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Innovation and Inspiration: The Campaign for Kansas University
University Archives & Manuscripts - Exhibits
First Ladies of K-State: Francis Denison

Frances Ann (Osborne) Dennis Denison


Frances Ann Osborne was born May 24, 1830, near Harper's Ferry, Virginia, the daughter of John and Catharine Van Vactor Osborne. Her father died when she was three years old and the family moved to Missouri.

On May 26, 1852, she married John H. Dennis, a twice widowed Methodist missionary with three children. John and Frances had a daughter, Ella, before his death in 1856. Frances and Ella moved to Baldwin City, Kansas to be near her first husband's brother. It was here that she met Rev. Joseph Denison, a widower with five young children: Henry, Ellen, Emma, and twins George and Georgianna.

Frances married Joseph Denison on November 24, 1859. They moved into their new home on College Hill (1113 Hylton Heights Road), Manhattan, Kansas, where daughter Fannie Ellen was born. Several years later they had another daughter who died at birth.

Joseph Denison became K-State's first president when Kansas State Agricultural College was founded in 1863. Frances farmed, provided room, board, and clothing for students, and even donated part of her widow's money to the struggling new college. She was a strong supporter of suffrage for women and African-Americans.

In 1873 the Denison's moved to Baldwin City when Joseph became president of Baker University, the oldest four year college in Kansas. Rev. Denison stepped down from the presidency in 1879, returning to the life of a travelling minister, moving to a new town every few years.

In 1884, Frances' daughter Ella died shortly after childbirth. Baby Ethel came to live with Frances and Joseph for the next five years, until her father remarried.

After Joseph's death on February 1, 1900, Frances spent her remaining years with children in Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico and Colorado.

Frances died on July 18, 1908 in Whitewater, Kansas, at the home of her granddaughter, Ethel, and is buried with Joseph Denison in Sunset Cemetery, Manhattan.

Frances Denison

Biographical information on the First Ladies was provided by:
Dr. Michaeline Chance-Reay, Assistant Professor, Women's Studies and COE, author of Land Grant Ladies: Kansas State University Presidential Wives