 Goodnow was known for his active opposition to the expansion of slavery, and in 1844 he supported the candidacy of James G. Birney the Liberty Party’s presidential nominee. In 1854 Goodnow became keenly interested in the activities of the Massachusetts [New England] Emigrant Aid Society, whose primary goal was the colonization of Kansas Territory with free-state immigrants, and very impressed with its main organizer, Eli Thayer, after attending a Thayer lecture and visiting with him at some length after. “We have concluded to go to Kansas with such of our friends as we may induce to accompany us,” wrote Goodnow on December 16, 1854. “. . . The plan is to have enough of Mechanics and business men go that will enable us to build up a village or form the nucleus of a city even with our farms near, all of which will be greatly enhanced in value thereby.” The following March some 200 free-soil colonists left from Boston, and Goodnow help establish the town soon named Manhattan. In August 1855 he was elected as a delegate to the first free-state convention, which gathered in Lawrence determined to call for a constitutional convention and seek Kansas’s early admission to the Union. Three years later, Goodnow was elected a delegate to the Leavenworth Constitutional Convention that produced the most liberal of the three free-state constitutions and continued to work diligently throughout the turbulent era to make Kansas free.

After expending some considerable effort to establish a viable farm just outside of Manhattan and serving as a director of the town site company, Goodnow traveled back East in 1857 to raise money with which to construct the first Methodist Episcopal Church building in Manhattan. Subsequently planning began for a church college, and Goodnow soon became co-founder and first president of the Bluemont Central College, which later under land grant provision became the Kansas State University.

During the Civil War Goodnow was elected to the state legislature from Riley County in the fall of 1861 and as state superintendent of public instruction in 1862 and again in 1864. A year after the war’s end, Goodnow was made agent to sell the 82,000 acres of land belonging to the land grant college. He served in this capacity until 1873, and then he became the land commissioner of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway. After seven years in this post, Goodnow resigned and spent the remainder of his life at his farm outside of Manhattan where he died on March 20, 1894.

Dictionary of American Biography. New York, N.Y.: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1931.

Portrait and Biographical Album of Washington, Clay and Riley Counties, Kansas. Chicago, Ill.: Chapman Bros., 1890.

Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. IV:1853. Chicago, Ill.: Lewis Publishing Co., 1918.

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