June 05, 2014
Long before there was a single building—even before there was a site or a town or citizens to bring the town to life—there was the idea.
Nurtured by the Presbyterian Church in the mid-1800s, the idea was to “establish churches and found colleges “in the northwestern United States. From this idea emerged the institution that is Lewis & Clark College today: three vibrant schools whose students, faculty, staff, and alumni embrace learning, civic life, and service as lifelong journeys.
Lewis & Clark’s own improbable journey from pioneer vision to premier institution of higher education begins near the confluence of Oregon’s Willamette and Calapooia Rivers, some 60 miles south of present-day Portland. Here, in 1848, brothers Thomas and Walter Monteith, in founding and platting the town of Albany, designated four blocks as College Square, giving the idea a place to take root.
Almost 20 years later, on February 2, 1867, the Presbytery of Oregon—desiring “an institution of learning in which shall be taught all the branches of a complete college education “—secured a charter from the state legislature. The church partnered with the town of Albany to fund and build a two-story, wood-frame building on the College Square site. Thus was born Albany Collegiate Institute.
The school educated women and men equally within a common curriculum that focused on the classics and traditional courses. By 1869, 43 women and 43 men were enrolled; the first class graduated in 1873.
Notwithstanding its high standards, dedicated faculty, and enthusiastic students, the college faced perennial deficits and a stagnant enrollment. Albany residents, the presbytery, special friends, and generous business owners intervened often to keep the enterprise going. In 1905 the trustees signaled a new era when they officially adopted the name Albany College, transferred ownership to the Synod of Oregon, and established the bachelor of arts degree.
In the ensuing decades Albany College struggled to sustain a healthy enrollment and build its endowment. The Great Depression intensified these challenges such that in 1934 the trustees sought to increase revenue by starting a lower-division extension campus 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. The last class graduated from the Albany campus on June 18, 1938. Three months and one day later, Albany College opened in Portland. The move temporarily cost the college its accreditation. It also ensured its future.
The college quickly benefited from the generosity of the Portland community, but its ultimate success depended on obtaining strong leadership and an expansive campus. Trustees met the first requirement in 1941 when they persuaded Morgan Odell, a widely respected scholar of religion and philosophy at Occidental College, to assume the presidency. They accomplished their second mandate in 1942 when they acquired a tract of 63 acres in Portland’s southwest hills, facing Mount Hood. The deeply forested landscape was home to Fir Acres, a grand estate developed in the 1920s by Lloyd Frank and designed by Herman Brookman. The estate had been placed in trust in 1935, three years after Frank and his wife, Edna, divorced.
President Odell termed the Fir Acres acquisition “an improbable gift-sale” made possible by the extraordinary generosity of the Frank family. The itinerant institution had a permanent home at last, reflected Odell, “and of such quality, that suddenly little Albany College had new stature.”
To mark this transformation, the trustees sought a new name. At their board meeting in September 1942, they unanimously selected Lewis & Clark College as a “symbol of the pioneering spirit that had made and maintained the College,” thereby grounding the future of the institution in a heritage of exploration and discovery.
Early evidence of a strong future came with the granting of provisional accreditation in 1944 and the restoration of full accreditation in 1946. In the decades to follow, Lewis & Clark enhanced its undergraduate studies, added a law school, and refined graduate programs in education and counseling.
From the Fir Acres campus, the College of Arts and Sciences has 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.
Lewis & Clark’s law school was founded in Portland in 1884 as the state’s law school. In 1915, when the Oregon legislature decided to relocate the school to Eugene, the school’s faculty and administration declared their independence. Reorganizing as a private institution, they established Northwestern College of Law, which operated as an evening school in downtown Portland for 50 years.
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 Fir Acres campus, began offering courses during the day, and launched an aggressive library acquisition program. 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.
Lewis & Clark has educated teachers since its earliest days, and in 1984 postgraduate programs in education, counseling psychology, and public administration were consolidated 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 St. Francis an 18-acre estate immediately south of the Fir Acres campus. Now called South Campus, it is home to the graduate school, which develops 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. The program’s first cohort received degrees in 2007.
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, the College became an independent institution with a self-perpetuating Board of Trustees.
Four presidents have succeeded Morgan Odell. John Howard was president from 1960 to 1981, James Gardner from 1981 to 1989, Michael Mooney from 1989 to 2003, and Thomas Hochstettler from 2004 to 2010, and Barry Glassner became president in 2010.
Today, as global thinkers and leaders, Lewis & Clark students, faculty, alumni, and staff thrive as they explore new ways of knowing, develop innovative collaborations, and strengthen civic leadership.
In doing this they embrace and promote the shared objectives that are today’s expression of that mid-19th-century germinating idea, 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, and that form the College’s official motto: Explorare, Discere, Sociare—To explore, to learn, to work together.
More details on the history of Lewis & Clark can be found in the following:
• Lewis and Clark College: 1867–1967, Martha Frances Montague, Binfords & Mort, Portland, 1968.
• “Lewis & Clark Law School: Northwestern School of Law, “John Geil, Oregon Historical Quarterly, Winter 1983, pp. 389–408.
• Lewis & Clark College, Stephen Dow Beckham, Lewis & Clark College, Portland, 1991.