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Portland University

Portland, Oregon



The Oregonian carried articles about Portland University from its inception to its merger with Willamette University.   The University of Portland has PU memorabilia in its museum.   The school is profiled annually in Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.  The College Yearbook and Athletic Record 1896-97 also has a profile.


The Methodist Episcopal Church sponsored Willamette University at Salem, but felt that since Portland was becoming the economic and cultural center of the Northwest, it should be the preferred site.  The new school was incorporated in December of  1890 and opened in September of 1891.  Dr. Thomas Van Scoy, president of Willamette, was brought in as dean. One hundred students were present for the opening, a number that grew to more than 200 during the second semester and exceeded 600 in the third year.


The aim of the school was "to provide instruction in all branches of education for both sexes according to the needs of the time."  According to Van Scoy,  "The student in his college course ought to come into intimate contact with such truth as will lead him to decide on his life work."


The University initially had three schools-- literary, theology, and music.  A preparatory department was included.  Later additions included a normal school, a fine arts school and a commercial school.  The literary department awarded three degrees--Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Philosophy, and Bachelor of Literature.  Commencement for theology was held separately.


The music school was the first to present a public performance, and these recitals continued throughout the life of the school.  There were two literary societies--Philomathian and Columbian.  P.U. sponsored a debate team.  As a Methodist-sponsored school, it had a chapter of the College Christian Association


In 1898 Puget Sound University from Tacoma merged with Portland University.  


The trustees of Portland University initially purchased 600 acres of land at half the market price.  The campus took 71 acres; the rest was divided into lots.  Proceeds from the sale of these lots was to provide an endowment to fund the school.  At first these lots sold well, but a recession stopped these sales.  By 1899  creditors foreclosed on university property, forcing the school to move to a new location at Sunnyside Hospital.


However by the spring of 1900, a bankrupt Portland University was forced to  merge with Willamette University and so passed into history.

Bricks and Mortar

In the days before Portland University opened, newspapers made much of the location.  Located between the Willamette and Columbia Rivers with five mountain ranges in view, the site was praised for its beauty  In the Portsmouth neighborhood, five miles north of Portland, it was still a five cent ride from downtown.  No liquor was sold within a mile of the campus.



Waldschmidt Hall.png

West Hall stood empty until Archbishop Alexander Christie purchased it for a new Catholic college, forerunner of the current University of Portland.   West Hall was placed on the National register in 1977.  Now named Waldschmidt Hall, it houses administrative offices for the University of Portland.

The cornerstone of West Hall was laid before school opened, but classes opened in St. Helens Hall.   West Hall was a five-story multi-purpose structure--dormitory, chapel and classrooms. Crowded conditions caused the music and art schools to move to the new Dekum Building a few blocks away.

1896 Portland University football team.  (Photo courtesy of University of Portland Archives)


       Colors:  The Oregonian says Royal Purple

                      and  Old Gold.  The College                                   Yearbook says Crimson.


The Oregonian reported a baseball game between the University and the High School in the spring of 1892.  In the fall of 1893 Portland began a football program that continued until the school closed.  Opponents included the local Multnomah Athletic Club and the touring Butte Athletic Club of Montana.  There were games with the high school and Bishop Smith Academy.  But above all Portland played in the state league against the Agricultural College (Oregon State), the State University (now Oregon), Monmouth College (now Western Washington), Pacific, and Willamette.  The 1905 team won the conference 


Advertisements note that preference in admissions is given to track and field athletes.

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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