Founding a college is a tremendous undertaking. It can be especially intimidating in the dead of winter, with snow on the ground and quilts for heat. Such was the case in 1892, when Walla Walla College began on a frozen prairie a few miles west of Walla Walla, Washington. One building, five teachers, 101 students of all grades. If you like pioneer stories, we've got one for you. Sally Sutherland, wife of the first president, describes the scene:
“We began school without locks on the doors, with the kitchen unfinished, and without heat in the building. I kept the tuition (money) under my pillow with my bed in front of the door . . . The first breakfast was cooked on a borrowed stove, with the pipe leading out the kitchen window, and was served to eighty hungry students in a cold dining room…Thus, by the light of kerosene lamps and amid the sound of hammers on the unfinished building, those pioneer students studied, played, laughed and worked through their college days…”
The first few years were a struggle for survival. The college finally granted a full four-year degree in 1909. The next decade saw the founding of the Associated Students of Walla Walla College, and of the Alumni Association, and expansion of the academic program.
At the conclusion of World War II, WWC began a twenty-year period of expansion both academically and physically. Programs such as engineering were started during this period. The biology department added the Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory in 1954. A large scale building program culminated in the 1960s with the addition of several modern buildings, including the new College Church, Kretschmar Hall, Fine Arts Center, and Rigby Hall.
In the 1970s, WWC completed the Winter Education Complex and added a new campus for the School of Nursing in Portland, Oregon. The college remained forward-looking in the early 1980s with a new Alumni Center and plans for a major endowment drive to carry WWC into the 21st century.
The School of Social Work began a masters program (M.S.W.) in the late 1980s, expanding eventually to campuses in Montana--to Missoula in 1996; to Billings in 2001.
A new Administration Building was completed in early 2007. The building houses the major administrative offices as well as the offices of Marketing and Enrollment Services and University Relations. In addition, the new structure serves as the home for three academic departments: English, History and Philosophy, and the School of Theology.
On September 1, 2007, Walla Walla College, following a vote by its constituency and approval by its Board of Trustees, officially became Walla Walla University.
Today, Walla Walla University has locks on the doors, heat in the buildings, a cafeteria and a business office to replace Sally Sutherland's pillow. Some things haven't changed, though. The faculty and students still study, work, play, and pray together. Alumni are loyal to their school and support it generously. And the pioneer dedication to religion and Christian education that has strengthened Walla Walla University for over 100 years is very much alive today.