Often in telling the tale of Columbus, it is tempting to dwell on the accomplishments of people who were born here or who at least spent a lot of time here. But the story of Columbus also is encompassed in the people who were here only briefly but who made their mark as well.

Often in telling the tale of Columbus, it is tempting to dwell on the accomplishments of people who were born here or who at least spent a lot of time here. But the story of Columbus also is encompassed in the people who were here only briefly but who made their mark as well.

Author Theodore Dreiser only looked at Columbus for a short time but he saw enough to set one of his stories in Ohio's capital city. And Gen. Lew Wallace, who later wrote Ben-Hur, spent only a year here during the Civil War managing a camp that he called, with pardonable pride, Camp Lew Wallace.

When James Canfield came back to Ohio, he stayed a little longer and he and his family left a rather larger legacy.

James Hulme Canfield was born in Delaware, Ohio, in 1847. His father was a minister and the family moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., when James was a child. James' mother died when he was 10 years old, and the boy was sent to live with relatives in Vermont.

Despite these setbacks, Canfield was able to receive a good education in local country schools. In 1861, at the age of 14, he returned to Brooklyn and graduated from the Brooklyn Collegiate Institute in 1864. He then spent a year in Europe and returned to graduate from Williams College in 1868.

Like many of the young men of the generation that came of age after the American Civil War, Canfield was a man professionally and literally on the move.

From 1868 to 1871, he worked as a construction superintendent on railroads in Iowa and Minnesota while reading law in his spare time. In 1872, he was admitted to the bar in Michigan and opened a law office in St. Joseph.

Finding himself more inclined to education than law, he soon took a job as superintendent of the St. Joseph public schools. In 1877, he left St. Joseph for Kansas, taking one Flavia Hulme with him as his bride.

The Canfields settled at the University of Kansas with Canfield serving as professor of history until 1891, when he became chancellor of the University of Nebraska.

This was a period when America was becoming much more industrial and urban, and improved public education at all levels was expanding rapidly. Active in many of the great social and political movements of his time, Canfield became well known as an educator. In 1895, he became the fourth president of what is now Ohio State University.

Arriving in Columbus, Canfield, his wife, and children James and Dorothy found themselves at a small school in a growing city. The city grew rapidly in the years after the Civil War and was becoming a major commercial center. But in many ways, Columbus in 1895 was still a small town.

Founded in 1870, the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College was located three miles north of downtown Columbus. By 1891 it was a successful college with 500 students. Yet in many ways, the forerunner to Ohio State was still a small school.

Neither Columbus nor Ohio State would be small for much longer. Many people and a variety of forces would cause both the city and the university to change rapidly in these years. And two of the people in the forefront of those changes were James and Flavia Canfield.

James Canfield was determined to see Ohio State grow in both size and importance. During his years at the university, it did just that -- doubling its enrollment and expanding the scope and content of its activities.

While James Canfield worked on campus, Flavia Canfield was actively involved in the wider community. A strong believer in the women's rights movement, she was convinced that one way to advance the cause of women was through what was then called "the club movement."

As a later account put it, "Columbus seems to have become club conscious largely through the sympathetic and indomitable energy of one woman, Mrs. James Canfield. ... It is no coincidence that twenty six clubs are known to have been organized during her brief residence here. Most of them bear her name on the roster of charter members, many of them owe their organization to her. Again and again, in tracing back to the origins of the clubs of the nineties, one realizes how indefatigable was Mrs. Canfield in her effort to introduce women of downtown Columbus as well as the university to new interests and opportunities.

"It was largely 'in memory of old times and my mother's interest in the homebound underprivileged woman of her day,' that Mrs. Canfield's daughter, Dorothy Canfield Fisher ... after leaving Columbus became famous as a writer and leader in educational thought."

Canfield left Columbus with his family in 1900 for Columbia University and stayed in New York until his death in 1909. His wife continued to be active in social and political activities until her death in 1930. Dorothy Canfield Fisher became a literary and social legend in her own right.

And Columbus was a better place for the few years that they were here.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As it were column for ThisWeek News.