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Archives at Whitworth compile records of NW Protestants

Whitworth names archives for Dale Soden, history professor.

By Emma Maple - Intern

The Harriet Cheney Cowles Library at Whitworth University opened the Dale E. Soden Archives and Special Collections in April. Naming the archives after Dale acknowledges his legacy as "Whitworth historian."

Dale, a professor of history who worked at Whitworth from 1985 to 2022, had wanted to start an official archive around 1990, when he was working on writing The Illustrated History of Whitworth. During that time, he realized Whitworth "didn't really have an archive.

"We had a large closet, where some records were stored but not organized," he said. 

When the library added an addition to its main wing in the early 1990's, Dale met with the library director Hans Bynagle and together they chose a suitable space to house the archives.

In the beginning, Dale did much of the work on his own, soliciting records and archiving what he discovered, but the project escalated in 1998, after he launched the Weyerhaeuser Center for Christian Faith and Learning and became its first director.

He used that position to hire an archivist, Janet Hauck, who worked at Whitworth from 1999 to 2018.

Dale Soden

Dale Soden
Dale and Janet began acquiring church records and materials related to the role of Protestantism in the Pacific Northwest. The goal was for the Whitworth University Archives to become a central place for scholars to research this topic.

The Whitworth Archives' Protestantism Collections now hold records from more than 100 Pacific Northwest Protestant churches and organizations, including records from three of the 15 churches that were founded by George Whitworth, who also founded Whitworth University.

The Protestantism Collections have also aimed at collecting records from ethnic and racially diverse churches in the region, as well as records of women in church leadership.

This effort resulted in the collection of the Records of Christians for Biblical Equality, which was added to the archives.

While the Protestantism Collections are the focus, the Dale E. Soden Archives and Special Collections contain four other categories that aim to collect, arrange, preserve and make the official and historical records of Whitworth University and its predecessors accessible.

The other four categories are the university archives, university history special collections, missionary collections, and general and other special collections.

These records can be in any form—paper, electronic, photographic, digital and magnetic media. They aim to collect the near and far history of the university, records from Protestant churches and leaders in the Northwest, records of missionaries who have a tie to Whitworth University, its faculty and staff, and other records that "hold a value for the research of students and faculty at Whitworth University."

Several digital collections within this archive are available online for those interested in research.

Individuals who wish to examine the in-person archives must book an appointment and follow rules regarding the archives to ensure no damage is done.

The purpose of these archives is to allow students, Whitworth affiliated individuals, and other interested individuals to access critical information and primary sources they might not have access to otherwise. In the past, these archives have been used for theology students and classes in English, athletics, communications, psychology, political science and sociology.

The archives have been incorporated as part of the teaching material for some Whitworth classes. Additionally, scholars have continually become aware of the importance of the archives for their research projects.

For example, the Christian Movements class used the archives for their research from 2016 to 2018, and created an online encyclopedia that lists some archival material.

Two oral history projects have also been completed using the archives. These projects were played on Spokane Public Radio. The archives were also the basis for an hour-long documentary, "In Time of War: Japanese American Experience of World War II."

Scholar Robert Gardella used the archives for researching a 2009 book entitled Missions to China's Heartland: The Letters of Hazel Todd of the China Inland Mission. He examined the Hazel Todd Papers, a key part of the Protestantism Collection.

Dale said it is essential for every institution to preserve documents that reveal the facts of their history, which is part of his goal.

"The archives are the puzzle pieces to constructing a narrative or an analysis of what has gone on in the past," he said. 

Part of the archives is a collection entitled the Dale E. Soden Papers. These papers illustrate how much work Dale has poured into the archives. This collection is mainly papers and research notes Dale created.

It includes Whitworth College historical documents, his correspondence, college publications, copies of The Whitworthian, and research on religious leaders and institutions in the Pacific Northwest.

It also includes the oral history tapes from 1988 to 1993, and the camera-ready plates for A Venture of Mind and Spirit, Dale's book on the history of Whitworth.

"I'm gratified to have the archives named after me," Dale said. "I'm grateful they thought it was a worthy way of honoring me."

The archives are open for public access on a limited basis from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays and from 10 a.m. to 12:30 a.m., Fridays. To gain access, people need to schedule an appointment.

Nancy Bunker currently serves as Whitworth's archivist.

For information, call 777-4481 or email

Copyright@ The Fig Tree, May 2023