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William H. and Chloe Clarke Willson papers

Identifier: WUA013

Scope and Contents

The William H. and Chloe Clarke Willson papers consist of Chloe Clarke Willson's journal and a transcription, land purchase records, letters, documents, and a photograph.

The Chloe Clarke Willson journal is in two sections. The journal begins in late September 1839 as Chloe Clarke prepared to leave on the journey to the Oregon Territory aboard the ship “Lausanne." It covers in some detail the early stages of the trip. The first section of the journal ends in early February 1840, three months before the end of the journey.

The journal begins again in April 1841, after she is married to William Willson. Entries in this section of the journal are less frequent and focus on the work she and William are doing. There are comments about the native people in the Washington and Oregon territories and of her desire to share her faith. After the Willsons moved to the Willamette valley, Chloe Willson writes often about her teaching, her work with the youth of the area, including the founding of the Oregon Juvenile Temperance Society, and about how much she misses William when he is traveling.

As a devout Methodist, Chloe Willson also used the journal as a prayer journal. In this context she mentions attending “the first campmeeting held in Oregon,” and her desire for the “evil” of slavery to be "driven back to its native hell."

The letters and documents primarily relate to William H. Willson. One of the letters refers to the Willamette University and Willson family land dispute.


  • 1839-1897


Language of Materials

Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to researchers.

Conditions Governing Use

Library acts as “fair use” reproduction agent.

For further information, see the section on copyright in the Regulations and Procedures of the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library.

Copyright Information: Before material from collections at Willamette University Archives and Special Collections may be quoted in print, or otherwise reproduced, in whole or in part, in any publication, permission must be obtained from (1) the owner of the physical property, and (2) the holder of the copyright. It is the particular responsibility of the researcher to obtain both sets of permission. Persons wishing to quote from materials in any collections held by University Archives and Special Collections should consult the University Archivist. Reproduction of any item must contain a complete citation to the original.

Biographical / Historical

Chloe Aurelia Clarke was born in Connecticut on April 16, 1818. She received her academic training at Wilbraham Academy, a seminary that specialized in training Methodist missionaries for service around the world. In 1839 she joined other Methodists on the ship “Lausanne” traveling to the Oregon Territory as part of the “Great Reinforcement” movement led by Jason Lee.

Following her arrival in Oregon in May, 1840, Clarke was sent to the Washington Territory to teach at the mission station in Nisqually, Puget Sound. There she met Dr. William Willson, whom she married in August 1840. In June 1841 the Willsons moved to the mission station at Willamette Falls (Oregon City), Oregon, where they worked for three years. The Willsons moved to the Willamette Valley in 1844, where they contributed to the work of creating the educational and cultural community of Salem, Oregon.

One reason for their move was that Chloe Willson was asked to be the first teacher at the Oregon Institute, founded by Jason Lee and a board of dirctors in 1842. When the Oregon Institute opened in August 1844, Chloe Willson was both teacher and housemother for five primary grade students. Within two years the student body numbered twenty. In 1846 William was chosen by the Board of Trustees to serve, along with three other men, as a business agent and manage the Institute’s land holdings. In this position, under the direction of the board, William drew up the first plat for the town and gave the town the name Salem.

Chloe Willson taught at the Oregon Institute, which was subsequently named Willamette University, until 1847. William served on the University Board and ran a pharmacy in downtown Salem. After William’s death in 1856, Chloe Willson went back east, put her daughters in school, and opened her home to students to help with the costs.

In 1863 she returned to Willamette University where she served as the Governess of the Ladies Department for the next three years. In 1871 Chloe Willson moved to Portland, Oregon to live with her daughter Frances and her son-in-law, Joseph Gill. Three years later Chloe died on July 2, 1874. She is buried in the Pioneer Cemetery in Salem, Oregon next to her husband.


3 Linear Feet (2 boxes)


The William H. and Chloe Clarke Willson papers consist of Chloe Clarke Willson's journal and a transcription, land purchase records, letters, documents, and a photograph. There is information regarding the Willamette University and Willson family land dispute among the letters.


The papers are arranged as found.

Physical Location

Mark O. Hatfield Library

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of the granddaughters of Chloe Willson, 1935.

Related Materials

Robert M. Gatke “Chronicles of Willamette” research collection


  • Gill, Frances. Chloe Dusts Her Mantle: A Pioneer Woman's Idyll. (New York: Press of the Pioneers, 1935)
Guide to the William H. and Chloe Clarke Willson papers, 1839-1897
Finding aid processed by Rose Marie Walter.
© 2008
Description rules
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Willamette University Archives and Special Collections Collection Descriptions

Mark O. Hatfield Library
900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 United States