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

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.



49 scrapbooks within the Willamette University scrapbook collection are now available for viewing. These scrapbooks were compiled by Willamette University students, faculty and staff. Student scrapbooks feature photographs of life on campus, letters home to family, cards from friends, and souvenirs collected from memorable events. Largely covering the 1910s to 1930s, the student scrapbooks highlight student experience in a unique and personal way. A scrapbook from 1893 documents a group of Willamette Students as they climbed and camped at Mount Hood.

The residence hall scrapbooks of Baxter, Lausanne, Lee and York contain photographs and programs from annual events. Faculty scrapbooks highlight the work of piano professor James Ralph Dobbs, and the 1913 summer school held in Joseph, Oregon.


Find out about all of the available scrapbooks via the Willamette University Scrapbook finding aid.

The Collegian is online!


Available. Online. 24/7

Digitization is complete! Willamette University’s long running newspaper, the Collegian, is now available digitally and fully keyword searchable. With unprecedented access to history at your fingertips, what will you search for?

Beginning in November 2013, over 100 years of Collegian issues were carefully processed in-house, including unbinding bound volumes of the Collegian, taking an average of 40 minutes to carefully remove the binding.  We hired an experienced firm to digitize the Collegians. Over a century of Collegian data was then uploaded to the Academic Commons so the public can search across all of the digitized materials on the web. The Collegian is now searchable, and browsable, all the way back to its first issue in 1875.



Welcome to Willamette!

For well over 160 years Willamette University has been welcoming new students to campus!












Today begins Opening Days, in which over 500 freshman, transfer, and international students, and their families arrive on campus. Welcome to Willamette, and to Opening Days, new students and families!

More early images of Willamette campus are available in the Willamette Archives and via our Campus Photographs collection.

Wilbur letters digitized


Thanks to the work of summer intern, Bronte Dodd, who scanned and uploaded the correspondence, and attached metadata including transcriptions, James Harvey Wilbur’s papers are now available online.

James Harvey Wilbur (1811-1887) came to the Oregon Territory in 1846 as part of the Oregon Methodist Mission. In 1848, he became principal of the Oregon Institute, where he and his wife, Lucretia Anne, taught. After the Oregon Institute became Willamette University in 1853, Wilbur served as a member of the board of trustees and was as temporary president on two occasions. Wilbur served as an agent at the Yakama Indian Agency near Walla Walla in the Washington Territory for nearly 20 years. Wilbur collected businesses records and correspondence throughout his life, as well as writing a journal about his travels around Cape Horn from New York to Oregon.

Wilbur1Well over 400 pages of Wilbur’s correspondence and ledgers can now be viewed online, along with their transcriptions. The bulk of the material is from the 1880s and pertains to Wilbur’s career as Indian Agent for the Yakama Reservation at Fort Simcoe in the Washington Territory.

Wilbur’s letters and business documents can be viewed online here.

View the James Harvey Wilbur papers finding aid to see all of the materials available in the Archives.

Ban on Dancing

DancingPoll12_7_1933Given its Methodist heritage, dancing and card playing were forbidden on the Willamette campus until the 1930s. While the dancing ban was a fact of  Willamette life in its early years, through the 1910s and 1920s students were beginning to find issue with the ban. Student body numbers were increasing, and many students had grown up dancing at local social events. By 1933, the Associated Students of Willamette University conducted a poll inquiring about students’ desire to partake in social dancing functions. With a vote of 369 to 67, the vast majority of students just wanted to dance! The response from the Board of Trustees was to restate that “Sunday afternoon teas, which have been becoming increasingly popular on campus, meet administration requirements only as long as no dancing or card-playing is permitted.”


Photographs and newspapers help us imagine students’ reactions to their social regulation. While we do not know the true story behind these women dancing, perhaps their dance with dummies is in protest to the ban on social dancing.

You can view this photo, and many like it, in the Paulus Glass Plate Negatives collection. You can find reactions to the ban on dancing in the Collegian, which is currently available in the Archives and soon to be available from anywhere on the Archives website.

WU Archives and Special Collections Welcomes Ashley Toutain!


Ashley photoAshley Toutain joins the Archives’ team full-time as the Processing Archivist and Records Manager. Since September 2012, Ashley has been employed part-time as Willamette’s Assistant Records Manager.  In that role, Ashley has contributed significantly by helping to process a backlog of university records that have been accumulating for decades.  In addition to processing university records, Ashley curated an exhibit on Willamette’s behalf for the annual Heritage Invitational Exhibition at the Willamette Heritage Center. The exhibit highlighted the many components that comprise a successful archives program. A native of Eastern Oregon, Ashley graduated from Willamette University in 2008 with a B.A. in history. She then attended the University of Kansas where she received her M.A. in Museum Studies.

Ashley brings to the position a collaborative and innovative working-style as well as a keen appreciation for the history of Willamette University and the surrounding region. Please join us in welcoming Ashley!

Kathleen Gemberling Adkison Papers

KGA_print_079Kathleen Gemberling Adkison (1917-2010) was an abstract painter whose work was, and is, featured in Museums and Galleries throughout the Northwest. She studied art with Leon Derbyshire at the Cornish Institute in Seattle, Washington between 1938 and 1942. She then began studying with Mark Tobey, an influential Northwest painter and one of the founders of the Northwest School. Adkison’s first solo exhibition was in 1957 at the Henriette E. Woessner Alumni Gallery, Seattle. Throughout her career she had numerous solo exhibitions, the majority of which were at Gordon Woodside/John Braseth Gallery in Seattle. Adkison participated in group exhibitions throughout Washington as well as throughout the nation.


The Kathleen Gemberling Adkison papers include photographs, newspaper articles, and correspondence about Adkison’s work. Correspondence includes letters of congratulations and appreciation, logistics of setting up gallery shows, individuals purchasing her artwork, as well as critiques of her work. Also included in the collection are awards she received for her painting, and programs for the gallery shows and museum exhibits in which her paintings were featured.

View the slide collection online  | Find out more about the collection