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George H. Atkinson Collection

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: MS-26

Scope and Contents

The collection mostly consists of Atkinson's incoming and outgoing correspondence. Most of the letters are professional in nature, and concern the administration of Tualatin Academy and Pacific University. Several of the letters from the 1850s concern the hiring of Pacific's first president, Sidney Harper Marsh. A group of letters from the mid-1870s relate to divisions over whether Pacific should align itself more closely with the Congregationalist Church, as well as the search for a new president to replace Sidney Harper Marsh. Another group of letters dating from 1880-1885 concern the Forest Grove Indian Industrial Training School, which was an off-reservation boarding school for Native American children. The letters reflect the work that Atkinson did to convince the Department of the Interior to keep the school in Forest Grove, and provide his assessment of its accomplishments. The original letters are accompanied by typed transcripts created by Pacific University students in 2002.

The collection also includes several original publications by Atkinson, including a sermon, a treatise on railroad routes in the Northwest, and "Reminiscences" about Reverend Elkanah Walker, who was a fellow missionary, educator and friend. A file of material about Atkinson is present at the end of the collection.


  • 1852-1887


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Pacific University owns the copyright to some, but not all, of the materials housed in its archives. Copyright for materials authored or otherwise produced as official business of Pacific University is retained by Pacific University and requires its permission for publication. Copyright status for other collection materials varies. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Biographical Note

George Henry Atkinson was an early Oregon missionary and educator who founded Pacific University. He was also involved in the creation of the public school system in Oregon.

Atkinson was born on May 10, 1819 in Newburyport, Massachusetts. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1843 and from Andover Theological Seminary in 1846. He married his wife, Nancy Bates, the same year. One year later, they travelled as missionaries to the Oregon Territory via ship around Cape Horn. The Atkinsons initially settled in Oregon City, where he helped to organize and build its Congregationalist Church. He would serve as its minister for 15 years. There he would help to found the Clackamas Female Seminary, an early women's college that survived for a few years before shutting down due to lack of funds. At the same time, Atkinson was involved in developing public education in Oregon. He authored the state's first school law in 1849, modelling its organization on New England schools. Atkinson would later serve as the first superintendent of schools in Clackamas County, and then as the superintendent for Multnomah County.

In 1849, Atkinson helped to write the charter for Tualatin Academy in Forest Grove, along with co-founders Tabitha Brown and Harvey Clark. Tualatin Academy was a secondary school open to both male and female students; mostly the children of pioneers from the Oregon Trail. Atkinson was instrumental in adding a post-secondary wing named Pacific University to the school several years later. He continued to work in the interests of Tualatin Academy and Pacific University for the rest of his life. As a member of the Board of Trustees, he helped to recruit and hire much of its faculty, including its first president, Sidney Harper Marsh.

In his later years, Atkinson worked to retain an off-reservation boarding school for Native American children in Forest Grove. The Indian Industrial Training School, which opened in 1880, housed children who were taken from tribes in Washington, Alaska, and other areas of the Pacific Northwest. The children were taught trades such as farming, blacksmithing and domestic work, and were taught to talk and dress like white Americans. Atkinson attempted to keep the school, which was under the control of the Indian Affairs section of the Department of the Interior, near Pacific University, which supported its operations. Ultimately, the school was moved to a location near Salem in 1885, where it was renamed the Chemawa Indian School.

George Atkinson died on February 25, 1889.


0.5 Cubic Feet (1 box)

Language of Materials



George Henry Atkinson was an early Oregon missionary and educator who founded Pacific University. He was also involved in the creation of the public school system in Oregon. The collection consists of Atkinson's incoming and outgoing correspondence, along with several of his publications.


The collection was arranged during the transcription project in 2002. The order imposed during at that time has been maintained in this guide.

Related Archival Materials

Other material by and about Atkinson is present in other collections at the Pacific University Archives; please ask the archivist for assistance. Several of his personal letters and his 1847-1858 diaries are housed in a collection at the Oregon Historical Society.


  • Sevetson, Donald J. Atkinson: pioneer Oregon educator. Portland, Or.: D.J. Sevetson, 2011.
Guide to the George H. Atkinson Collection
Eva Guggemos
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.
Sponsored by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission

Repository Details

Part of the Pacific University Archives Repository

2043 College Way
Forest Grove OR 97116 United States