Thomas W. Bicknell



Thomas Williams Bicknell (September 6, 1834 – October 6, 1925) was an American educator, historian, and author.

Early life and career

Thomas W. Bicknell was born in
Barrington, Rhode Island Barrington is a suburban, residential town in Bristol County, Rhode Island located approximately southeast of Providence. It was founded by Congregationalist separatists from Swansea, Massachusetts and incorporated in 1717. Barrington was ced ...
to Harriet Byron Kinnicutt (September 1, 1791 – December 15, 1837), daughter of Josiah Kinnicutt and Rebecca Townsend Kinnicutt, and Rhode Island minister and Senator, Lt.-Col. Allin Bicknell (April 13, 1787 – August 16, 1870), who had served with the Bristol County, Rhode Island
Militia A militia () is generally an army or some other fighting organization of non-professional soldiers, citizens of a country, or subjects of a state, who may perform military service during a time of need, as opposed to a professional force of r ...
. Thomas Bicknell attended Thetford Academy in Vermont and
Amherst College Amherst College ( ) is a private liberal arts college in Amherst, Massachusetts. Founded in 1821 as an attempt to relocate Williams College by its then-president Zephaniah Swift Moore, Amherst is the third oldest institution of higher educati ...
in Massachusetts, taught school and became principal in
Rehoboth, Massachusetts Rehoboth is a historic town in Bristol County, Massachusetts. Established in 1643, Rehoboth is one of the oldest towns in Massachusetts. The population was 12,502 at the 2020 census. Rehoboth is a mostly rural community with many historic sites i ...
, then principal in
Elgin, Illinois Elgin ( ) is a city in Cook and Kane counties in the northern part of the U.S. state of Illinois. Elgin is located northwest of Chicago, along the Fox River. As of the 2020 Census, the city had a population of 114,797, the seventh-lar ...
. When he returned to Rehoboth, serving as principal once again, he earned a master's degree from
Brown University Brown University is a private research university in Providence, Rhode Island. Brown is the seventh-oldest institution of higher education in the United States, founded in 1764 as the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providen ...
. While a senior at Brown, he was elected State Representative in the Rhode Island General Assembly. After graduating from Brown, he became principal of Bristol High School and then Arnold Street Grammar School, then back to Bristol High School. Rhode Island Governor Seth Padelford (Republican 1869–1873) selected Bicknell to be the Commissioner of Public Schools in 1869. As commissioner, he focused on re-establishing the Normal School (now Rhode Island College). He was a gifted speaker and fundraiser who would triple the amount of money spent on public education; he also established a Rhode Island State Board of Education, oversaw the selection of school superintendents in every town and city in the state, dedicated over 50 new schoolhouses, and increased the school year from 27 to 35 weeks.

Civil rights reformer

In the 1850s, Bicknell signed on to help settle the State of " Free Kansas" to prevent the spread of slavery. On the way to Kansas, he was taken hostage by bandits on the Missouri River, but after two weeks as a prisoner, sharpshooters set him adrift. Bicknell was an equalist, a racial and sexual reformer, and an early advocate for ending Black segregation in schools; he also helped elect the United States' first all-female school board for the town of
Tiverton, Rhode Island Tiverton is a town in Newport County, Rhode Island, United States. The population was 16,359 at the 2020 census. Geography Tiverton is located on the eastern shore of Narragansett Bay, across the Sakonnet River from Aquidneck Island (also kno ...

Heritage and legacy

Bicknell joined the Rhode Island Society of the
Sons of the American Revolution The National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR or NSSAR) is an American congressionally chartered organization, founded in 1889 and headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky. A non-profit corporation, it has described its purpos ...
in 1896 and was the founder of the National Society of the Sons and Daughters of the Pilgrims and Order of the Founders and Patriots of America (1898). He re-established and was the president of the American Institute of Instruction, and was president of the Rhode Island Institute of Instruction and the National Educational Association. He was the president of the New England Publishing Company. In 1914, wanting to have a town named for him, he offered a 1,000-volume library to any town in
Utah Utah ( , ) is a U.S. state, state in the Mountain states, Mountain West subregion of the Western United States. Utah is a landlocked U.S. state bordered to its east by Colorado, to its northeast by Wyoming, to its north by Idaho, to its so ...
that would adopt his name. Two towns vied for the prize, Grayson and Thurber; the two towns compromised, and in 1916 Thurber changed its name to Bicknell, and Grayson took the name of Blanding, the maiden name of Bicknell's wife. The towns then split the library with 500 books to each. Bicknell and his wife, Amelia, donated $500 to the Rehoboth Antiquarian Society in Rehoboth to establish the Blanding Public Library in memory of Amelia's parents, Christopher and Chloe Blanding. In addition to education, he was also active in civic activities and the church. He served as commissioner from Rhode Island to the Universal Exposition at
Vienna, Austria en, Viennese , iso_code = AT-9 , registration_plate = W , postal_code_type = Postal code , postal_code = , timezone = CET , utc_offset = +1 , timezone_DST ...
. He helped establish the U.S. Postal Code system as a member of the 1878 Postal Congress. He served as president in over thirty associations and organizations and was a member in over one hundred. He was president of the International Sunday School Union, the Massachusetts Congregational Sunday School Union, the Chautauqua Teachers' Reading Union, and the New England Sunday School Association. Thomas W. Bicknell died in
Providence, Rhode Island Providence is the capital and most populous city of the U.S. state of Rhode Island. One of the oldest cities in New England, it was founded in 1636 by Roger Williams, a Reformed Baptist theologian and religious exile from the Massachusetts Bay ...
on October 6, 1925.


Bicknell was an author, editor, and publisher of the ''New England Journal of Education'' (Boston, 1875–1880). He was the author of the six-volume ''History of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations'', the author-publisher of ''The Governors of Rhode Island'', ''The Dorr War'', ''The Story of the Rhode Island Normal School'', and ''Story of Dr. John Clarke'', and the editor-publisher of ''History and Genealogy of the Bicknell Family and Collateral Lines''. As a historian he also contributed to ''The Bay State Monthly'' magazine.


External links

{{DEFAULTSORT:Bicknell, Thomas W. American educators American biographers American male biographers American Library Association people 1834 births 1925 deaths Brown University alumni People from Barrington, Rhode Island American historians Thetford Academy, Vermont alumni