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.
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, such as the Sign, Shake, and Ring ceremony— 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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