Sunday, July 13, 2014

Tabitha Brown, Mother of Oregon

by Anna Kathryn Lanier

 I wrote about Tabitha Brown’s covered wagon journey to Oregon in a previous blog (find it HERE) and made short mention about her story after her arrival in Oregon.  For those unfamiliar with Mrs. Brown, she started the 1846 cross-country journey in her sixties, already a widow.  Her older brother-in-law traveled with her.  They arrived at the end of the trail with only the clothes on their backs.  It was then that Tabitha discovered that what she thought was a button at the end of a glove’s fingertip was really a six-and-one-fourth cent piece.  She used the meager amount to “purchase three needles and traded off some of my old clothes to the squaws for buckskin, and worked it into gloves for the Oregon ladies and gentlemen.” During her first winter, she profited $30.

In October 1847, about a year after arriving, Mrs. Brown visited her son on the West Tualatin Plains, (now called Forest Grove). There she met the Reverend and Mrs. Harvey Clark, missionaries in the area, and learned many children arrived as orphans when their parents died on journey west.  She was moved by this revelation and asked The Reverend Clark “Why has Providence frowned on my and left me poor in this world? Had He blessed me with riches as He has many others, I know right well what I should do. I should establish myself in a comfortable house and receive all poor children and be a mother to them.”  Believing in her sincerity, Rev. Clark provided Mrs. Brown with the means to start up a school for orphans.  In the Spring of 1848, she “found all things in readiness for me to go into the old meetinghouse and cluck up my chickens for the next Monday morning.”

The first school in the territory to board children, local families also sent their children to be educated. Those who could afford it paid a dollar a week per child.  By 1851, her ‘family’ had 40 people at Tualatin Academy.  In 1854, the territorial legislature altered the academy’s charter to provide for the creation of Pacific University.  The academy and the college thrived under Mrs. Brown’s tutelage. The growth of a local public high school caused the Tualatin Academy to be closed in 1915 and Pacific University stood on its own -- a pioneer institution of higher education.   The University still thrives today, thanks to a woman who wanted only to care for and education orphans.

Pacific University

For her representation as a person of “distinctive pioneer heritage, and the charitable and compassionate nature, of Oregon's people,” Tabitha Brown was proclaimed The Mother of Oregon and is one of only six women whose name is inscribed in the legislative chambers of the Oregon State Capitol.

Tabitha died in 1858 and is buried in the Pioneer Cemetery in Salem, Oregon.

For further reading:
Covered Wagon Women: Diaries & Letters from the Western Trails, 1840-1849 by Kenneth L. Holmes

Anna Kathryn Lanier
Never let your memories be greater than your dreams. ~Doug Ivester 


  1. This is such a fabulous, touching post. Wow. These strong women of the West humble me so and make me realize the thinness of my complaints. Thanks!

  2. Isn't it amazing what our pioneer sisters did back then without any of the modern conveniences we have now. Also, they were not bound by city and county and state and country rules and laws much at all. They were much freer to do something of their making.
    I know there are countless stories, and this one about Tabitha Brown is one of the very best. Thanks, Anna.


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