Our History

Lewis & Clark’s journey to becoming a premier institution of higher education began in 1867, 60 miles south of present-day Portland. In that year, the Presbytery of Oregon secured a charter from the state legislature. The church partnered with the town of Albany to fund and build a two-story building on the town’s College Square site, and a school was born.

You can learn more about our history in the digital exhibition Lewis & Clark at 150: The “Cinderella College,” put together in 2017 as part of our sesquicentennial celebration. 

Albany Collegiate Institute, as it was first known, educated women and men equally within a common curriculum that focused on the classics and traditional courses. The first class graduated in 1873.

In 1905 the trustees officially adopted the name Albany College, transferred ownership to the Synod of Oregon, and established the bachelor of arts degree.

Portland Is the Place to Be

In 1934 Albany College opened a lower-division extension in Portland. Enrollment grew so rapidly on the extension campus that in 1938 the trustees voted to move all operations to Oregon’s urban center. They persuaded Morgan Odell, a widely respected scholar of religion and philosophy, to assume the presidency of the institution in 1942. The same year, through a gift-sale made possible by the generosity of the Lloyd Frank family, the trustees acquired a tract of 63 acres in Portland’s southwest hills. The deeply forested landscape was home to Fir Acres, a grand estate developed in the 1920s by Lloyd Frank and designed by Herman Brookman.

Becoming Lewis & Clark

To mark the transformation made possible by the acquisition of the Frank estate, the trustees sought a new name. They unanimously selected Lewis & Clark College.

The College of Arts and Sciences

In the decades that followed, Lewis & Clark greatly enhanced its undergraduate studies. From the Fir Acres campus—now known as the undergraduate campus—the College of Arts and Sciences launched innovative academic and experiential initiatives such as its overseas and off-campus study program, gender studies program, international studies, collaborative research between faculty and students, rigorous interdisciplinary studies, and student-initiated projects—funded by student fees—in the arts, sciences, and humanities.

The Law School

Lewis & Clark’s law school, founded in Portland in 1884 as the state’s law school, reorganized as the private Northwestern College of Law in 1915. In 1965 the school merged with Lewis & Clark and was renamed Northwestern School of Law of Lewis & Clark College. Soon after, the law school built a new campus just west of the undergraduate campus. During the 1970s, the law school emerged from the position of a highly respected regional institution to that of national prominence, distinguished for its legal education, research, and service.

The Graduate School of Education and Counseling

Lewis & Clark educated teachers from its earliest days. In 1984, the institution consolidated postgraduate programs in education, counseling psychology, and public administration into what is now the Graduate School of Education and Counseling. The public administration program was transferred to Portland State University in 1996. In 2000, Lewis & Clark purchased from the Sisters of Saint Francis an 18-acre estate immediately south of the undergraduate campus. It is now home to the graduate school, which is known for developing thoughtful leaders, innovative decision makers, and agents of positive change in the fields of education and counseling. In 2004 the school initiated a program leading to a doctorate in educational leadership, and the first cohort received degrees in 2007.

The Institution of Today

In 1966, almost 100 years after Albany Collegiate Institute was chartered, Lewis & Clark and the Synod of Oregon agreed to sever their formal bonds. While affirming its historic ties to the Presbyterian Church, Lewis & Clark became an independent institution with a self-perpetuating board of trustees.

Today, as global thinkers and leaders, Lewis & Clark students, faculty, alumni, and staff thrive as they learn new ways of knowing, develop innovative collaborations, and strengthen civic leadership. In doing this they embrace and promote the shared objectives that draw the College of Arts and Sciences, the Graduate School of Education and Counseling, and the School of Law to a common endeavor.