Pacific University is one of the oldest universities in the West. With its roots in a school for orphans of the Oregon Trail, the university was granted its first charter in 1849, in what was the first act of to Oregon Territorial Government and 10 years before Oregon statehood.
Today, Pacific University recalls its history of innovation and exploration as a comprehensive university serving more than 3,600 students with undergraduate, graduate and professional programs in the liberal arts and sciences, optometry, education, health professions and business. Pacific has campuses in Forest Grove, Hillsboro, Eugene and Woodburn, as well as offices in Portland and Honolulu and healthcare clinics throughout the Portland Metro Area.
Pacific’s story started in 1846, with a remarkable 66-year-old widow who completed a rugged trip west on the Oregon Trail. Tabitha Moffatt Brown arrived in Oregon after much hardship. At one point on the journey, she was left alone in the bitter cold with her ailing 77-year-old brother-in-law. She pulled them through, despite being near starvation, and eventually arrived in the Willamette Valley on Christmas Day.
After settling, Brown met and collaborated with the Rev. Harvey Clark and his wife, Emeline, to create a school for the many orphans in the area. They made arrangements to use a local meetinghouse in Forest Grove as the Orphan Asylum. By 1848, Mrs. Brown was house-mother and a driving force at 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 Rev. Clark drew up plans for a new educational institution based on the orphan school. On Sept. 26, 1849, the Territorial Legislature chartered the Tualatin Academy. By 1854, a new charter had been granted, establishing “Tualatin Academy and Pacific University.”
Pacific awarded its first baccalaureate degree in 1863 to Harvey W. Scott, who went on to become editor of The Oregonian, now the state’s largest daily newspaper, as well as an influential political figure.
In 1915, with the expansion of public high schools, Tualatin Academy closed. Pacific University, however, pushed forward. In 1945, the university merged with the Pacific Northwest College of Optometry. In 1995, the School of Education, now the College of Education, was established through reorganization of the university’s professional teacher education programs. In 2004, several health professions programs, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, graduate psychology and physician assistant studies, came together in the College of Health Professions, which moved to a new campus in Hillsboro in 2006. And, in 2013, Pacific opened its College of Business with undergraduate and graduate programs.
Pacific continues to expand its academic offerings, as well as the delivery models for those programs, while remaining true to its tradition of offering a nurturing, personal learning environment. Pacific is committed to sustainable growth, including in its facilities, which now include six LEED-certified buildings.
The university maintains ties with the United Church of Christ Council for Higher Education, in recognition of the leadership Congregational missionaries provided through the early establishment and growth of the institution. Today, Pacific is an independent university that honors that legacy with a commitment to diversity, global community and civic engagement.