Lawrence UniversityThe first Wisconsin Annual Conference (M.E.) voted to accept the charter of Lawrence University and pledged over $30,000 for it's support. Shown here is Lawrence University in 1864. Join us in learning more about Amos Lawrence and the Methodist role in the founding of this frontier institution of learning.

Amos Lawrence

Amos LawrenceAs a young man, Amos Lawrence's father (also named Amos) left the farm in rural Massachusetts and, along with his brother, formed a company that imported textiles from England. Later, the firm prospered by investing in cotton and woolen mills. Lawrence, the eldest son, had the benefit of the best education money could buy in early nineteenth century America. First, at Franklin Academy and then at Harvard. Following his graduation, Lawrence entered business for himself as a commission merchant. He proved to have a talent at commerce and eventually became the owner of Ipswich Mills, the largest producer of knit goods in the country. Along with his wealth, Lawrence had deep philanthropic impulses, which sprang from his profound religious commitment. He was a devout member of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Boston and it was there that he met and married his wife, Sarah Appleton. He was a trustee of Massachusetts General Hospital and president of "the Young Men's Benevolent Society", but his strongest charitable activities lay in support of education. Besides the establishment of Lawrence University he was also responsible for the creation of the state university in Lawrence, Kansas and the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Cambridge. Lawrence's public reputation, however, was as an abolitionist and he was best known for his work to ensure that Kansas should be admitted to the Union as a free state. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 had declared that the issue of slavery in those territories would be determined by local plebescite and Lawrence devoted much of his philanthropic energies to the support of the New England Emigrant Aid Society. This Society sponsored the emigration of free-state settlers to the territory of Kansas in the hope of stopping the spread of slavery. One of these settlers was the radical abolitionist John Brown, who became a personal friend of Lawrence's. The guns that Brown used at the Harper's Ferry rebellion were shipped to Kansas by Lawrence.

In May of 1857, Lawrence paid his only visit to the Appleton to see his university. Henry Colman ( son of the co-founder) remembered that during that visit he "talked to the boys, but did not even look at the girls, and we understood that he never was quite reconciled to their admission to the school named after him". Lawrence's letter to his wife, however, was very favorable and he described the grounds, buildings, faculty and students in glowing terms. He wrote the following in summary, "On the whole, I conclude that this is a pretty good monument for you and me, and Uncle Sam (first cousin of Lawrence's wife Sarah, for whom the city Appleton was named). It will stand in future generations and be blessing the country and the world when we shall have crumbled away. It is a great and good work and I am glad to have had a hand in it."

A Methodist Project

In 1844, Amos A. Lawrence bought, for the purposes of speculation, 5,000 acres of land in the Fox River Valley of Wisconsin. He felt a natural obligation toward the inhabitants of the area and, as a consequence, wrote a letter to Eugene Eastman, a lawyer in Green Bay, soliciting him as agent to implement his intention of establishing a univeristy. Lawrence was an Episcopalian, but that Church had little presence on the frontier and "was out of the question". As an alternative, he recommended that Eastman contact the Methodists because he believed that "their institutions are carried on with more vigor, and diffuse more good with the same means, than any other." Eastman acted slowly but eventually in April of 1846 contacted Rev. William Sampson, presiding elder of the Fond du Lac District, and conveyed Lawrence's anonymous offer of $10,000, conditional on matching funds raised by the Methodists. Sampson brought the offer to the Rock River Conference that summer but when they asked for more information Eastman refused and the matter was dropped. Frustrated with Eastman, Lawrence retained a second agent, Rev. Reed Smith, who must be given much of the credit for realizing Lawrence's dream. Smith was also an agent for Wesleyan Seminary in Albion, MI and, when he arrived in Wisconsin in November of 1846, he again approached Sampson and renewed Lawrence's offer. Sampson arranged for Smith to meet with three other Methodist ministers, who gathered in a single room cabin on the banks of Lake Winnebago. Many years later, the youngest of those in attendance, Rev. Samuel Stone, remembered that there was a great deal of debate as to whether the Institution should be all male or co-ed. Apparently, the argument "raged two and two, tied, until the fifth man was won over to co-ed". At the end of the meeting, each minister pledged $100.00 to the cause "though they knew not where it would come from". They also suggested that a "convention of clergy and laity of the Wisconsin Territory" meet in Milwaukee to consider Lawrence's proposition. In December of 1846, this convention appointed a committee which included Smith, Sampson and Rev. Henry Root Colman to draft a charter. The charter they drafted was presented to and enacted by the Territorial Legislature on January 15, 1847. Now began the task of raising the $10,000 in matching funds. When they made their report to the Education Committee in Southport they had already received in "reliable securities" the sum of $11,000 which they presented to the Conference through the trustees. The Conference responded by resolving to adopt the charter for the Institute and increasing the pledge for the endowment to $30,000. Rev. Sampson was appointed principal of the Institute and a "visiting" committee of nine was appointed to overview the Institute's progress and report back to the Conference". The following September, Rev. Sampson arranged his matters in Fond du Lac, packed his trunks and "left for the scene of operations". Rev. Sampson found a primeval wilderness and "began to cut away the thick underbrush and soon had a road cleared from the old Indian trial on the river bank to the block" where the first building was erected. Under his supervision, construction had advanced sufficiently so that on November 12, 1849 the first classes were held.

Campus Life on the Frontier

Henry ColmanOne of the first to attend Lawerence was Henry Colman (son of Rev. Henry Root Colmen) who wrote down his remembrances of early campus life many year later. He had arrived in Appleton on the last day of January, 1850, "swinging down on college avenue, between log and stump, on the back end of a sleigh" and presented himself for enrollment in the preparatory department of the school. At that time, the entire school was contained within the four walls and four stories of the only building on "campus". The first story, of stone, was divided into chapel dining room, kitchen, bed room, and family room with two beds. The second was occupied, except one recitation room, by members of the faculty and lady students. The third, left in the "native wood," unblemished by jack plane or varnish, was given to the boys-.... The fourth story was at first given up to ventilation and bats." To heat the building required that Colman and his fellow male students take a break from their studies to swing "the stalwart axe into the campus trees for firewood". He also remembered that among his daily duties as a student that first year, "I rang the bell, carried the green maple wood into the ladies' hall and recitation rooms, made fire for morning prayers at six, when Professor Kellogg came down with his tallow dip, read and shivered and shivered and prayed, while the students sat around wrapped in long shawls and big overcoats which covered a multitude of neligences." Colman was joined by thirty-five other students and a faculty of five: Romulus Kellogg, James Phinney, Amelia Dayton and Emmeline Crooker with Principal William Sampson filling in where needed.

Lucinda DarlingPerhaps the most pleasant of Colman's memories was of "Miss Crooker, just from Oberlin, in the spring taking the botany girls across the one plank, railess bridge to the island for specimens, tramping on defiantly and laughing at the dizzy girls, who crept on hands and knees to avoid the cool embraces of the hurrying Fox". He also ruefully remembered that, "Miss Crooker was also very careful to protect the -boys from the girls. I have a distinct recollection that she warned me against a certain good looking girl, of whom I knew little then. But in spit of her warnings, perhaps because of them, eight years later President Manson tied between me and that girl a little knot, which has strengthen with the years." That girl was Lucinda Darling who, along with Henry Colman, were in the first graduating class, consisting of four men and three women.