History of Pacific University

Founded in 1849, Oregon's Pacific University traces its roots to a log cabin meeting house in Forest Grove where the Rev. Harvey Clark, a Congregationalist minister, and Tabitha Brown, a former teacher from Massachusetts, cared for and educated orphans of the Oregon Trail.

In 1846, a remarkable 66-year-old widow completed a rugged trip west with her family to live in the Oregon Territory. Tabitha Moffatt Brown arrived in Oregon, but not before undergoing significant hardship. At one point on the journey by wagon train, she was left alone on the trail in the bitter cold with her ailing 77-year-old brother-in-law. She pulled them through, despite being near starvation, and they reached the temperate Willamette Valley on Christmas Day.

Brown, the Rev. Harvey Clark and his wife, Emeline, concerned for the welfare of the many orphans in the area, made arrangements to use a local meetinghouse in Forest Grove, Oregon, as a school, which became know as the Orphan Asylum. By 1848, Brown was "house-mother" to the students there and a driving force behind the school.

1849 | Pacific University is founded

In the summer of 1848, the Rev. George H. Atkinson came to Oregon, commissioned by the Home Missionary Society of the Congregational Church Association to "found an academy that shall grow into a college... on the New England model." Atkinson and Clark drew up plans for a new educational institution, based on the orphan school. On September 26, 1849, the Territorial Legislature gave its official sanction to the new school, establishing by charter the Tualatin Academy. It was the first official act of the new provisional government and predates statehood by nearly 10 years.

To house the academy, Old College Hall was built in 1850. Old College Hall is still in use today. It houses Pacific's museum and is the site of important university traditions, including Sign, Shake, and Ring— a time-honored tradition of signing the book of enrollment, shaking the university president’s hand, and ringing the old bell in the cupola (or bell tower) to signify a student's entry into Pacific. Sign, Shake and Ring has its origins in the late 1880s or early 1900s, when incoming students signed a ledger book as evidence of their enrollment and as an acknowledgement of the cost of tuition.

A view of campus in the 1890s or 1900s. Old College Hall is in the foreground

By 1854 a new charter had been granted, establishing "Tualatin Academy and Pacific University." Congregational missionaries were key leaders in the establishment and growth of the university, and that legacy is still regarded as an important influence. Pacific, along with such colleges as Dartmouth, Carleton, Oberlin, Grinnell, Rollins and Pomona, celebrate a tradition that dates back to the establishment of higher education in America more than 350 years ago with the founding of Harvard College by Congregational pioneers on the first American frontier.

As an independent university, Pacific continues to maintain ties with the United Church of Christ Council for Higher Education. The University supports religious pluralism, and is committed to instilling a sense of values and ethics, compassion, caring and conscience in both students and programs.

1863 | Pacific awards first baccalaureate degree

1864 | The Alumni Association begins with the establishment of the “Society of Alumni"

Pacific awarded its first baccalaureate degree in 1863 - the first in the region. Harvey W. Scott, recipient of the degree, went on to become editor of The Portland Oregonian — now the state's largest daily newspaper — and later established himself as an influential political figure. Scott's legacy at Pacific is honored in the Harvey W. Scott building, built in 1967. It served as the university library until 2005.

1896 | Pacific receives a bronze Chinese statue as a gift. It soon becomes a college icon, called Boxer.

Pacific University received a bronze chinese statue as a gift in 1896, courtesy of the Rev. J.E. Walker, a missionary to China and a Pacific alumnus, and Walker's mother, who presented it to the university. The statue of the mythical beast, nicknamed "Boxer" in 1908, became an icon, representing Pacific's spirit, pride and honor.

The Spirit Bench (formerly the Senior bench) was donated by the class of 1908, though the original bench was damaged and replaced in 1990. Today, this campus landmark often sports a new coat of spray paint from students who paint the bench by cover of darkness, a tradition that developed over the decades.

1911 | State approves the offering of teaching certificates

1915 | Academy closes as public high schools come on the scene

In 1911, Pacific became one of just three colleges authorized by the state to recommend graduates for high school teaching certificates.

By 1920, the school had expanded to five buildings, including Herrick Hall (built in 1883), an all-female dormitory that played an important role in enabling more woman to earn degrees by providing an living space for female students, and Carnegie Hall (built in 1912), the university's first library building and one of only three academic libraries built by the Carnegie Endowment in the West — and the only one in the Pacific Northwest.

Female students dressed up for Pacific University's annual Clean-up Day, circa 1920s. In the background, Marsh Hall is visible. Built in 1895, a devastating fire in 1975 gutted 75 percent of the building's interior. It was restored and is home to administrative offices, faculty offices and classrooms today.

1945 | Optometry program is adopted

In 1945, the university expanded into the health professions through a merger with the North Pacific College of Optometry (founded 1921). In 1947, it was the first program in the country to award a doctor of optometry degree.

1959 | Pacific University's Students of Hawai‘i Club, Nā Haumāna O Hawai‘i, is founded

The annual Pacific University Lu’au, started in 1960, is one of the largest student-produced lu’aus in the continental United States.

1968 | Boxer officially replaces the badger as the school mascot

Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, Pacific University continued to expand with new academic offerings. Other health professions programs were launched, including Physical Therapy in 1975, Occupational Therapy in 1984, and Professional Psychology in 1985.

1985 | Grand opening of Trombley Square, a popular student gathering place at the heart of the Forest Grove campus

1994 | The School of Education (now College of Education) is established

The Pacific University Eugene Campus opened in 1992, offering undergraduate and graduate teaching programs. In 1994, the School of Education, now the College of Education, was established through reorganization of the professional teacher education programs that had been part of the College of Arts and Sciences. A year later, the Physician Assistant Studies program was added. 

In 2004, the College of Health Professions was formed; consolidating all the health programs except for the College of Optometry under one umbrella.

2006 |The Pacific University Health Professions Campus (now Hillsboro Campus) opens

2007 | The Lincoln Park Athletic Complex is constructed, offering state-of-the-art athletic facilities

Pacific University's Hillsboro Campus opened in 2006 as home of the College of Health Professions through a partnership with Tuality Healthcare and the Virginia Garcia Memorial Clinic. In the same year, new programs in Pharmacy and Dental Health Science were established, followed by a Master of Healthcare Administration program in 2008. 

President Phil Creighton's tenure (2003-2009) marked a prosperous and expansive period in university history. A $51 million capital campaign was completed in 2006, helping to fuel a building boom. Projects included the new campus in Hillsboro, a new library, two LEED-certified residence halls, an education and business building and extensive new athletics facilities. During this period, undergraduate enrollment increased by 18.5 percent and graduate enrollment increased by 22 percent, almost exclusively in the health professions. 

2009 | Pacific announces its 17th President, Dr. Lesley M. Hallick

2013 | Pacific University's College of Business is founded

2014 |  Cascade Hall opens for student residents and is the seventh university building to be LEED-certified for sustainable building design

Students take advantage of a sunny spring day in 2016 to play a game on the grassy lawn in front of Cascade Hall.

In 2009, Dr. Lesley M. Hallick became the university's 17th president. Under her leadership, the university has continued to grow. The Woodburn Campus opened in 2012, offering undergraduate and graduate teacher-preparation programs within the College of Education. In 2013, the College of Business was founded to further develop the existing undergraduate business degree programs and add graduate-level programs.

2019 | Pacific University celebrates the 170th anniversary of its founding

Pacific University continues to plan for the future with Imagine Pacific 2020, a strategic planning effort designed to postion the university for the future while maintaining its core identity as a close community dedicated to learning and discovery.

"We are building on the mission of the university from its earliest roots, an institution established by our founders because they believed deeply in the opportunity of education for all."

— Vision 2020 Strategic Plan

Today, Pacific University is a comprehensive university serving more than 3,800 undergraduate, graduate and professional students in the liberal arts and sciences, optometry, education, healthcare and business.


Marsh Hall

Pacific University and the Architectural Resources Group, which together produced

Archive photos and letters from the Indian Training School

Back in the late 19th century, when Pacific University was an outpost of higher education in the Pacific Northwest, the school took part in an ignoble American experiment. With Pacific’s support, the Forest Grove Indian Training School brought Native American children to a nearby campus, where they were forced to abandon tribal culture in favor of learning the skills and religion of the dominant white society. Some didn't survive the transition.

Boxer III debuted this fall at Homecoming. The third incarnation of our beloved mascot statue was unveiled as an art piece representing the history, diversity and spirit of Pacific.