George Atkinson, Harvey Scott, and the Portland High School Controversy of 1880

WHEN PORTLAND HIGH SCHOOL, Oregon’s first high school, opened on April 26, 1869, it had forty-five students and was lauded by Harvey Scott in an Oregonian editorial. “We congratulate the citizens of Portland,” he wrote, “as well as the projectors of the plan on this new and essential element in the intellectual wants of the city, wherein is secured, free of charge, and entirely at public expense, as full and thorough an academic course as can be had in the city, and perhaps in the state.”[1] Ten years later, the public school system of Oregon was growing rapidly and Scott had changed his mind. He concluded that the Portland school system was out of control, reaching far beyond its legislative mandate. In particular, he disagreed with the need for a free public high school, believing that asking the public to provide anything more than eight years of free “common school” was bad policy.

Scott, proud of both his intellectual attainments and self-financed course of study, used his editorial pulpit to make a broad critique of the schools. His slashing style evoked debate and controversy across the city. Rev. George Atkinson shaped the community’s response to Scott’s critique. After arriving in Oregon in 1848, Atkinson had continuously worked for education, seeing it as a vehicle of both moral formation and economic improvement. He believed high schools were essential for preparing and providing a corps of qualified teachers.

George Henry Atkinson, nineteen years Scott’s senior, was born in 1819 in the seaport of Newburyport, Massachusetts. A child of a family of successful, influential merchants, Atkinson was raised in the adjacent settlement of Newbury, Massachusetts, until 1830, when the family moved to Newbury, Vermont. Four years later, fifteen-year-old Atkinson was in the initial class at Newbury Seminary, the town’s first school. He attended two other Vermont academies before entering Dartmouth College in 1839. After graduating from Dartmouth, Atkinson attended Andover Seminary in Massachusetts and was ordained to the Congregational ministry in 1847. That same year, he was commissioned a missionary to the Oregon Territory by the (Congregational) American Home Missionary Society (AHMS).

With his wife Nancy Bates of Springfield, Vermont, he embarked from Boston on October 25, 1847, on the Samoset, reaching Honolulu in 125 days. After a three month stay in the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii), the couple secured passage on the Cowlitz and arrived at Fort Vancouver on June 19, 1848, reaching Oregon City two days later. Atkinson served the Congregational church in Oregon City until 1863, when he moved to Portland to serve as minister of the First Congregational Church. He held that position for nine years and, in 1873, the AHMS appointed him General Missionary for Oregon and Washington Territory.[2]

Harvey Scott was born in Tazewell County, Illinois, in 1838, and initially received elementary education in a log schoolhouse there. After traveling the Oregon Trail in 1852, his formal schooling was delayed for several years. Scott assisted his father in clearing three farm sites and also worked as a logger, mill hand, carpenter, and rail splitter before entering the U.S. Army at age seventeen.[3] He entered Pacific University in Forest Grove at age twenty-one, and was its first graduate, receiving the Bachelor of Arts degree in 1863. To pay for his schooling and living expenses while at Pacific University, Scott tutored and worked as a manual laborer. In 1865, he became editor of the Daily Oregonian. He left the newspaper in 1872 and returned to it in 1877, as both editor and part owner.

Scott and Atkinson were similar in their strong work ethic, boundless curiosity, and breadth of knowledge. Both left immense written legacies — Scott through his editorial voice, Atkinson in voluminous correspondence, secretarial records, newspaper contributions, and institutional histories — and both often used visionary, even grandiose language. Scott utilized his brilliance, learning, and aggressiveness to educate his readership, but those traits could also serve to intimidate and overwhelm those who disagreed. Atkinson saw himself as consensus-oriented, disliking controversy. He used his diverse interests and experiences to inform, hoping to stimulate cooperation and progress.

The two were well acquainted by the time they led opposing views in the high school controversy. Atkinson was secretary of the Board of Trustees of Pacific University and, as Pacific’s first graduate, Scott knew the teachers and trustees well, and was well known by them in return. Scott became a member of the Congregational Church in Forest Grove during his student years, then transferred his membership to First Congregational Church of Portland on January 7, 1866, during the third year of Atkinson’s pastorate. The relationship of the two grew closer as Scott relied on Atkinson as a regular contributor to the Oregonian. During all three of his terms as Multnomah County superintendent of schools, Atkinson published regular reports in the Oregonian— eighteen in all. He reported on visits to schools and made recommendations about a wide range of topics, including textbooks, age-appropriate classroom furniture, better heating of classrooms, and policies encouraging retention of teachers by many small local school boards, which often tried to reduce budgets through annual turnover of faculty.[4]

Scott evidently welcomed Atkinson as an intelligent commentator on many other topics. During the years Atkinson spent starting Sabbath Schools and churches as a regional worker for his church (1873–1889), he wrote more than thirty lengthy articles that were published in the Oregonian. Those reports, coming on top of his earlier columns as county school superintendent, solidified his reputation as a concerned and alert community leader. They covered such diverse topics as railroad routes, juvenile reform, the Columbia River bar, wheat growing, basaltic soils, land grants, forests, fisheries, and Indian policy.

Atkinson had come to Oregon expecting to play a central role in creating an educational system for the new territory. In a later historical sketch, he wrote: “The commission given Rev. G.H. Atkinson by the American Home Missionary Society in 1847 to labor in Oregon, instructed him to aid in the work of education. This led him to spend several weeks before coming, in carefully examining various series of school books.” The books he chose were some of the first school textbooks brought to Oregon in quantity.[5] Less than three months after arriving in Oregon City, Atkinson wrote to the AHMS about obstacles to beginning a system of schools. Based on visits to Clackamas, Portland, Tualatin Plains, and some of the upper Willamette Valley, he reported: “We have no free schools, no districts, no appropriation for education, no plan for it, no effort to commence one…. The want of books is much felt even in the small schools. The want of steady and good teachers will be more felt when a system is commenced.”[6] Since public high schools or academies (their private equivalent) were central to teacher training, Atkinson felt deeply their lack. The following spring he wrote: “We must have Academies here before we can have free schools. It is difficult to raise funds…. Many who need schools do not feel their need. Others will leave the country because there are no good schools.”[7]

With the spring 1849 arrival of Joseph Lane, the territory’s first governor, Atkinson had an opportunity to promote his agenda. He called a public meeting in Oregon City, during which “one question [raised] was, ‘Shall we organize a system of free schools?’ A vote was taken which resulted as follows: 37 for and 6 against free schools.”[8] In his memoir, Atkinson identified John McLoughlin as one of those who spoke in opposition to a free system of education, and he later wrote that “the dissenters to this resolution were gentlemen whose early abode or training in other countries led them to the opinion that every man ought to educate his own children and wards, and not tax others to do it.”[9]

Following the citizens’ meeting, Governor Lane, anticipating his message to the first session of the Territorial Legislature, asked Atkinson to prepare the section dealing with education.[10] That portion of Lane’s address, which was delivered July 17, 1849, reminded legislators that congressional law required sections sixteen and thirty-six of surveyed territorial land be set aside for schools. “The magnificent spirit displayed by congress, in making so liberal a donation for this purpose,” Atkinson wrote,

is a ground for grateful acknowledgement, and indicates an enlightened policy, which looks to the diffusion of knowledge…. Your attention is invited to the importance of adopting a system of common schools and providing the means of putting them into operation; and when the lands become available, the system may, under wise legislation, be maintained and continued, without bearing onerously upon the people, and ultimately be productive of the end in view when the gift was made.[11]

The legislature passed the school law on September 5, 1849, making possible a system of common schools. Implementation, however, would be gradual.

Portland was typical in its resistance. According to George Himes, Portland began its public school on December 6, 1851, but no school building was erected for several years, because “the idea of ‘free schools’ was bitterly opposed in many quarters, particularly by bachelors, those who had no children, and others especially interested in building up private and denominational schools.”[12]

Atkinson’s work for education did not cease with the Territorial Legislature’s passage of the school law in 1849. While living in Oregon City, he helped to found the Clackamas County Female Seminary and served as the first school commissioner of Clackamas County.[13] After moving to Portland in 1863, he served three terms of two years each as Multnomah County superintendent of schools. He was also a trustee of Pacific University and of Whitman College, an Oregon Penitentiary Commissioner, and a leader in founding three private academies in Washington Territory.[14]

The school law adopted by the Territorial Legislature in 1849 provided for annual meetings of school districts. The annual school meetings spread over two weeks. On the first Monday in March, qualified voters — probably property owners, although the record is unclear — in each district met to hear the school district directors’ reports on the previous year and their plans for the year ahead, and to establish the tax rate for schools to be levied for the following year. On the following Monday, they met again to elect one director to a three-year term (there were three directors in each district) and to elect a clerk to a one-year term.[15]

Initial signs of discontent over the Portland high school appeared as early as the 1871 annual school meeting. Two prominent citizens — Josiah Failing and Matthew Deady — used the occasion to publicly state their doubts about the need for, and expense of, such a school. They questioned the propriety of supporting a high school with tax dollars raised for first-through-eighth-grade district schools.[16] Although no recorded action grew out of the remarks of Deady and Failing, they likely caused concern; the minutes of the next year’s meeting show the adoption of the following motion by A.G. Walling: “Resolved that it is the sense of this meeting that … the division of the high school should be maintained and fostered as of great promise to the youth of our city, to afford them the means of a substantial education.”[17]

The Oregon School Code adopted by the 1878 legislature provided for high schools for the first time. In Section 9, Duties of Directors, legislators wrote: “To maintain at least six months in each year, in all districts where the number of persons between 4 and 20 years of age is 1,000 … a high school, wherein shall be taught, in addition to the common school branches, such other branches as the directors of the district may describe.”[18] Harvey Scott’s first editorial criticism of the schools appeared on March 4, 1879, two days after the annual school meeting had adopted a tax levy of 41/2 mills for the next year. His campaign was rooted in three arguments: that the increasing burden of taxation was oppressive, harming business and diminishing incentive; that if education “comes by easy methods, if the state furnished it, beyond the elementary branches, free of cost, it is impossible that any sturdiness of character should be developed in its acquisition”; and that leaders in the educational field were constantly expanding their program and constituency beyond essential functions, with the high school standing as the prime example of unwise, unnecessary growth.[19] Atkinson responded to Scott on July 31, 1879, with a lengthy Oregonian article in which he argued that the high school is a logical “growth. It has come up from the common school through … the process of grading.” While affirming the importance of the advanced learning made possible in a high school, he conceded Scott’s point that too much time in school would mean a loss of the “habits of work and industry” made possible through gainful employment. Atkinson noted that “it is the province of the school board … to limit the time of pupils in the higher grades to one half of the school year, and to require certificates from parents or guardians, that they have spent six months of every year in some chosen industrial pursuit.”

Scott’s editorials evoked a lively response, and he and Atkinson were not alone in the debate over public schools. The Oregonian published several letters that challenged Scott’s views, including one by City School Superintendent Thomas Henry Crawford and two by State School Superintendent L.J. Powell. Crawford’s purpose was to show that the per-pupil cost of instruction in Portland was quite modest. Powell, poking fun at Scott’s florid rhetoric, challenged Scott’s premise that the schools were in decline from an earlier time of excellence.[20] Other letters expressing views on both sides of the debate were published. On February 21, the Oregonian published results of its interviews with forty citizens, most of whom supported Scott’s views. Thomas Lamb Eliot, minister of the First Unitarian Church who had succeeded Atkinson as county superintendent of schools, accused Scott of a lack of “consistency on the school question,” writing: “The justification of our public school system really lies where people seldom look for it, viz: In the necessity of a republic’s preserving a homogeneous people; the necessity of having one institution which effectually mingles and assimilates all classes, and so oppose the creation of classes and castes.”[21]

Editors of the region’s other newspapers also entered the fray. The Oregonian reprinted supporting editorials from the Hillsboro Independent, and published a news story on March 8, 1880, that cited editorial agreement from the Roseburg Star, the McMinnville Reporter, the Portland Sunday Mercury, and the Seattle Dispatch. Two newspapers — the Portland Daily Bee and the New Northwest— took stands in opposition to Scott.[22] Of the two, the Bee conducted the most vigorous campaign, often printing editorial rejoinders to the Oregonian’s comments before the end of the day on which they had first been published.

The New Northwest was edited by Scott’s sister, Abigail Scott Duniway. An example of her outlook is found in the editorial “Save the Schools,” dated February 26, 1880:

An organized attempt is being made by the enemies of our system of free education to overthrow the High School…. It is a step toward aristocracy. It is a struggle to keep the children of the poor from competing with the offspring of the rich in the race of life…. We call on all those who are in favor of free education for the masses to deposit a vote on next Monday for a tax levy sufficient to carry on our schools for the coming year…. We ask all those who desire the people to be intelligent, to attend and throw their ballots in favor of an appropriation large enough to maintain our High School. Remember that this blow at the High [School] is the starting point for the downfall of our entire system of free education.[23]

Whereas Duniway argued that full public schooling was beneficial to those with lower incomes, Scott argued that free high school education left the poor without means to support themselves. In one of his earliest editorials on the schools, Scott drew on an article from the Philadelphia Record about a family in which three sons, having finished high school, were overqualified for jobs that were available and thus became unemployed burdens on their family. He concluded:

Thus the prosperity of families is destroyed by the necessity of supporting involuntary drones, and the drag is felt by society at large. It may be asked, “why blame the school system, when the boy of fifteen or sixteen, even if he stops school, can find no employment?” The answer is that the school system itself has created this abnormal condition of society…. The conclusion is this: give every child a good common school English education at public expense, and then stop…. if any want more, let those who dance pay the fiddler. This is the cure for drones. It is the way, too, to make the public schools a public blessing, instead of allowing them to develop into nurseries of imbecility and idleness.[24]

The Bee— which had already accused Scott of believing only in “survival of the fittest,” thereby linking his arguments to Social Darwinism — later responded to Scott’s charge by reviewing the present situations of all sixty-five graduates of the high school from the years 1875 through 1879, listing them each by name and occupation, and concluding that there was “not a drone on the list.”[25]

Two days before the annual school meeting, Atkinson again entered the fray. His article of February 28, 1880, went beyond the earlier article by providing a summary of Scott’s criticisms, a thoughtful response, and a proposal for an investigating committee. Because of its critical role in providing a corps of trained, capable teachers, the high school had been a part of Atkinson’s vision from the outset. He was determined to preserve it. The Oregonian printed his summary of Scott’s arguments under the title “The Judgment Against The Public Schools.” Atkinson summarized Scott’s case by quoting from his February 21 editorial, “Public Opinion and the Schools,” in which Scott had organized his critique under five broad themes. Listed here are the five themes cited by Atkinson with explanatory excerpts from Scott’s editorials:

That the machinery of the schools has grown to a too cumbrous and expensive system: “In nearly every city there has been growing up during the last ten years an elaborate public school machinery, largely managed and directed by those whom it supports. Nominally it is controlled by the taxpayers of the districts, but in reality by associations of persons who live as professionals upon the public school system. This class virtually have supreme control. They organize the system and prescribe its course. Whatever additional machinery can be devised, whatever additional methods introduced, are usually adopted. The scheme is made up without regard to the purse of taxpayers, and then the announcement is made that about such sum of money will be required for the next year. And it is expected to be forthcoming, as if those who furnish the money had nothing to do but go through the double formula of voting it and then paying it” (February 9, 1880).
That there are too many studies: “Small children are required to have from eight to twelve studies, when the simple fact is that they have not yet been taught to read and spell with anything like correctness. The old drill in reading and spelling is discarded as an obsolete and antiquated fashion…. One quarter’s schooling under the old plan by which children were taught first to read and spell, would be worth a whole year’s bother and tease with this trumpery, trash, rubbish, stuff and flummery” (February 12, 1880).
That the high school is not a proper part of the system of public education: “The public high school is a step beyond the limits proposed or intended in our system of free education. It is not for the children of the poor, who are obliged to work as soon as they reach the age for it. It is for the children of the middle or wealthy class, as any list of its graduates will show. It is an aristocratic excrescence, engrafted and growing upon our old common and popular system. We know men of small property in this city who are taxed year after year to keep up the high school, whose children have never entered that school nor ever can. Why? Because they must work. Thus poor men are taxed to educate the children of those much richer than themselves” (February 25, 1880).
That foreign languages, higher mathematics, and the several branches of natural science, so called, should not be taught in the public schools: “English has been and will continue to be the prevailing language of our country. And as we are all American citizens, with a nationality of our own, we need not continue and foster distinction of classes and nationalities by giving public instruction in foreign languages. It is not desirable to build up further class distinctions among us by educating our people in classes, according to the nationalities from which they sprang” (February 24, 1880).
Those who desire for their children an education beyond the common branches of the old common school should pay for it: “The avenues of knowledge are not closed against any class, and no one proposes to close them. These systems, like all others in the affairs of life, are open always to persevering energy, sober economy, and enterprising talents. The public purse gives every one a start in the acquisition of knowledge. His feet are placed in the path, he is started upon the course and shown the way; and he should and must do the rest for himself, with such aid, of course, as parents may be able or willing to afford him … the ambitious and talented youth need not depend on anybody to finish his education. When he goes out from the public school, where he has received a good foundation in the elementary studies, he can find means always of working his way through academy and college, if he really is in earnest about it” (February 24, 1880).

Atkinson concluded by proposing that such serious charges deserved to be carefully investigated.

Atkinson followed his article by bringing a resolution to the March 1 annual school meeting, which read, in part: “In view of complaints made for several months past in THE OREGONIAN against the public school system of Portland: Resolved, that it is due the teachers, the guardians and the patrons of the public schools, to have the subject fairly and fully investigated. Resolved, that a committee of 7 or 9 gentlemen and ladies be appointed at the annual school meeting for the purpose of such investigation.”[26] Voters at the meeting adopted the resolution, with the proviso that the committee would report to the adjourned school meeting on July 12, 1880. A nominating committee was appointed, and Atkinson was named chairman. No available records indicate whether Atkinson actively sought the position. The other members were William Kapus, C.A. Dolph, A. Waldman, William H. Watkins, Charles E. Sitton, and Rosa M. Burrell.

Scott responded to the unanimous passage of Atkinson’s resolution in the morning paper the day after the school meeting. His editorial began:

The resolutions submitted by Dr. Atkinson at the school meeting last night, and adopted by that body, calling for a general investigation of the methods of our schools, seem to us quite unnecessary, since every citizen knows that the schools have grown to an extended system far beyond the scope and design of common schools, and therefore that the simple question is whether we desire to limit public instruction to the common and fundamental branches, or whether it is our purpose to continue the academic system which has been engrafted upon it.

Scott’s editorial did concede that the “judgment” summarized by Atkinson in the five points listed above was correctly stated, but prophesied that “from the composition of the committee appointed for the inquiry proposed, it is a pretty safe guess that the controlling influence in making up the report will be in favor of the present system.”[27] The adjourned school meeting took place on July 12, and the following morning’s Oregonian reported that, as Scott had predicted, the committee gave an almost unqualified endorsement to the school system and high school.

Subcommittees had reviewed details of Portland’s programs as well as the work of at least nine other urban school systems, and had given their reports to Atkinson, the chairman, on June 22. He then prepared the final report for the committee’s July 9 meeting, which made minor amendments and unanimously adopted it. The final report — which was published in the July 13, 1880, Oregonian— also quoted liberally from F. Buisson, who was chairman of the French Commission on American Education in 1876. It began by affirming three “great facts,” which included a reminder that the state had received federal land grants for the purpose of schools and that the legislature had “added a large annual tax to support schools” and had “fixed by law the least, but not the highest, courses of study to be pursued in the public schools.”

The report then proceeded to examine Scott’s five charges, in the same order as listed above. Regarding cost, it noted that the average city school tax increase had been 20 percent in thirteen years, while the increased cost of the city police department had been 50 percent and the fire department 44 percent. On the charge that too many studies were pursued, the committee noted that “the studies required by law are pursued almost exclusively.” In response to the argument that the high school was not a proper part of the system of public education, the report observed that state law had set the limits of school ages from four to twenty years and, thus, “they have the same legal right to attend the public schools at 13 or 16 years as at 8 or 12.” Some of the committee’s strongest language appeared in response to the fourth charge — that foreign languages, higher mathematics, and several branches of so-called natural science should not be taught in public schools. The committee argued that new immigrants from Europe were “bringing much scientific and technical knowledge from the old world to enlarge our industries, create our manufactures, and control our business. Shall our own children be crowded out, or shall they be trained to share in these industries and their fruits?” Scott’s fifth argument — that those who desire for their children an education beyond the common school should pay for it — brought on the committee’s affirmation of the essential role of public schools in bringing the community together across barriers of class, language, race, and religious denomination. “If it be true that the prosperity of a Republic is in direct ration to the replenishment of its middle classes,” they wrote, “then the High School of the United States, whatever it may cost, is the best investment of national capital that can possibly be made.” The report closed with a series of affirmations and concluded with the observation: “In the judgment of your committee no system of private, parochial or corporate schools can furnish such wise division of labor, or so complete and practical courses of instruction as our public schools can give, supported as they are by and for the people …” The report was adopted by the adjourned meeting. Accompanying resolutions called for its distribution to city superintendents and the national board of education.

Scott seems to have chosen to make his displeasure with the decision unmistakable, leave the field, and then move on to other subjects. The day after the adjourned school meeting, he wrote:

The views so often presented through these columns heretofore are so well known that it becomes unnecessary for the Oregonian to say that it dissents strongly from portions of the committee’s report. In particular it dissents from the theory which underlies the report and which forms the groundwork on which this one sided presentation of the case is based. That theory presupposes that now and hereafter there is to be no work done in the world but such work as the public school is to fit our youth to engage in; that manual labor is henceforth to have little or no place among us; that a public school or seminary education is the be-all and end-all for the whole body of our youth, and that we need not trouble ourselves to form in them those habits of industry, skill, and acquaintance with the practical affairs of life which alone can make them artisans, mechanics, farmers and laborers — callings which three-fourths of them must accept, or lead useless and unprofitable lives.[28]

After this ringing reiteration of dissatisfaction, Scott turned his editorial pen to national issues, soon becoming fully immersed in the 1880 presidential campaign.

The Portland high school controversy, though officially resolved, continued to have an effect on public school policy throughout the state. Formation of high schools in Oregon proceeded slowly, perhaps owing to Scott’s influential position and energetic advocacy. In 1896, an unidentified speaker at the annual meeting of the State Teachers’ Association challenged the idea of education beyond the common school, borrowing Scott’s exact terminology in stating: “Private property is justly taxed for public school purposes, not to make drones in society.” Commenting on this statement, historian Charles A. Howard observed: “This attitude on the part of influential citizens had the effect of postponing the general organizing of high schools in two ways; directly by keeping down the sentiment in favor of them, and indirectly by encouraging the opening of private and denominational academies and colleges to meet the demand for education of a higher grade than that offered in the common schools.”[29]

The establishment of the investigating committee, the tenor of its report, and the adoption of the report by the adjourned school meeting showed that Harvey Scott, despite having strong influence on public opinion, did not have the power to dictate public policy. The community, awakened to the value of the high school, rallied to the support of the entire public school system, enabling it to continue to educate young men and women of the city. Atkinson, known within the city and across the state and adjacent territory for his long years of service to public education, successfully led the citizens’ committee and guided the community’s response to Scott’s challenges. The doors of the public high school were kept open. Scott continued to respect and even applaud Atkinson for his energy, learning, vision, and dedication to education and the community. The two men were worthy adversaries, inspired by differing visions but also sharing common, deep commitments. The Portland high school controversy was a stimulating, enlightening moment in the formative years of the city, state, and region.[30]


1. Oregonian, May 5, 1869.
2. Nancy Bates Atkinson and Myron Eells, Biography of Rev. G.H. Atkinson, D.D. (Portland, Ore.: F.W. Baltes, 1893). See also G.T. Little, The Descendants of George Little, Who Came to Newbury, Massachusetts in 1640 (Auburn, Maine: self-published, 1882). The General Missionary title was changed to Mission Superintendent in 1878.
3. Lee Nash, “Harvey Scott’s ‘Cure for Drones’: An Oregon Alternative to Public High Schools,” Pacific Northwest Quarterly 64 (1973): 76, reprinted in Experiences in a Promised Land: Essays in Pacific Northwest History, ed. G. Thomas Edwards and Carlos A. Schwantes (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1986), 110.
4. See Oregonian, August 3, 1864, August 24, 1864, November 22, 1864, January 7, 1865, January 19, 1865, March 17, 1865, July 19, 1866, August 10, 1866, December 10, 1867, February 7, 1868, June 17, 1868, March 24, 1871, March 29, 1871, April 5, 1871, April 29, 1871, September 21, 1871, March 2, 1872, and March 27, 1872.
5. George Atkinson, “Centennial: Early History of the Public School System of Oregon, With a General Outline of Its Legal Aspects,” in L.L. Rowland, Biennial Report of the Supt. of Public Instruction Messages and Documents, Oregon Legislature, Ninth Regular Session, 1876 (Salem, Ore.: Mart V. Brown, state printer, 1876), 6. One reason the Atkinsons traveled around Cape Horn instead of overland was that they were bringing school textbooks in quantity. See Charles Carey, History of Oregon Through Early Statehood (Portland, Ore.: Metropolitan Press, 1935), 2:707; and George H. Atkinson Papers, MSS 1152, Manuscript Collection, Oregon Historical Society Research Library, Portland.
6. George H. Atkinson to Secretaries, American Home Missionary Society, September 21, 1848, in American Home Missionary Society Papers, Oregon folder, Amistad Resource Center, Tulane University, New Orleans.
7. Atkinson to Secretaries, May 14, 1849.
8. Joseph Gaston, Centennial History of Oregon, 1811–1912 (Chicago: S.J. Clarke, 1912), 1:591.
9. Atkinson, “Centennial,” 7. See also Atkinson, “Centennial: History of the Congregational Church of Oregon City,” in Atkinson and Eells, Biography, 185.
10. See R.H. Down, “Oregon’s Century of Education,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 34:4 (December 1933): 307; and Atkinson, “Centennial,” in Rowland, Biennial Report.
11. Carey, General History, 2:701.
12. George H. Himes, “The History of the Evolution of Education in the ‘Oregon Country’,” 10, undated manuscript, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon, Eugene.
13. The original school law passed by the Territorial Legislature in 1849 provided for the position of county school commissioner. Oregon’s first two school commissioners, named in 1850, were Atkinson for Clackamas County and Rev. Horace Lyman for Washington County. The law was amended in 1854, shortly after the formation of Multnomah County, and the office of County Superintendent of Schools was created. The office of City Superintendent for Portland was established in 1873. See “History of the Public Schools of Multnomah County,” Oregonian, March 7, 1876; and Alfred Powers and Howard M. Corning, eds., History of Education in Portland (WPA Project, Records Management Office, Portland Public Schools, 1937).
14. See G. Thomas Edwards, The Triumph of Tradition, The Emergence of Whitman College, 1859–1924 (Walla Walla, Wash.: Whitman College, 1992): 7; and Atkinson, “Report on Visit to Eastern Penitentiaries,” Journal of the Senate Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly of Oregon for the 4th Regular Session (Salem, Ore.: W.A. McPherson, state printer, 1866), 504–20. Atkinson used his 1865 trip to the Boston meeting of the General Council of Congregational Churches to visit prisons — which he believed were important venues for education — in seven states. The academies were Steilacoom Normal Academy, Benjamin Cheney Academy (Cheney), and Puget Sound Academy (Coupeville). He was also closely related to the work of the Alden Academy (also called Tade’s Academy) in Anacortes, Washington.
15. Oregonian, March 24, 1871. School districts were established by the county school commissioners, whose title was soon changed to superintendent. See Atkinson, “Centennial.”
16. Oregonian, April 11, 1871.
17. Multnomah County, Oregon, School [District] No. 1, Annual Meeting, April 1, 1872, Minutes, Records Management Office, Portland Public Schools, Portland.
18. Charles Abner Howard, “A History of High School Legislation in Oregon to 1910,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 24:3 (1923): 201–02. See also Nash, “Harvey Scott’s ‘Cure for Drones.'”
19. Oregonian, March 25, 1879. See also Oregonian March 5, 1879, April 16, 1879, May 5, 1879, May 14, 1879, June 30, 1879, September 2, 1879, and October 29, 1879. I am indebted to the Superintendent’s Register maintained by Thomas H. Crawford (Records Management Office, Portland Public Schools) for this detailed record.
20. See Oregonian, February 18, 1880, March 1, 1880, and March 31, 1880.
21. Thomas L. Eliot, “Consistency on the School Question,” Oregonian, February 25, 1880.
22. See Oregonian, March 15, 1880, and March 8, 1880. The Portland Daily Bee ran from 1875 to 1880 and was no longer published by July 12, 1880, when the Committee on Investigation made its report. See G.S. Turnbull, History of Oregon Newspapers (Portland, Ore.: Binfords & Mort, 1939), 155–57.
23. Quoted in Powers and Corning, eds., History of Education in Portland, 80–81.
24. Oregonian, April 16, 1879.
25. Portland Bee, February 16, 1880, and 21, available in Crawford, Superintendent’s Register, 80, 86–87. See Richard Hofstadter, Social Darwinism in American Thought, 1860–1915 (New York: Braziller, 1959).
26. Oregonian, March 2, 1880.
27. Ibid.
28. Ibid., July 13, 1880.
29. Howard, “High School Legislation,” 206–209. See also Nash, “Harvey Scott’s ‘Cure for Drones.'”
30. Atkinson died on February 25, 1889, and Rev. Thomas Lamb Eliot proposed at the annual school meeting in 1889 to honor Atkinson by naming a school for him. In 1891, the North School became the George H. Atkinson School. The present George H. Atkinson School, located at 5800 Southeast Division Street, was dedicated and occupied in 1953. See Multnomah County, Oregon, School [District] No. 1, Annual Meeting, March 5, 1889, Minutes, Records Management Office, Portland Public Schools; and Pacific University Bulletin 40 (1944), 9; and “Tribute by H.W. Scott, Esq.,” in Atkinson and Eells, Biography of Rev. G.H. Atkinson, 416.





By Donald J. Sevetson