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Personal Papers of Frank Blackmar

Call Number: PP 53


Blackmar was a professor and the first Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Kansas from 1889-1929. This collection consists of personal and professional correspondence of Blackmar and his second wife, Kate Nicholson and her family members. The collection also includes the correspondence of Sara T.D. Robinson dealing with Bleeding Kansas, which was given to Blackmar in his role as executer for and biographer of her husband, Dr. Charles L. Robinson, first Governor of Kansas. The majority of the letters and envelopes in this collection were gathered by Kate N. Blackmar and include her personal correspondence to siblings and family friends, and well as that of her mother, Martha "Mattie" Baird Nicholson, who was at college in Ohio during the Civil War.


  • 1843 - 1931


Conditions Governing Access

No access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Spencer Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials.

Biography of Frank Blackmar

Frank N. Blackmar, credited as the force behind transforming the University of Kansas into an expanded and competitive multiple college campus, was born November 3, 1854 in Springfield, PA. His academic career, learning, and service spanned his entire adult life. He brought to KU his degrees from the University of the Pacific - A.B. in 1881 and A.M. in 1884, and a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in History and Sociology in 1889.

Blackmar first taught as a mathematics professor at University of the Pacific, History as a student at Johns Hopkins, and was hired at KU to serve as a professor of History and Sociology, and later teaching economics as well. He was author of numerous books and articles in sociology, history, and economics, the best known of which are Kansas: a Cyclopedia of State History (1912), Spanish Colonization of the Southwest (1890), History of Higher Education in Kansas (1900), and the biography The Life of Charles Robinson (1900).

Blackmar's academic interests helped him to promote social reforms in Kansas for social welfare legislation, juvenile penal codes, and the treatment of the mentally ill. He was a passionate advocate for the causes and improvements Kansas was founded upon and was a pioneer in sociological studies and methods.

In 1897, Blackmar was appointed the first Dean of the Graduate School at KU, and served in that office until 1922. He held the chair of the Department of Sociology, concurrently, from 1899-1926. In 1929, he retired from KU but continued his education, earning an LL.D. in 1921 from the University of Southern California and serving in various capacities at the University of the Pacific and at Baker University in Kansas following his leave from KU. Blackmar died in March of 1931 of complications from influenza.

In his personal life, Blackmar was an integral member of the Lawrence community. He was a member of the local masonic orders and the country club. He was twice married; his first wife, Mary Bowman, died in 1892, seven years after their marriage. She left three living children behind. His second marriage was to Kate Nicholson, a graduate of Baker University, on July 25, 1900, and they had one daughter.

Nicholson's family had settled the area near Paola and Baldwin City in the 1860s, and she was very close with her extended family. Her father, Isaiah Nicholson, and mother, Martha "Mattie" Baird Nicholson, were both from Guernsey County, Ohio. The elder Nicholsons lived down the street from the Blackmars following Kate's marriage.

As a husband and father, Blackmar was loving; and as a friend, he was loyal. He was the friend of Kansas' first governor and KU founder Dr. Charles L. Robinson and his wife Sara Tappan Doolittle Lawrence Robinson. Blackmar was executor of Robinson's estate following his death in 1894, and corresponded with Mrs. Robinson about her husband's experiences in Kansas following his move to the territory in 1855, during the era known as Bleeding Kansas. That correspondence helped Blackmar to write his biography of the late governor.


.75 Linear Feet (2 boxes + 1 oversize folder)

Scope and Contents

The Frank W. Blackmar (1854-1931) collection consists of family and professional correspondence, as well as correspondence to and from Kansas’ first governor, Dr. Charles L. Robinson. These items had been given to Frank Blackmar by Robinson’s widow, Sara Tappan Doolittle Lawrence Robinson.

The majority of the family correspondence was gathered by Blackmar’s second wife, Kate Nicholson Blackmar (1870-1964), and much of it is her personal correspondence with family and her husband. The other major component of the family letters includes correspondence to Mrs. Blackmar’s mother, Martha “Mattie” Baird Nicholson, prior to her marriage in the late 1860s. Martha’s letters reveal that one of her brothers, Adam C. Baird, served with Ohio Volunteers for the Union Army during the Civil War. A.C. Baird wrote of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan’s raid into Ohio in July 1863, following Confederate defeats at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Morgan’s “rebel raiders” marched on Senecaville, OH, the home town of the Bairds, during the northern incursion. Adam survived the war. The remainder of Martha’s correspondence is from female relatives during and just after the Civil War.

Blackmar’s professional correspondence includes legal papers relating to his role as executor of Governor Robinson’s (1818-1894) estate. The Robinson estate was sued by the University of Kansas Board of Regents, and Blackmar oversaw the sale of lands in the estate following Mrs. Robinson’s death in 1911. Following the death of the Governor, Blackmar and Mrs. Robinson exchanged letters she and her husband had received from old friends from the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company, who helped settle Kansas Territory with individuals interested in ensuring Kansas entered the U.S. as a free state. These letters relate reminiscences of the conflicts of the early days and the battles fought against pro-slavery opponents. Many spoke of Governor Robinson’s integrity in building state government and saw his impeachment from office as a political coup with no merit. Frank Blackmar used these letters to help him write his biography of Governor Robinson, The Life of Charles Robinson (1900). These letters make mention of several prominent figures in Kansas and U.S. abolitionism in the years leading to the Civil War, and its aftermath. Individuals other than the Robinsons mentioned include

John Brown (1800-1859), free-soiler, who participated in the Potawatomi and Osawatomi Massacres during Bleeding Kansas, whom was much disliked by Robinson’s acquaintances, and whom ultimately led the raid on Harpers Ferry Arsenal, Va. in 1859, and was hanged for treason for trying to arm slaves to raise a rebellion in the south.

John Fraser (1823-1878), Second Chancellor of KU, former Union Brigadier General and mathematics professor.

James Marvin, third Chancellor of KU.

Joseph Allen Lippincott, fourth Chancellor of KU.

Amos Adams Lawrence (1814-1886), namesake of Lawrence, KS, co-founder of the New England Emigrant Aid Company which helped settle Kansas Territory, financier, philanthropist, staunch abolitionist, and disliked John Brown.

Eli Thayer (1819-1899), Founder and President of the New England Emigrant Aid Company (Joint Stock Company) that sponsored Charles Robinson's move to Kansas and the Free Soil settlement of Kansas Territory. Financier of steam powered mills in Kansas and ventures to provide low cost/high profit free labor for African American freedmen. Only visited Kansas in 1877 for a founders celebration.

Aurelius Ormando (A.O.) Carpenter (1836-1919), A Vermont-born newspaperman who came to Kansas in 1855 and fought with John Brown at the battle of Black Jack. Moved to Ukiah, CA in 1857.

Henry McNeal Turner (1834-1915), son of South Carolina freedman, was mulatto. Turner received an education and became a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and went to St. Louis in 1858. He was a friend of abolitionist congressmen Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens, and mustered the first US Army colored regiment during the Civil War, and served as a Chaplain. He helped organize the Georgia Republican Party, served in the Georgia state legislature, became a Bishop in the AME church, and founded the International Migration Society which advocated to resettle African Americans in Africa.

Samuel Newell (S.N.) Simpson (1826-1915), a New Hampshire born businessman, entrepreneur, and land speculator. He was a free-stater, and walked from St. Louis to Lawrence, KS in 1854 to take part in settling Kansas for the free state cause. He set up Sunday school classes and helped found the Plymouth Congregationalist Church where he continued to hold his classes. He discovered the Franklin plot to sack Lawrence, and helped supply arms and munitions to free-staters like John Brown during the many skirmishes of Bleeding Kansas. A good friend of Charles Robinson, Simpson agreed that the settlement at Lawrence should be named for Amos A. Lawrence. Simpson oversaw the burial of the townspeople after Quantril's raid in Lawrence in August 1863.

William Clarke Quantrill (1837-1865), school teacher turned drifter, mercenary, and cattle rustler, Quantrill spent time as a teacher in Lawrence, KS in 1859. At the time, he was a free-stater, but he switched sides and advocated for the pro-slavery movement and helped capture and collect bounties on fugitive slaves. Quantrill became the leader of a pro-Confederate guerrilla gang operating out of Missouri, and led the sack and massacre at Lawrence, KS in August 1863. Quantrill was shot by Union troops during a skirmish in 1865 and died of his wounds. The infamous James Brothers, who ran with Quantrill, continued his mission of attacking the Union following the Civil War as outlaws who robbed Northern-owned banks.

Samuel Newitt (S.N.) Wood (1825-1891), a Quaker and abolitionist, Wood came to Kansas in 1854, fought in the Wakarusa War. He later worked as a lawyer and served in the Kansas Territorial Legislature, the Kansas State Legislature and Senate, and became a state judge. During the Civil War, he served as Lt. Colonel in the Union Army.

George F. Earl (1834-18??), Massachusetts born, Captain Earl came to Kansas in 1854-1855 via the New England Emigrant Aid Co. He served in the Stubbs Militia Company which was the first military unit in Kansas. Charles Robinson was a friend of Earl's and considered him his right hand man. Earl married Miss Jennie Crittenden at Paola, KS (see Spencer Collection RH MS P285/Q70). Earl served as Captain in the Union Army during the Civil War, was a Douglas County, Kansas Sheriff, and died in service to the U.S. Signal Service (Corps).

Physical Location

PP 53

Related Materials

Charles L. Robinson collection, RH MS 38, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Sara Tappan Doolittle Lawrence Robinson collection, RH MS P141, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Consult library staff regarding the availability of related photographs, biographical files, and scrapbooks.

Private papers of Charles and Sara T.D. Robinson, Manuscripts Collection 488, State Archives, Kansas Historical Society.

Separated Materials

A scrapbook of newspaper clippings involving Blackmar is available in his morgue file: Blackmar, Frank W. located at FB561f

Guide to the Frank W. Blackmar Collection
Personal Papers of Frank Blackmar
Finding aid prepared by ad, 2005; revised by msb, 2016.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
Frank W. Blackmar Collection, PP 53, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Kansas. Kenneth Spencer Research Library Repository

1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence KS 66045-7616 United States