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Highlights from Willamette's History

As the First University in the West, Willamette has a rich and complex history. Please read our Land Acknowledgement in recognition of this land and its Indigenous people, then explore the timeline of our university's history spanning from the present all the way back to 1834.

Willamette Timeline: 1834 - 1899


Willamette University and its failed rival, Portland University, reunited in the fall in Salem, under the “time-honored name” of Willamette University.


The College of Pharmacy closed.


A new gymnasium on campus and a paid coach were made possible by $250 in university funds and “Subscriptions from many individuals.”

Cardinal red and gold were chosen as the school colors.


Willamette’s new chancellor, Charles Stratton ’69, left in January to become president of a new, rival Methodist university in Portland. Pres. Van Scoy stunned Willamette by leaving in June to become the rival school’s dean. Many students and faculty, including the entire College of Theology, joined them in Portland.

University Hall’s roof and tower were destroyed by fire a week after classes began in the fall.


The College of Law was established.


A Women’s College and Musical Institute were established and soon occupied the original Lausanne Hall, the former home of Mrs. Chloe Clarke Willson, and named after the ship that brought reinforcements to the Jason Lee Mission in 1840. The Women’s College was founded as “a modification, but in no sense a surrender of co-education.”

The Medical Department left University Hall and Salem for a new home in Portland.


The Willamette Collegian began monthly publication.


The old Oregon Institute building burned to the ground.

By this year, the University included an elementary school, a Commercial Department open to male and female students, the Medical Department, and a Music Department that in 1872 began to grant its own degrees. Annual enrollment in the 1870s averaged 280, of which only 81 were college students.


The university catalog of 1870-71 first used the current spelling, Willamette, in the school’s name.


The Medical College, the first professional school established in the Pacific Northwest, began offering classes in Salem. Waller Hall, then called University Hall, was opened; its five stories in the form of a Greek cross made it a commanding edifice in the sparsely settled Oregon country.


The Rev. Joseph Wythe was elected president of the University. He was a physician and surgeon as well as an ordained minister who, besides his administrative duties, taught mental and moral science in the collegiate department, physiology, hygiene and microscopy in the medical department, and biblical languages and literature in the theological department. In the trustees’ eyes, however, his virtues did not outweigh his vice of smoking in public, and Wythe was forced out in 1867.


Through the efforts of the Rev. Alvan Waller, a new college building (now known as Waller Hall) was begun. The bricks for its construction were fired on the grounds from clay excavated for the foundation.


Trustees allowed a mill stream to be dug across campus for the use of the nearby woolen mill.


Miss Emily J. York, the first graduate of Willamette, received the degree of Mistress of English Literature.


The Oregon Territorial Legislature, which held its session at that time in the basement rooms of the university building, granted a charter to “Wallamet University.”


The Rev. Francis S. Hoyt became president of the Oregon Institute and later the first president of the University.

Trustees enacted rules of conduct for Institute students: “Drinking wine or intoxicating liquors, smoking, card-playing, swearing, immorality of any kind, quarreling, rude and unkind treatment of fellow pupils, the throwing of stones, disobedience, indolence, and any other acts or behavior calculated to injure the reputation and peace of the University, or the moral habits of the students, are entirely prohibited.”


The first meeting of the Oregon-California Conference, held at the Institute, officially recognized the Institute as a Methodist school.


Lee’s “Indian Manual Labor School,” which in 1841 had been moved to the present Willamette campus, was discontinued. Its three-story frame building, the most imposing structure of its kind on the Pacific Coast, was purchased by the Institute. On August 13, the Oregon Institute was officially opened as a boarding school for settlers’ children. There were five students and one teacher, Mrs. Chloe Clarke Willson, that first year.


On January 17, a meeting of the missionary community was held at the home of Jason Lee to consider the establishment of a school for children of settlers. On February 1, a board of trustees was appointed and a constitution and bylaws were adopted for the new school, which was named the Oregon Institute. This event marked the founding of Willamette University. Trustees were the Revs. Jason Lee, David Leslie, Gustavus Hines, Josiah Parrish and Lewis Judson; and Messrs. George Abernathy, Alanson Beers and Hamilton Campbell; and Dr. Ira Babcock.


The “Great Reinforcement” of 53 people arrived from New York on the wooden ship Lausanne.


On October 6, Jason Lee and his party of Methodist missionaries pitched camp in the homeland of the Kalapuyan Indians, known to the settlers as the Oregon country, a few miles north of the present site of Salem. Soon afterward Lee opened a mission school for Indian children.