In 1892 when Walla Walla University first opened its doors for classes, a single building on campus housed classrooms, kitchen, dining hall, and recreational facilities and was home to almost all students and faculty. That first day began with an enrollment of 91 students. With just three public four-year high schools in Washington state at the time, the college helped to prepare its future students by conducting elementary and secondary school classes on campus as well.
In 1891, just months before the college opened, W.W. Prescott, educational secretary for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and later first president of Walla Walla College, had traveled to Walla Walla from Battle Creek, Michigan, to describe the benefits of having an Adventist college in the community. Walla Walla mayor Dr. N.G. Blalock, a local physician, businessman, horticulturist, and civic servant, responded to Prescott’s call for community support and donated 40 acres of his 1,700-acre property to help establish the college. The location of that property determined the site of the college.
The mission statement in 1892 expressed the desire of college leaders to provide “a Christian education, surrounded with influences favorable to the development of Christian character.” This theme remains today as the university educates students with a focus on the core themes of excellence in thought, generosity in service, beauty in expression, and faith in God.
Growth and expansion
College enrollment grew steadily over the decades. In 1926, enrollment exceeded 500 students for the first time. In 1959, 1,400 students were enrolled, and by 1976 enrollment topped 2,000.
After the college received junior college accreditation in 1924, preparatory-level teaching was organized into a separate school with its own administration and instructors. In 1935, the college received four-year accreditation from the Northwest Association of Secondary and Higher Schools. Today, the university is authorized by various accrediting bodies to operate and award degrees as a higher education institution, including the Washington Student Achievement Council (formerly the Higher Education Coordinating Board), the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, the Accrediting Association of Seventh-day Adventist Schools, Colleges and Universities, and various other program accreditations.
The campus in College Place, Washington, has expanded to 83 acres and the university has grown to encompass four additional campuses: a School of Nursing in Portland, Oregon; the Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory near Anacortes, Washington; and School of Social Work campuses in Billings and Missoula, Montana.
Numerous facilities and academic programs have been added since 1892, yet the campus remains a small, tight-knit community. Major changes have included a name change in 2007 from “Walla Walla College” to “Walla Walla University,” which reflects the undergraduate and graduate offerings at the university. Today, Walla Walla University is a nationally recognized Christian university offering more than 100 areas of study including preprofessional programs, and associate, bachelor, and master’s degrees.
Want to learn more about the history of Walla Walla University?
- Bold Venture: A History of Walla Walla College by Terrie Aamodt, WWU professor of history, covers the first 100 years of the university.
- View a chronology of university events from the WWU archives.
- Find more photos in the WWU archives digital photo collection.
- Visit the WWU 125th anniversary webpage.