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A letter from an alumnus about the naming of Whitman College

November 22, 2002

A hundred and sixty years ago, Marcus Whitman, a missionary of Walla Walla, Washington, on learning that the missionary board back East intended to close two local missions, rode horseback to Boston that winter to protest the abandonment. He followed this up, in Washington, by urging President Polk to stengthen the country's interests in the Northwest to compete with those of the British.

Assured by the president that he could grant the request if Whitman could lead more settlers into the area, Whitman led a thousand people into the fertile valley of the Willamette River, thereby saving for the U.S. the great empire of what became the Oregon Territory.

In 1847, Whitman and his wife were among those massacred by the Cayuse Indians, but their reputation lives on. The mascot for Whitman College, of Walla Walla, Washington: "The Fighting Missionaries."

Princeton's evolving Whitman College could hardly have a more dramatic namesake.

Keen James ’51
Albion, R.I.

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