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Robert M. Gatke “Chronicles of Willamette” research collection

Identifier: WUA008

Scope and Contents

The Robert M. Gatke “Chronicles of Willamette” research collection is organized in two series and contain the documents, records, and other historical materials that Gatke collected in his research on the history of Willamette University and the Mid-Willamette Valley. Series I, the majority of the collection, is arranged in alphabetical order by subject. Folders contain typed or handwritten notes and chapters of the Chronicles as well as research materials. Gatke often covered the outside of the folder with a detailed outline of the information inside the folder. The folder list below contains specific details of each folder's contents.

Series II contains correspondence and statements relating to the search for the Cyrus Shepard diary. Cyrus Shepard was the first teacher in the Indian School established in the Willamette Valley in 1835. This school was the precursor of Willamette University. While once in the possession of Willamette University, the diary was mistakenly given to a retired Methodist minister in 1920 or 1921. Gatke spent the next two decades unsuccessfully trying to recover the diary for the Northwest History Collection.


  • 1835-1968
  • Majority of material found within 1919-1968


Language of Materials

Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The 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

Robert Moulton Gatke was born on January 31, 1896 in Ludington, Michigan. His educational career at Willamette University began when he entered Willamette Academy as a history student in 1914. After receiving his diploma from Willamette Academy in 1916, he subsequently enrolled at Willamette University with an interest in both history and theology. While an undergraduate, Gatke became involved with the Kimball College of Theology as a member of the Kimball Literary Society, simultaneously continuing his studies in history. During his sophomore year Gatke worked as a Kimball student body reporter and during his junior year served as secretary and treasurer, Kimball Literary Society critic, and vice president of the Kimball Literary Society. As a senior he continued to serve as vice president and graduated from Willamette in 1919 with an A.B. Upon graduation, Gatke was selected to be permanent president of his class.

Gatke enrolled in the Master of Arts program at Willamette and in the Kimball College of Theology in 1919. He received his Master of Arts (A.M.) diploma in 1920, the same year he was ordained by the Oregon Conference as a minister of the Methodist Church. As a graduate student, Gatke began teaching at Willamette after being appointed a history fellow in 1919. He taught several history courses in liberal arts and joined the regular Willamette faculty in 1920 after being appointed instructor in history. While attending the Kimball College of Theology, Gatke taught American and European history during the years 1920-1921. He received his Bachelor of Divinity (B.D.) in 1921 and was promoted to assistant professor of history at Willamette, a rank he held until 1925.

On August 1, 1923, Gatke married Estelle Satchwell, a fellow Willamette graduate from Shedd, Oregon. That same year he took leave from the Willamette campus to study on a graduate fellowship at American University in Washington, D.C. In 1925 he received a Ph.D. in history with an emphasis in political science. After returning to teaching at Willamette in 1925, Gatke made the decision to accommodate a perceived student interest in politics by placing a political science course in the university course catalog - without faculty or administration approval. The course was approved anyway and such was the beginning of the political science department at Willamette. Also in 1925, Gatke was promoted to associate professor of history and political science, a position he held until 1935 when he was further promoted to professor of political science and history, teaching courses until his official retirement in 1961.

Gatke noted his principle scholarly interest was in the history of the Northwest, which culminated in the publishing of Chronicles of Willamette: The Pioneer University of the West in 1943, a 700-page volume covering the history of the university and the Mid-Willamette Valley. Research for Gatke’s Chronicles of Willamette began with his master’s thesis work in 1919 and lasted over twenty years, carried out while he taught as a full-time professor. In addition, Chronicles of Willamette was published without any funding provided by the university. In the process of researching, Gatke recovered many letters, documents, and other historical materials which would later become a significant part of Willamette University’s Northwest History Collection.

Over the course of his career as a student and educator, Gatke became involved in a number of associations inside and outside of academia. He was a member of the American Political Science Association, American Society of International Law, Sigma Chi Fraternity, American Rhododendron Society, editor of the American Rhododendron Yearbook (1947-1949), and a member of the Methodist Historical and Champoeg Society of the Oregon Conference of United Methodists.

Gatke’s hobbies included gardening, landscape work, and writing about gardens He served as an advisor in landscaping and beautifying the Willamette campus from 1934. He planted many rhododendrons and the circle of giant sequoia trees near Collins hall known as the Star Trees.

Among his honors, Gatke was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters in 1967 and the title of Professor Emeritus upon his retirement in 1961. In the fall of 1968, the Willamette Board of Trustees voted to rename the former College of Law Building in his honor. Gatke spent the years following retirement researching for the second volume of the Chronicles of Willamette and staying active as a member of the Willamette community, frequenting the Willamette Alumni gatherings. He died on December 5, 1968, survived by his widow, Estelle; two sons, Robert M. Gatke Jr. and Richard B. Gatke; and eight grandchildren.


4 Linear Feet (4 boxes)


The Robert M. Gatke “Chronicles of Willamette” research collection contains the documents, records, and other historical materials that Gatke collected while researching the history of Willamette University and the Mid-Willamette Valley. Of particular note is the depth of material concerning Willamette University’s first fifty years and the impact of World War II on the University’s curriculum, student body, and daily life. There is also information on Gatke’s search for the diary of Cyrus Shepard.


The Robert M. Gatke “Chronicles of Willamette” research collection is organized in two series. Both series retain original order. Series I, the research collection, is arranged in alphabetical order. Series II is arranged by subject.

Physical Location

Mark O. Hatfield Library


  • Gatke, Robert M., Chronicles of Willamette: The Pioneer University of the West. (Portland, Or.: Binfords and Mort, 1943).
Guide to the Robert M. Gatke “Chronicles of Willamette” research collection, 1835-1968
Finding aid processed by Paul Meuse.
© 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