History of the College
In 1836, a few miles from the current city of Walla Walla, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman established a Christian mission and a school to teach the Cayuse Indians to read and write their native language. Later, the Whitmans provided assistance to Oregon Trail travelers. In 1847, Rev. Cushing Eells resolved to establish a school in the Whitmans' honor. The Washington Territorial Legislature granted a charter to Whitman Seminary on December 20, 1859. On November 28, 1883, the legislature issued a new charter, changing the seminary into a four-year, degree-granting college.
From its beginning, Whitman College has prized its independence from sectarian and political control. Whitman has remained small in order to facilitate the close faculty-student interaction that is essential to exceptional higher education. In 1913, Whitman became the first college or university in the nation to require undergraduate students to complete comprehensive examinations in their major fields. The installation of a Phi Beta Kappa chapter in 1919, the first for any Northwest college, marked Whitman's growing reputation.
Visit Whitman's Portraits of the Past digital exhibit, which features an exploratory collection of photographs of the College's history, to see an interactive timeline of Whitman College's history.
Beginning in 1882, Whitman College has had thirteen presidents. Kathleen M. Murray is currently serving the college as our fourteenth president. To understand part of Whitman's history, read the interesting stories of the past presidents who steered the college to where it is today.