UW Libraries Blog

February 4, 2020

Founding Stories: The Origin of UW Tacoma

Justin Wadland

On the eve of our 30th anniversary, the UW Tacoma Library is spearheading a project to document the origins and development of UW Tacoma through oral history.

Gathering the Voices of Those who Built UW Tacoma

Nearly 30 years ago, in March 1990, the News Tribune asked residents of the Tacoma area where the new “branch campus” should be located. Folks could choose among the four locations under consideration: available farmland in Fife, an area on the Tacoma Community College campus, a site in the Hilltop neighborhood, or a location in downtown Tacoma. As the numbers came in, residents clearly favored the Fife and TCC locations over the downtown site.

1990 maps and survey

Clips from two Morning News Tribune stories about the site selection for the UW Tacoma campus. Left, from March 15, 1990; right, from March 17, 1990.

With the University of Washington Tacoma campus so firmly placed in downtown Tacoma, these numbers might seem surprising today, but they show just how hard it was to imagine a university in downtown Tacoma 30 years ago.

Even as the News Tribune story ran, the legislature had already approved funding to start the campus. Its new temporary quarters in the Perkins Building in downtown Tacoma were already under construction and 13 new faculty had been hired to begin teaching classes.

In the face of clear location preferences among the public, how did the university and the legislature ultimately settle on downtown as the place for the permanent campus?

As UW Tacoma approaches its 30th anniversary, it is an opportune time to begin asking this and many other questions about the beginnings of what was then referred to as a “UW branch.” UW Tacoma Oral History: The Founding Stories aims to do just that: inquire into the origins and influence of this campus by gathering the voices of students, faculty, staff and community members who have shaped it over the years.

Thanks to generous support from Rod Hagenbuch, the Founding Stories project publicly launched in the fall of 2019 with the aim of collecting several dozen oral history interviews. Led by Joan Hua, oral history project manager, it will focus on people who can provide insights into the founding and development of campus: early graduates, founding faculty of the academic programs, campus administrators, long-serving staff members, and community members. All of these oral history interviews will be transcribed, publicly available and searchable in a digital collection hosted by the UW Libraries. Together, they will begin to create a collective portrait of individual experiences of the birth, evolution, and impact of the UW Tacoma campus.

Read the full post on UW Tacoma News and listen to the oral history stories HERE