The Return of Jason Lee

Guest post written by Grace Pochis, History Department Archives Intern, Class ’17

Article from scrapbook compiled by Lee’s son-in-law, F.H. Grubbs, included in the Willamette University and Northwest Collection.

The Return of Jason Lee

Jason Lee was a well-traveled man, especially considering the transportation of his era. Born in Canada in 1803, he was educated and ordained as a Methodist minister in Massachusetts before undertaking a trip to the Oregon Territory to found and lead the Oregon Mission from 1834 to 1842. Lee would later become a founder of Willamette University and member of its original Board of Directors. During his stint as director of the Oregon Mission, he journeyed overland to the East coast and back multiple times for fundraising, traveling around the Northeast and swinging down to Washington D.C. to ask Congress for financial support. He died in 1845 while on one of these fundraising expeditions back East, but, well, while it delayed his travels, it didn’t stop him. His ashes were buried in Eastern Canada near his birthplace, and remained there for more than fifty years. But around 1900, a campaign to return Jason Lee’s ashes to Salem began to appear in Oregon newspapers. Through a scrapbook of circa-1900 newspaper clippings created by Jason Lee’s son-in-law, held in the Willamette University Archives, we can follow along with this campaign.

Impassioned arguments in these editorials declared that Lee deserved to rest in Oregon and that Oregon ought to have its “foremost pioneer.” As the undated (ca. 1906) editorial “Memory of Lee: Services planned in honor of great Methodist Pioneer Missionary” puts it, “…it is very fitting that his body should be returned, with impressive ceremonies, to the bosom of the soil he loved and redeemed.” Benefactors succeeded in moving Lee’s remains to Portland, where they languished for a while for want of someone willing to move the remains down to Salem, leading to a renewed campaign. A 1905 headline reads, “Body Should Be Interred With State Honors: Protest Against the Remains of Jason Lee Lying Longer in a Vault.” We know that by spring 1906, Lee’s body was anticipated to be transferred to Salem, sparking pomp, circumstance, and memorial services.  Willamette University ended its commencement exercises a day early in order to host a celebration, and all of Salem was encouraged to join the reflection on June 14, 1906. One newspaper directed church congregations to join Willamette at a morning memorial of Jason Lee as missionary and church man, then in the afternoon to host their own events, “for the purpose of commemorating Lee’s illustrious pioneer services.”

The occasion was, and if the newspaper rhetoric is any indication, an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate Oregon, the United States, and the (by now) assured permanence of the colonizers in Oregon. The ‘Memory of Lee’ editorial demonstrates this celebratory mood, saying, “This service, of course, will glorify Lee’s inestimable efforts in behalf of the state in giving to the union the great commonwealth of Oregon.”   The editorials project the feeling that the physical return of Lee was considered of tantamount importance for returning his memory to a “rightful place” of honor.  These editorialists do not desire to return to the past– in almost every description of the missionaries they highlight how difficult life was–but they do exhibit the desire to “rescue” Jason Lee and to interact with their past by writing “the final chapter in the history of an adventurous life of an an adventurous time” [Source: the undated editorial “In memory of Jason Lee”].

From the way the authors talk about their history and the way they talk about time, one gets the sense that the writers did not completely understand where they fit in the Manifest Destiny, “Mayflower of the West” narrative of the colonization of Oregon. They deeply felt a religious and historical significance in the colonization of Oregon, but they seem to feel disconnected from their past. In these editorials, they repeatedly try to imagine a life that was only 60 years ago, yet, thanks to the influx of white colonizers, the decimation and removal of Native people, and the incorporation of Oregon as a U.S. state, vastly different than their own. They grapple with the timeline of how they got from then to ‘now’, often emphasizing the distance of their present from the past. One author calls Jason Lee’s era “those far-away years,” and another says that the missionaries began “at the beginning. The country was as new as that other Garden of Eden when Adam capitulated to Eve.” Another author proposes a way to conceptualize the period of first Methodist colonization, claiming, “The year 1844 is an early date–I hope no one will say that it was only sixty years ago. An event cannot occur before the beginning of things, and 1844 is so near the beginning of things in Oregon…”  Faced with the mythical intangibility of “the beginning of things,” Lee’s remains perhaps brought  these early 20th century colonists a welcome tangible connection to the figures who had shaped their present.

As planned, in 1906 Jason Lee was interred at the Lee Mission Cemetery next to his first and second wives and infant son. A marble slab over 6 feet tall marks his grave, inscribed with Bible verses and a description of his life. As Jason Lee’s travels came to an end, the lively newspaper conversation on Oregon’s colonial past continued. My next blog post will examine other parts of colonial Oregon’s conversation on “the beginning of things” at the turn of the 20th century.

More on this topic can be found in the Willamette University and Northwest Collection, and, specifically, the Francis H. Grubbs collection on Jason Lee series within the Willamette University and Northwest Collection, or by visiting Willamette University’s Archives and Special Collections.

Written by Grace Pochis, History Department Archives Intern, Class ’17

Jason Lee’s grave marker. Photo taken April 26, 1940. Image credit: Salem Online History

What’s in a Claim?

Guest post written by Grace Pochis, History Department Archives Intern, Class ’17

What’s in a Claim? Evolution of “The First University in the West”

From its inception Willamette has, as with all colleges, been concerned with distinguishing itself from its neighbors. In its early days this was vital, while the university struggled financially. Willamette had been founded with the explicit charge to find itself an evangelical Christian patron, but the Methodist Church could not adequately defray the University’s expenses, and sections IV through IX of the University’s bylaws, written 1842, deal with how benefactors could pay subscriptions, or endowments, of fifty through five hundred dollars (Hines, 147-150). A donation of fifty dollars would earn the donor “a certificate of patronage” which entitled the recipient to “a voice in all the business of the society relating to the institution during his natural life” (Hines, 147) A donation of five hundred dollars, which was the maximum the founders conceived of,  entitled the donor to a perpetual scholarship at Willamette–that is, that they or their heirs could attend Willamette without tuition (Hines, 148).  At the time, five hundred dollars would have paid tuition for a year (Gatke, 311). These donations, the constitution specified, were to be paid at least one third in cash orders, and the remainder in “tame neat cattle, lumber, labor, wheat, or cash.” (Hines, 150). The perpetual scholarships were a losing venture; the initial $500 investment, quickly spent, robbed Willamette of much-needed tuition money for years to come (Gatke, 311). In fact, the last perpetual scholarship was cashed in the late 1960s, after which Willamette reclaimed it.

Attracting paying scholars by distinguishing itself from neighboring colleges has therefore been a priority for Willamette since its inception. By the turn of the 20th century, Willamette wanted to advertise its longevity, but oscillated on how to accurately compare its age to that of other colleges. Yearly bulletins printed by Willamette between 1865 and 2009 acted as both commemorations of the past year and advertisements to potential applicants, and so are a good medium to track the changes in Willamette’s self-presentation over time.  The 1920-21 bulletin says, “Willamette University is not only the oldest college on the Pacific slope of the United States, but its connection with the early history of this region is perhaps more vital than that of any other institutions that has sprung up on the far western soil” (my emphasis). Ten years later Willamette had opted for the affirmative version of that claim, saying, ‘Willamette University, with one possible exception, is the oldest institution of higher learning west of the Mississippi River. The 1931-32 bulletin avoided that “possible exception” by switching its range, saying, “Willamette University is the oldest institution of higher learning west of the Missouri River.” In 1935-6 the bulletin names the affiliation of this school, perhaps in an effort to discredit it: “Willamette University, with the exception of a Catholic school in Missouri, is the oldest institution of higher learning west of the Mississippi River.” By 1947-48, Willamette had done away with such a detailed statement and adopted the slogan,“Oldest Institution of Higher Learning West of the Rockies”. By 1957, according to a photo in the corresponding bulletin, a sign on Willamette property declared, “Willamette University, Founded by Jason Lee and the Early Christian Pioneers, 1842, The Oldest University in the West.” Through the 1960’s, 70s, and 80s, Willamette set aside its claims  of longevity to focus on other forms of advertising, color printing and much denser use of photos. In 1994, however, the claim resurfaces with a reformulation of who Willamette is, saying, “Willamette University, the oldest college in the west” (my emphasis). And in 2003 we see the current Willamette compass logo for the first time with a reversion to use of “university,” but now with a different conception of primacy: “The First University in the West” underneath. This remains our current claim to fame, but with the past as our guide, we can expect continued revisions to how Willamette advertises its age vis a vis other universities.

Information sign, northwest corner of campus, ca. 1950. Image from the Campus Photograph Collection, Willamette University Archives and Special Collections (WP 1323)


Written by Grace Pochis, History Department Archives Intern, Class ’17


Gatke, Robert Moulton. “Chronicles of Willamette: The Pioneer University of the West.” Portland: Binfords & Mort, 1943.

Hines, Gustavus. “Oregon and Its Institutions; Comprising a Full History of the Willamette University, The First Established on the Pacific Coast.” New York: Carlton & Porter, 1868.

Signing Off

I am saying farewell to Willamette and the Archives blog. It is both exciting and sad to say that my spouse and I are relocating. Exploring the Willamette University Archives and Special Collections has been a wonderful opportunity to delve into the history of the Willamette valley and dig for stories about Willamette’s fascinating alumni. The detective work in researching collections, and getting to synthesize stories into these posts, have been among the most fun aspects of this job. One of my favorite things in the Archives is Charles Larsen’s typewriter, on which he typed his history of the Chemawa Indian school. His history, and his typewriter, are part of the Charles E. Larsen Chemawa Indian School collection.  Charles Larsen

Among my other favorite pieces are the early newsletters of students in the Oregon Institute. Handwritten and distributed throughout campus in the 1850s, the Calliopen and the Experiment are fantastic glimpses into student life at the Oregon Institute. These are both part of the Student Publications collection.IMG_3375

I am sad to say farewell, but will surely be back to visit and see what other treasures have been uncovered.

All the best.

Ashley Toutain

Civil War letters

Two collections of Civil War correspondence, the John G. Burggraf collection and the John D. Beach collection, are available both online and in the Willamette Archives.Beach1

John Burggraf arrived in the United States at the age of ten, from Baden Baden, Germany. He joined the 49th Illinois Infantry of the Union Army in 1861 and served as a carpenter, a mechanic, and secretary to Col. Phineas Pease.

Burggraf’s letters, largely written to his wife, Eliza, document the aftermath of major Civil War battles including the battles of Shiloh and Pleasant Hill. In addition to his experiences after battle, Burggraf describes the life of a Civil War soldier as they provisioned food and built shelter to keep warm during winter. Burggraf’s collection also includes poetry and Civil War era medals and ribbons.



John Beach was a Union soldier for the Illinois 55th G Company. He enlisted in 1861, and was stationed at various locations in Illinois, Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri, Alabama, and Arkansas.

Beach wrote letters to his mother, Mrs. Williams, describing the daily life of a Civil War soldier. His letters describe events on the battlefield and an 1863 epidemic that killed a large number of his regiment.


The letters in both of these collections have been digitized and transcribed.

View the John G. Burggraf collection.

View the John D. Beach collection.

WWII correspondence



The Leslie J. Sparks Willamette Students World War II Correspondence gives a glimpse into Willamette students’ experiences during World War II. This collection includes correspondence between Willamette professor and coach Leslie Sparks and students serving in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II. Sparks sent updates about Willamette events and issues of the Collegian. Students replied with letters of appreciation and telling of their efforts to play sports while in service. Some letters include depictions of military life.SparksLetter1

Leslie J. Sparks dedicated 64 years of his life to Willamette University. He enrolled as a student in 1915 and graduated with a degree in Chemistry in 1919. In 1923, he began teaching Physical Education at Willamette, eventually becoming Head of the Physical Education Department. He served as head coach of the football, basketball, track and tennis teams. Sparks retired from teaching in 1962, and continued to coach tennis until 1974.

View the Leslie J. Sparks Willamette Students’ World War II Correspondence finding aid here.

Judith and Jan Zach papers

WUA084_ZachThe Judith and Jan Zach papers are now open for research. Documenting nearly fifty years of sculpture artist Jan Zach’s career, these papers include photographs, correspondence, and publications by and about Zach.

Jan Zach, the youngest of sixteen children, was born July 27, 1914 in Staný, Czechoslovakia. He attended the Superior School of Industrial Arts from 1932 to 1934 and the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague from 1934 to 1938. Zach studied painting and sculpture, his greatest inspiration being the illuminated kinetic sculptures of Zdeněk Pešánek.

In December 1938, Zach traveled to New York to paint murals in the Czechoslovakian pavilion at the 1939 Worlds Fair. Due to the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, Zach traveled to Brazil where he remained for eleven years. While in Brazil, Zach met Judith Ella Monk, a Canadian working for the United Nations. They married in 1947. In 1951, he and Judith moved to Victoria B.C. where he opened a school of painting and sculpture. In 1958, Zach joined the faculty at the University of Oregon where he taught until his retirement in 1979. 

Exhibit Opening 1979


Some of Zach’s best known sculptures include, Drapery of Memory at the Oregon state capitol, Prometheus at the University of Oregon Museum of Art, Flower of Freedom #1 near New Orleans, Louisiana, and Galaxy at the Lower Columbia College in Longview, Washington. 

In addition to his sculpture, Zach designed stage sets and costumes for the Original Ballet Russe in Sao Paulo, Brazil and wrote articles for the art magazine, Leonardo. Awards he received include a Fulbright Travel Grant, the Eugene Arts and Letters Award, a National Endowment for the Arts grant for a Sculpture Symposium, and a 1964 award from the Oregon Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. He was also an avid participant in the the National Sculpture Conference and establishment of the National Sculpture Information Center, as well as a long time member of Rotary International.

Zach continued to sculpt until his death in 1986. His final, uncompleted work, Lady, was completed in 1996 by former student, Jerry Harpster.

To find out more about Zach see Intersections: The Life and Art of Jan Zach, written by Roger Hull. To find out more about this collection view the Guide to the Judith and Jan Zach papers.

Note: An accretion to the Judith and Jan Zach papers, received in 2013, has not yet been integrated into the collection. Contact University Archives for more information about this addition.

Carl Ritchie papers

Carl RitchieThe Carl Ritchie papers are a new addition to the Archives. Donald Carl Ritchie was born in Salem, Oregon on June 30, 1923. He began working in theater and radio while attending Salem High School. While attending Willamette University, he founded the Warwick Players, a theater group putting on live radio and stage plays. After graduating, he began teaching speech and drama at Willamette. He was also a radio host for KOCO radio, and hosted a “classic movie” program on KPTV. In 1950, Ritchie began acting, directing, producing, training, writing, and designing sets for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Ritchie also served as the Chair of the Creative Arts Department at Mt. Angel College.

The Carl Ritchie papers contain transcripts of his radio broadcasts, photographs from his student theater productions, and reports from Mount Angel College.

Donald Carl Ritchie passed away February 4, 2015. View his obituary in the Statesman Journal.

Visit the Oregon Shakespeare Festival Archives to inquire about the Carl Ritchie papers housed there. 

New to the Archives

page050We received a wonderful piece of Willamette History this month – a bag and memorabilia given to Alumni Relations from Marian Pope. Pope2
Marian entered Willamette University in 1932 living in Lausanne Hall. She meticulously calculated her every purchase into a notebook and saved each receipt. It is a wonderful look into the life of a Willamette freshman in 1932.

In addition to living in Lausanne, Marian was a member of the Daleth Teth Gimel Hebrew letter society. Daleth Teth Gimel, organized at Willamette in 1929, was Willamette’s first national social organization for undergraduate women. In 1939 the name was changed to Dalda Dau Gamma.

Come to the Archives to find other pieces of the Willamette student experience.

The Willamette Bearcat towers over campus on Marian’s bag.

Exhibit: Students Interned

In 1942, ten Willamette students were forced into internment camps because of their Japanese ancestry. Students Interned highlights the stories of those ten students who were each born in the United States and were in the midst of their studies when their internment notices came. Reiko Azumano, Kenji Kurita, Kate Kyono, Tom Oye ‘41, Henry (Hank) Tanaka, Hideto (Hide) Tomita, Maye Oye Uemura, Edward Uyesugi, Taul Watanabe ‘41, and Yoshi Yoshizawa were active members on the Willamette campus, participating in organizations such as Glee, YMCA, and writing for the student newspaper, The Collegian. Most of these men and women continued their education after internment, earning degrees in law, medicine, politics, and sociology. This exhibit features photographs, news articles, books, and yearbooks showcasing each of the students.

Students Interned

Students Interned is on display in the Mark O. Hatfield Library on the Willamette University campus. Also on exhibit through March is Roger Shimomura: An American Knockoff at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art. Roger Shimomura is an accomplished artist born in Seattle who spent part of his childhood in an internment camp during  WWII. Greetings from Tule Lake



University Archives Exhibit

Zena Forest and Farm

Willamette University Archives is participating in the Willamette Heritage Center’s annual invitational exhibition, Made in the Valley.

Zena forest courtesy of Frank MillerThe Archives exhibit, Zena: Production and Education in the Eola Hills highlights the history of Zena forest and farm, located just west of Salem, from its first settlers to its conservation and educational use today.

Made in the Valley features exhibits from area heritage organizations exploring manufacture and production in the Willamette Valley. The exhibit opens Friday, January 16th and runs through Saturday, March 14th, 2015.Zena exhibit

For information on location and hours visit: