Lewis & Clark at 150
October 20, 2017
During the 2017–18 academic year, Lewis & Clark marks its 150th anniversary, honoring its distinctive past and preparing for its bright future.
In his poem “The Way It Is,” Lewis & Clark professor and poet William Stafford wrote, “There’s a thread you follow. It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change.” So it has been with the fundamental mission of Lewis & Clark.
From its earliest incarnation as Albany Collegiate Institute to its current form—composed of the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Law, and the Graduate School of Education and Counseling—the institution has followed the thread of providing its students with an education of the highest caliber. Lewis & Clark has survived major external threats, including two world wars, the Great Depression, and periods of great social unrest. It has also weathered more localized challenges, such as accreditation battles, financial woes, and leadership changes. But through it all, Lewis & Clark has not lost the thread—as our motto says, we explore, learn, and work together.
During the 2017–18 academic year, we celebrate Lewis & Clark’s sesquicentennial. While we cannot possibly condense 150 years of institutional history into just a few pages, we hope to illuminate a few of the people and programs that have contributed to the life of the college. In these stories of Lewis & Clark’s past, we believe you’ll see the foundation of our vibrant future.
—Shelly Meyer, Editor
The First 75 Years (1867–1942):
Origins in Albany
While Fir Acres on Palatine Hill has been Lewis & Clark’s home for the last 75 years, the school spent its first 75 years with other names, in other locations, beginning in the small town of Albany, Oregon, about 60 miles south of Portland.
A ‘College of the Community’
Edward Geary, who arrived in Oregon in 1851, carried a commission from eastern Presbyterian Church boards to “establish churches and found colleges” in the Pacific Northwest. On the heels of the Civil War, he joined forces with Albany’s first family, the Monteiths, to establish Albany Collegiate Institute.
Although the Presbyterian Church sponsored the Institute, it was clearly “the college of the community.” Albany, with a population of about 600, served as the seat of agricultural Linn County, and townspeople were eager to establish a school that would serve their young people and attract new settlers and businesses. The Albany Collegiate Institute officially opened its doors to students on October 14, 1867.
In keeping with other pioneer colleges, Albany was designed to serve a wide range of educational needs. Initially, students could enroll in the elementary and intermediate grades, and in high school preparatory programs for college; qualified students could tackle the classical college curriculum drawn from founders’ and presidents’ alma maters, such as Williams, Yale, Princeton, and other favored eastern models.
In 1905, the school took the name Albany College. Eight years later, with only two buildings and no space to expand on the original campus, the college purchased 48 acres at the southwest edge of Albany for what would later become the college’s Monteith Campus.
An Early Leader in Gender Equity
Unlike other coeducational schools in the region, Albany was always committed to gender equity and determined that its scholars—young women and men—would be educated together on fully equal terms. Nancy Merrick Woodbridge, Geary’s second wife, favored an all-female school for Albany but later supported establishment of a coeducational institute with equality of education through a common curriculum. In 1873, the school’s early commitment to gender equity was reflected in celebration of its first five graduates—all women—from the college program.
Student Life: From Oratory to Athletics
Literary societies—one for men and one for women—provided weekly opportunities for students to socialize, conduct organizational business, and gain experience in public speaking, essay writing, musical performance, debate, and use of parliamentary procedure. Both men and women competed successfully in intercollegiate oratory and debate contests.
Athletic competitions, including those of women, also created institutional memories. Unlike schools that considered sports as unwomanly and too rough for girls, Albany encouraged its women, as well as men, to participate in athletics. With limited coaching, Albany’s basketball team of five women won the 1905 women’s state championship by defeating Oregon Agricultural College (OSU), 20-12, in an exciting final game at Portland’s YMCA.
When football was introduced in 1894, Albany men had little knowledge of the game, nor were they trained for competition in track and field. Despite these limitations, in 1901, Albany won the first football championship pennant awarded by the Collegiate Athletic League of Oregon, as well as the League’s first championship pennant for track and field.
The advent of World War I dramatically affected enrollments and athletics. Twenty-two of thirty boys old enough to serve and two male faculty members enlisted in the spring of 1917. Eventually, the entire football team enlisted, leaving the school without a 1917 season. After the war, in 1920, Albany returned to the football field with a team built “largely of green material” and won all its scheduled games.
A New Identity in Portland
Throughout its history in Albany, the school struggled to build an endowment that would provide protection from uncertain enrollments, budget deficits, and attendant accreditation problems. In 1934, during the Great Depression, Albany College opened an extension that offered lower-division courses in Portland, with the intention that Portland students would travel to Albany to complete the last two years of their academic work. This plan was unsuccessful and, in 1938, trustees closed the Albany campus and moved the entire school to rented buildings in downtown Portland. The citizens of Albany strongly opposed the move, as did the chair of the Board of Trustees, who resigned in protest. But the college had chosen to embrace a new identity; in doing so, it left its home of 71 years in Albany and linked its future to Portland.
Fir Acres Purchase (1942)
The “Cinderella College”
In September 1942, less than a year after the United States entered World War II, Time magazine carried an article titled “Courageous College” and praised Oregon’s “moribund little Albany College” for making a new beginning and opening on a “fantastically lush new campus” in Portland. Although the school had lost accreditation and had been “rapidly withering away” in rented facilities, trustees were topping acquisition of a new campus with a new president and “a brave new name,” Lewis & Clark College.
That same month, in a feature section titled “‘Cinderella College’—That’s Albany,” Richard Nokes of the Oregonian reported that the school had moved to beautiful Fir Acres, the M. Lloyd Frank estate of 63 acres, located in Portland’s southwest hills. Fir Acres, created by New York architect and landscape designer Herman Brookman, was built in the Tudor style, in 1924–25, at a cost of $1.3 million. Since 1935, the property had stood vacant and waiting until the college arrived in the summer of 1942 and opened for classes that fall.
The name “Cinderella College,” coined by Nokes, was adopted and used frequently by college staff and journalists into the late 1970s. The story behind this “Cinderella” transformation—the overcoming of adversity—does read much like a fairy tale.
As the college’s Albany era came to a close in the late 1930s, the school faced four major challenges, any one of which would have been daunting on its own, yet alone in combination. The school had to acquire an adequate campus and buildings; find a new president; place the college on a sound financial basis; and regain accreditation, which had been withdrawn in 1938 by the Northwest Association.
During the summer of 1941, in their quest for a permanent campus, trustees turned to Portland merchant Aaron Frank, a friend of the college, and asked him “to throw his weight” toward the $32,500 purchase of an undeveloped site of about 20 acres on Mount Tabor, east of the Willamette River. Frank had no interest in the proposal but, acting on behalf of his brother Lloyd’s family, was willing to entertain an offer of $50,000—still to be raised—for purchase of Fir Acres. His one caveat was that the school must hire “a young and strong president.”
A New President for a New Era
The trustees’ choice for president was Morgan Odell, a choice enthusiastically endorsed by Frank. “Don’t let that man get away from us,” Frank told the trustees. “We need him.” Energetic and in his mid-40s, Odell was a popular professor at Occidental College, where he had taught for 10 years, served as acting chaplain, and chaired the Department of Religion and Philosophy. The fact that he was Methodist, not Presbyterian, was not an issue for the search committee.
Odell had initial doubts about assuming the presidency of the troubled school and, after Pearl Harbor, he seriously questioned leaving his secure post at Occidental. In time, however, he was won over by what he saw as the potential purchase of “an intriguing campus, beautiful and spacious”; the “persistent loyalty” of the Board of Trustees; a “missionary zeal for this college” expressed by the Women’s Albany College League; a young and new faculty, “most of whom are capable and well liked”; and enthusiastic students “eager for the future of the college.”
Odell accepted the presidency with the condition that $50,000 would be raised to purchase Fir Acres by the June 30 expiration date. If the purchase failed, Albany College would close, and Odell would return to Occidental, where he had negotiated a one-year leave. Trustees agreed, and a contract was signed on May 2, 1942, making Odell the college’s 19th president, with duties to begin on or about June 2. While still obligated at Occidental, Odell flew to Portland every other weekend to join trustees in soliciting funds.
The Gift of Fir Acres
As the summer deadline approached, Odell informed Frank that $33,000 had been collected, with about $15,000 more in pledges. Frank responded, “If you will take it off the tax rolls by June 30th, you can have it for $46,000 cash.” On June 30, with certified check in hand, Odell and the trustee treasurer arrived at Frank’s office, received the deed, and promptly recorded it at the courthouse.
“We had a new campus at last,” Odell wrote, “and of such quality, that suddenly little Albany College had new stature”—stature that led, in time, to regaining accreditation and building the endowment. The “Cinderella College” had arrived.
The Second 75 Years (1942–2017):
From Local to Global
For many, the Lewis & Clark we know today began in the landmark year of 1942, as the college fully embraced a new location on Palatine Hill, a new president, and a new name.
The Odell Years: Establishing L&C in Portland
Morgan Odell, the energetic new president, arrived from Occidental College, eager to assume his responsibilities. At Lewis & Clark, Odell faced innumerable challenges, but his contagious enthusiasm led to extraordinary success in seeking funds, building a faculty, and developing academic programs. Early on, he admitted to a friend: “Here we start almost from scratch, despite seventy-five years of history and an endowment of $270,000.”
After weathering low enrollments during World War II, the college later welcomed waves of returning veterans seeking education through the GI Bill. To build the academic standing of the college, Odell tapped experienced faculty, some of them retired, and persuaded them to join Lewis & Clark and help shape the curriculum. Following the war, the college’s younger faculty had the benefit of learning from their older colleagues. Throughout his presidency, Morgan Odell was a favorite, on and off campus. Respected by community leaders as a man of exceptional character, ability, and energy, Odell was both inspirational and persuasive. Those who met him often remarked, “You can’t turn down a man who believes as earnestly in what he is doing as Morgan Odell.”
The Howard Years: Preparing Citizens of the World
In 1960, Odell passed the presidential baton to John “Jack” Howard, a young, charismatic leader who would guide the college through a period of extraordinary growth and development. With a keen interest in international affairs and the fostering of intercultural understanding, Howard believed “education must be for a world of change, a world yearning for international interdepen-dence.” A strong proponent of academic freedom—even in the face of controversial speakers and ideas—he was fond of saying, “To assure that right ideas are heard, all ideas must be heard.”
During the 21 years of his presidency, from 1960 to 1981, the endowment grew more than 1,000 percent, and endowed scholarships increased 480 percent. Full-time faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences doubled as did its enrollments. International students increased to represent 49 countries, and the innovative Overseas Study Program, launched in 1962, became a hallmark of the college.
During Howard’s tenure, the campus more than doubled in size to 130 acres, and over 20 buildings were constructed, including Watzek Library, Agnes Flanagan Chapel, Pamplin Sports Center, Fir Acres Theatre, and Olin Center for Physics and Chemistry. With all his building, some jokingly said that “Happy Jack,” as he was known to many, was “a man with an edifice complex.” Howard accepted the label with his characteristic good humor.
Cultural Change and Growth
In 1966, Lewis & Clark broke its formal ties with the Presbyterian Church, which enabled new opportunities for federal funding and development. During the 1960s and ’70s, the college continued to evolve in response to the era’s dramatic cultural changes, including the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, Vietnam War protests, and the Summer of Love. Gone were curfews and dress codes, and in were coed residence halls and student activism.
Expansion continued with the addition of two professional schools, now known as Lewis & Clark Law School (which joined the college in 1965) and the Graduate School of Education and Counseling (which merged with the college in 1984).
In the next several decades, the contours of the modern college continued to take shape. In the early 1990s, Lewis & Clark ran an ambitious fundraising campaign for the “Signature Project,” which included construction of the Fields Center for the Visual Arts, the Hoffman Gallery of Contemporary Art, the Miller Center for the Humanities, and a redesigned Watzek Library. Additional buildings in the 2000s, such as John R. Howard Hall, reflected the college’s dedication to green-building principles.
A Storied Past, A Bright Future
Today, Lewis & Clark is often described as “a private institution with a public conscience, a residential school with a global reach.” Excellence in teaching and collaborative research between faculty and students are highly valued, as is community engagement. Each year, Lewis & Clark hosts four well-established symposia on topics of thematic interest to the college community: environmental affairs, race and ethnic studies, gender studies, and international affairs. More than 60 percent of Lewis & Clark’s undergraduate students participate in oversea study programs, considered among the best in the country. Meanwhile, Lewis & Clark’s law and graduate schools produce many of the region’s most influential leaders in law and government as well as in education and counseling.
In 2017, with Lewis & Clark poised to begin a new era under President Wim Wiewel, we draw inspiration from the college’s past and hope for the future. No matter what the upcoming journey holds, our students, as always, will lead the way.
—Jean Ward and Shelly Meyer
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Sesquicentennial website: go.lclark.edu/150.
Lewis & Clark at 150: The “Cinderella College,” an exhibit at Watzek Library through June 30, 2018.
“Oregon’s ‘Cinderella College,’” an article in preparation for the Oregon Historical Quarterly, 2018, by Jean Ward, professor emerita of communication.
Lewis & Clark College, © 1991, by Stephen Dow Beckham, Pamplin Professor Emeritus of History.
Lewis & Clark College 1867–1967, © 1968, by Martha Frances Montague, a 1910 Albany College graduate and college archivist.
We would like to extend our special thanks to Zachariah Selley, associate head of special collections and college archivist, who provided invaluable information, imagery, and advice for this story.