Chloe Clarke Willson

2012 marks the one hundredth anniversary of the year Oregon granted women the vote. Events are taking place throughout the year leading up to November, 1912. Several websites have information about prominent women in Oregon during the last one hundred years, including “Women Suffrage in Oregon” at the Oregon Encyclopedia.

Willamette University has a place in this history, starting in 1844 when it opened its doors as the Oregon Institute. Our first teacher was Chloe Clarke Willson, a woman who came out to the Northwest Territory from New England in 1839. We are fortunate to have a journal Chloe Clarke kept during her voyage out and during the early part of her life in the Northwest. A devote Methodist, Chloe felt called to teach Christianity to the natives in the Northwest. During the almost two years she was on the clipper ship, the Lausanne, she writes often about her spiritual experience and her activities while on board ship.

After she arrived in the Northwest, she met and married William Willson, who had come out the year before. They began their missionary work in the Puget Sound, moved from there to Willamette Falls (Oregon City) and then, in the summer of 1844, moved to the Willamette Valley in answer to the call that Chloe be the first teacher at the new Oregon Institute. The school open on August 13, 1844 with five students. Within two weeks Chloe had 13 students and writes that she feels she is “in the path of duty.” Two years later the board hired another teacher to assist her because the student load had become so great.

Chloe Willson’s journal provides ample evidence of the difficult life the early settlers experienced in the Oregon Territory. It also gives glimpses of the joys and sorrows of family life and the beauty of the Northwest. You can find digital images of the journal, as well as a transcription of each page, at this website. Click on the Chloe Clarke Willson Diary in the pull-down menu on the home page and enter the world of the 1800s. It is a rewarding journey.