Seattle Pacific University was founded by Free Methodist pioneers who valued a non-sectarian approach to education that welcomed all those seeking scholarly excellence rooted in the Christian gospel, and who sought to take the gospel into the world in order to bring about the flourishing of God’s children.
Today, that tradition continues in a clear line from our founders. It is in our “DNA,” so to speak, the desire to engage the culture and change the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Founding: 1891-1892
Founded in 1891 by Free Methodist pioneers, Seattle Pacific University has grown from humble beginnings on a small piece of land in early Seattle, Washington, into one of the nation’s premier Christian universities, located in the heart of one of the world’s great cities.
The early vision of the institution was to train missionaries for overseas service. Today that vision has grown to focus on equipping 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students to engage the culture and change the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Early Years: 1893–1919
Seattle Seminary opened with two faculty members, President Alexander Beers and his wife, Adelaide. In its first academic term, the seminary registered 34 students in a college preparatory curriculum that included primary and intermediate grades. In 1905, a new administration building was added, later named Peterson Hall after founder Nils Peterson. College-level courses for freshmen entered the curriculum in 1910, and the school's name became Seattle Seminary and College in 1913. Two years later, the name was changed again to Seattle Pacific College, with five students becoming SPC's first graduating class in 1915.
From the beginning, the new college focused on building bridges into the city for serving the wider community. President Orrin E. Tiffany’s wrote that SPC should “enlarge her borders and become the center of all the deep spiritual movements of the Northwest … .” He also envisioned an aggressive program that would develop Seattle Pacific into Free Methodism’s finest college.
Growing Enrollment and Academic Stature: 1920–1944
In the 1920s, Seattle Pacific College established a normal school for teacher training. The College also began to communicate its expanding programs to a wider audience, and enrollment climbed from 40 to more than 400. The first summer school program opened in 1931, and SPC's three-year normal school was accredited in 1933. Full accreditation of the College's four-year liberal arts program came in 1936 by the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges.
When World War II ended in 1945, the College continued to grow -- from 400 students to 1,400. And it would be less than a decade when the first graduate degree, a master of arts in religion, was awarded in 1952. Later, the graduate curriculum expanded to include programs in religion and philosophy, missions, biblical literature, and Christian education. And by 1955, the first master of education degree was awarded.
The College Expands: 1945-1969
Between 1945 and 1959, five additional buildings were constructed on campus. One was Royal Brougham Pavilion, which housed a new School of Recreational Leadership that included facilities for physical education and intercollegiate sports, and programs for the community and city youth. Other buildings constructed before 1960 included McKinley Auditorium, Watson Hall, Moyer Hall, and Marston Hall, the latter three built as residence halls to house the college’s increasing on-campus enrollment.
In 1955, Seattle Pacific also acquired 155 acres on Whidbey Island called Camp Casey. Purchased from the U.S. government as part of a surplus turn-of-the-century (19th) fort, the College converted the property into a seaside campus for field study and outdoor education.
In the 1960s, 15 new campus buildings were constructed, including Demaray Hall, Crawford Music Building, Beegle Hall, the Student Union Building, Weter Memorial Library, and Hill and Ashton residence halls. In addition, Seattle Pacific remodeled 10 existing buildings, including improvements to Camp Casey, and acquired more than 70 real estate properties.
The Emergence of a University: 1970-1990
In the 1970s, the decision to pursue a university model as the standard for Seattle Pacific’s future led to a new academic curriculum, academic reorganization, and higher professional standards for faculty. The College officially became Seattle Pacific University on June 5, 1977, by a vote of the Board of Trustees and began a new era of academic offerings and achievement.
The decade of the 1970s saw the most dramatic development of resources and programs for learning in SPU’s first century. In 1982, McKenna Hall was constructed, which houses the University’s AACSB-accredited School of Business and Economics.
New courses, majors, academic programs, and approaches to learning demonstrated the innovative character of Seattle Pacific. For example, in 1976, Seattle Pacific received a gift of 965 acres on Blakely Island in the San Juan Islands. A cutting-edge research station was built on site for faculty and students studying marine and wildlife biology.
During the 1980s, SPU continued to strengthen its relationship with the church community, and student participation in city and overseas ministry grew rapidly. SPRINT (Seattle Pacific Reachout International) teams served from Alberta, Canada, to India, Bangladesh, and Nepal.
Engaging the Culture, Changing the World: 1990-2012
By the 1990s, Seattle Pacific University had become one of the nation’s premier Christian universities. In 1991, the University celebrated its Centennial, celebrating with leading scholars and artists from around the world. In 1994, it opened a $10-million Library that now serves as the heart of the academic program.
Under the leadership of President Philip W. Eaton, who took office in 1996, SPU built upon its historical commitment to outward-focusing involvement in the community and beyond and forged a bold, new vision for engaging the culture and changing the world. The “Common Curriculum,” a creative, cohort-based approach to general education, launched in 1998. In 2003, as part of a successful $52 million capital campaign, a 64,000-square-foot science building opened, and Otto Miller Hall (formerly the Miller Science Learning Center) underwent a major renovation. In all, the University invested $42 million in classroom and laboratory space for undergraduate science research and learning.
Other significant capital projects built during President Eaton’s tenure include the award-winning Gwinn Commons student dining facility and Emerson Hall, a suite-style residence hall accommodating more than 300 students.
In 2005, President Eaton unveiled 2014: A Blueprint for Excellence that created a strategic plan for the University’s future. By 2012, SPU had fulfilled much of the Blueprint and remained focused on taking the University to a new level in academic achievement and cultural engagement.
On September 20, 2011, President Eaton announced his retirement, effective July 1, 2012. After a nationwide search, on April 10, 2012, the SPU Board of Trustees elected Dr. Daniel J. Martin as the 10th president of Seattle Pacific University. On May 23, 2012, the SPU Board of Trustees also announced it had named the science building in honor of the Eatons: the Philip W. and Sharon K. Eaton Hall.
Dr. Martin had been the president of Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Ohio, and he assumed his duties as president of SPU on July 1, 2012.