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According to The Washington State Historical Society’s Columbia Magazine: The Magazine of Northwest History, DuPont, Washington, can claim a lot of “firsts”: first European settlement in Puget Sound, first named location in the Oregon Territory, first steamboat on the Northwest coast, first industrial plant, and first American overland road in the Pacific Northwest Territory. Adding to that list, DuPont was also the first Washington city to have a schoolteacher.
The teacher’s name was Chloe Aurelia Clarke, and she left records of her teaching career in her prayer journal. The fifty-page journal, tucked away in the special collections of Willamette University, details ten years of her day-to-day experiences.
The journal starts in 1839 when, at age twenty-one, Chloe sailed with fifty-one fellow Methodist missionaries on the ship Lausanne to the Oregon Territory. Six ministers and their wives, eight lay workers and their wives, five single women, and one Indian youth were among the passengers.
When Chloe reached Fort Vancouver in June 1840, she was assigned to teach Indian children at the Nisqually Methodist Episcopal Mission—essentially the first-ever DuPont tutor! There she met Dr. William Willson, whom she referred to in her journal as her “dear companion.” The two married a month later, the first wedding of U.S. citizens in Western Washington.
At the mission, Chloe taught up to fifty Indian children each day, but she found the situation discouraging—communicating in her students’ language was difficult. After giving birth to a premature baby who did not survive, Chloe and her husband were transferred to a different mission at Willamette Falls, where she continued teaching. Three years later they were asked to move once again, this time to the settlement at Chemeketa Plains. Chloe had been appointed to open the Oregon Institute. She started as housemother and teacher for five primary-school children; two years later she had twenty.
In 1846, the institute decided to sell lots on the school’s land to raise funds for the school, and William was chosen to manage the process. He drew up the town’s first plat and named it Salem. Following passage of the Donation Land Claim Law of 1850, conflicts arose about the title of the institute’s land. Although the 640 acres were officially owned by Chloe and William, William was bound to use his 320 acres for the institute’s purposes; Chloe, however, was not, and the institute eventually agreed.
William died suddenly in 1856, and Chloe returned to the East Coast with her three daughters. Yet she felt called to return to Salem in 1863, where she served as Governess (equivalent to a dean) of the Ladies Department at Willamette University for three years. In 1871 Chloe moved to Portland, Oregon, to live with her daughter and son-in-law. She died at the age of fifty-six, leaving a legacy of service and character. Chloe Clark Elementary School in DuPont is named after her—well-deserved recognition. Every DuPont tutor and teacher can be proud to be following in Chloe’s determined footsteps.
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Willamette University’s Lausanne Hall was formerly Chloe Willson’s home