Cushing Eells Is Born

Congregationalist missionary Cushing Eells, founder of Whitman College, the oldest educational institution in Washington State, was born in Massachusetts on February 16, 1810.

Eells established the college, located in Walla Walla, in 1859. He named the school in honor of fellow missionaries Marcus and Narcissa Whitman. Pioneers, the Whitmans helped open Oregon Territory to U.S. settlement.

In 1836, the Whitmans founded a mission among the Cayuse Indians at Waillatpu, six miles west of present-day Walla Walla. In addition to evangelizing, the missionaries established schools and grist mills and introduced crop irrigation. Still, their work advanced slowly jeopardizing funding. In 1842, Marcus Whitman journeyed East and convinced the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to continue support. Returning the following year, he joined approximately 1,000 settlers traveling to Oregon Territory. Without Whitman's aid the caravan might not have reached its goal.

With the sudden influx of settlers, tension between Native Americans and the pioneers escalated. Trouble erupted in 1847, when a measles epidemic killed a disproportionate number of Native American children. A practicing physician, Whitman was accused of using magic to eliminate Native Americans in order to make way for new immigrants. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and twelve other settlers were killed by Cayuse warriors on November 29, 1847. Known as the Whitman Massacre, this event precipitated the Cayuse War—a conflict that lasted until 1850.

In 1836 the missionaries Marcus and Narcissa Whitman established a medical mission and a school a few miles from the modern-day city of Walla Walla to serve the Cayuse Indians and immigrants on the Oregon Trail. After the Whitmans were killed in the 1847 Whitman Massacre, the Rev. Cushing Eells resolved to establish a school in their honor. The Washington Territorial Legislature granted a charter to Whitman Seminary on December 20, 1859. On November 28, 1883, the legislature amended the charter, changing the name to Whitman College and the school to a four-year, degree-granting college. The modern-day Whitman College has no religious affiliation.

In 1913, Whitman became the first college or university in the nation to require undergraduate students to complete comprehensive oral and written examinations in their major fields. Individual majors also require an extensive project in the form of either a written or multimedia thesis or a presentation or recital. In 1920, a Phi Beta Kappa Chapter was installed, the second for any college in the Pacific Northwest.