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Reed College: the First 100 Years

Reed chose to mark its centennial by the occasion of its first classes held in downtown Portland, rather than by the bequest in 1904 that led to its foundation in 1908 or by the construction of its first building in 1912. The choice signifies the importance of Reedies to Reed; throughout its history, students and faculty have been drawn to Reed by the promise of finding others who share their passion for knowledge. William Trufant Foster, Reed’s founding president, proposed that the college adopt an elective curriculum to capture students’ intellectual enthusiasm and to emphasize that the subject studied was not as important as the student-teacher relationship, nor was the corpus of knowledge as important as learning how to go about acquiring knowledge in the first place. As Foster wrote in the New York Times in 1917, he hoped to establish a college where “Comrades of the Quest”—those who would relish the intrinsic joy of learning—could come to take part in an intellectual community.

The Reed archives celebrate that quest. Join us in unlocking an early decade on campus or investigating a recent tradition. Browse our collection of significant photographs and documents highlighting Reed’s history or seek out the elusive Doyle Owl.

Join us as we celebrate the past and look forward to the future.

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Reed’s History at a Glance

Turn of the Century
The Founders

1900The momentum for Reed College begins with the efforts of Thomas Lamb Eliot, a Unitarian minister and civic leader in Portland, Oregon. In 1887, Eliot suggests to two of his wealthy parishioners, Oregon pioneers Simeon and Amanda Reed, that they use their riches for the betterment of Portland by establishing a Reed Institute of lectures and the arts.  Read more...

1910–19
Radical Upstart

1910Reed pursues a climate of academic rigor and intellectual independence, adopting a free electives curriculum and setting a mandatory senior thesis and orals exam as goalposts for graduation. A 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio ensures small classes. Regular participation in athletics is encouraged, but intercollegiate sports and fraternal societies are banned as too distracting.  Read more...

1920–29
A Classic Curriculum

1920Reed’s early reputation as an innovator in higher education is renewed with the appointment in 1921 of its second president, Richard F. Scholz. Scholz introduces one of the first prescribed core curriculums in the country, centered around a mandatory history and literature program designed to give students a unified understand- ing of humankind as the basis of becoming better citizens.  Read more...

1930–39
Building Communities

1930Reed’s fourth president, New Deal economist Dexter Keezer, seeks to reform what he views as an over-intellectualized campus. Athletics are promoted, especially skiing, to provide balance in student life and to foster school spirit. The dormitories in Old Dorm Block are renamed, largely to reflect the families who helped found and build the college.  Read more...

1940–49
War and Peace

1940World War II brings momentous change to Reed. Enrollment declines due to war service, and the college’s small number of Japanese American students depart, many interned with their families. Reed’s mandatory courses in history and literature fuse into a general humanities course. Following the war, veterans bring a more national composition of students.  Read more...

1950–59
Warm Springs, Cold War

1950Reed’s Warm Springs Project brings a series of Reed students to live and work on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Central Oregon. The college undergoes a severe upheaval when the House UnAmerican Activities Committee investigates three of its faculty members for alleged Communist activities, sparking a local controversy over academic freedom.  Read more...

1960–69
Defending the Citadel

1960Reed’s core curriculum is challenged in the late sixties by a group of younger faculty members, igniting a debate that grows into an intense struggle over the humanities program, the requirement structure, and the college’s mission. In 1969, students demand a black studies program; although never fully integrated, the program runs until 1976.  Read more...

1970–79
Polyester and Prudent Investment

1970Looking for a leader to navigate Reed out of the financial doldrums into which it has drifted, the faculty-trustee search committee appoints Paul E. Bragdon as president in 1971. Annual giving triples, and frugality gives way to prudent investment in academic expansion, enriched student life, and structural maintenance.  Read more...

1980–89
Protests, PCs, and a Paradox

1980Reed College gains a lecture hall, classrooms, and much-needed faculty offices with the construction of Vollum College Center at the top of Eliot Circle. Students yearning for a less expensive cup of coffee on campus open their own café in the student union, eventually settling on the name “Paradox.” Read more...

1990–99
Unswerving Dedication

1990In 1995 Reed captures national attention for refusing to participate in the US News & World Report rankings of American colleges and universities. Although the study is widely thought to be methodologically flawed, no other college joins Reed in withdrawing, confirming Reed’s reputation for going its own way in its unswerving dedication to the intellectual life.  Read more...

2000–2009
Emphasis on Environment

2000Four new residence halls and a new Spanish house are built, putting the college in reach of its longstanding goal to house 75 percent of students on campus. Reed spends $2 million restoring the canyon, tearing out blackberry bushes, removing the 1930s-era concrete swimming pool, and installing a fish ladder.  Read more...

2010–
Reed’s Second Century

2010As Reed begins to look ahead to its second century, the college holds fast to its founding principles: the transformative power of intellectual discovery, the primacy of the classroom experience, and the essential role of community in the pursuit of knowledge.  Read more...