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Sheldon Jackson College

Sitka, Alaska



Sheldon Jackson College is blessed to have its history so well preserved.  The Sitka Art Blog contains an extended history of the school, as does the National Historic Landmark application.  Library of Congress has numerous campus images done for the National Park Service, which itself has a large photo collection.   The Presbyterian Historical Society has a Sheldon Jackson Collection, source of the image below of native students in school uniforms. (

Sitka students.JPG


Reverend Sheldon Jackson, a Presbyterian minister, opened a mission school for Tlingit children on Baranof Island in 1878.  Sitka Art Blog notes that in the early years native parents who wanted their children to attend the school had to “indenture” them to the school for five years.  There they were taught English along with “the protocols of Protestant American culture” at the expense of their own culture.

Until 1917 Sheldon Jackson School was an elementary school with vocational and Christian emphasis. In the 1920’s it accepted only students in the fifth grade and above.  In 1942 the first students continued studies beyond high school, so in 1944 the junior college was formalized and the junior high school was discontinued.  In 1966 the junior college became accredited, and the high school was discontinued.  In the 1980’s work toward four-year status began.

Sheldon Jackson was a small school.  Enrollment in 1934 was 126.  In 1959 two-thirds to three-fourths of students were natives.  Sitka Art Blog notes that music and musicals were important components in student life.  The school choir traveled to Seattle to perform at the Presbyterian General Assembly. 

During the 1970’s S.J.C. students were eligible for state tuition grants, so enrollment reached 300.  When this practice was declared unconstitutional, enrollment fell and the school’s financial problems began.

In 2006 S.J.C. lost accreditation and was forced to close in June 2007.  The Board of Trustees remained active until 2015 to close the campus in an orderly manner and preserve the school legacy.

Bricks and Mortar

The campus now associated with Sheldon Jackson College dates from 1910-11.  An increase in enrollment led the school to hire the New York architectural firm of Peabody and Ludlow to design a new campus.  It featured five buildings fronting an open quadrangle.   The central building, Richard Allen Hall featured a T-shape with second-floor classrooms over a gymnasium/auditorium.  It was flanked on the south by two male dormitories and on the north by two female dorms.  All the buildings were Craftsman two-story structures featuring shingled siding, gabled roofs, projecting balconies and porches, and recessed entries.  School was closed for the year, and labor was supplied by “all of the boys of the school who are large enough to handle a pick and shovel.”  By the time the campus became a National Historic Landmark in 2001, it consisted of seventeen buildings. 


After the school closed, the campus ultimately was deeded to the Sitka Fine Arts Camp in 1911.  After years of deferred maintenance, followed by four years of being closed, the buildings were sadly deteriorating.  Helped by grants, the National Park Service and the Sitka Fine Arts Camp have undertaken major renovations to restore the campus.  


Part of the campus is now home to Outer Coast College a two-year experimental school.

Sheldon Jackson.JPG

E. K. Merrill image of the Sheldon Jackson campus after 1911.  Left to right, the buildings are Stevenson Hall (younger girls'dorm), North Pacific Hall (older girls' dorm), Allen Hall, Whitmore Hall (older boys' dorm) and Fraser Hall (younger boy's dorm)


            Team name: Golden Seals

            School Colors: Blue and Gold


The Alaska Digital Archives has a 1913 photo of a Sheldon Jackson baseball team with a note that an alumnus Peter Simpson had organized and equipped the team and also a basketball team.  The Chronology states, “In the late 1940s through the 60s Sitka schools fielded some great basketball teams, and games were a big part of Sitka life.”


The image (right) shows that the junior college had also had a representative basketball team in the early 1950’s, but there is no record of games played.


Newspapers describe the 1971 college team as the school’s fourth.  Sheldon Jackson played as an independent, competing against other small two and four- year schools such as Alaska Methodist, Multnomah Bible, Judson Baptist, and Columbia Christian.


The Seals also began a women’s basketball program in 1984.

Tlingit and Haida.JPG

The 1950-51 Sheldon Jackson Junior College basketball team.  Facebook image

In 1986 Sheldon Jackson became a member of the Pacific Northwest Athletic Conference, a NAIA conference of schools from Washington, Idaho, British Columbia and Alaska--most much larger and older than SJC.  In1893 in a cost-cutting measure, Sheldon Jackson dropped all sports.

Note: Images are used in accordance with their “terms of use” as I understand those terms.  Recopying or republishing these images may be restricted or forbidden.

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