Pressing the Vision: Olive Winchester and Northwest Nazarene College

by Stan Ingersol
Ingersol, S. (April, 1988). Nazarene Roots; Pressing the vision: Olive Winchester and northwest nazarene college. Herald of Holiness, 11

The value of a Christian college captured Eugene Emerson in 1912, while visiting Nazarene University (later Pasadena College) in California. A native Kansan, founder of an Idaho lumber company, and future mayor of Nampa, the taciturn Emerson had been recently sanctified and drawn into the holiness movement. After meeting Phineas Bresee, Seth Rees, and H. Orton Wiley, Emerson returned to Nampa and organized support for a new school that opened the following year. During its first two years it operated as an elementary and secondary school, but in 1916 a college department was provided for and H. Orton Wiley named as its first president. Wiley moved to Nampa in 1917 and devoted the next 10 years to strengthening the institution financially and academically.

Key to the success of the new college was the recruitment of qualified faculty who blended graces of the spirit with keenly honed intellect. None met (if not exceeded) Wiley's academic expectations more than Olive Winchester, who followed him to Nampa in late 1917. Winchester's undergraduate degree was from Radcliffe, the women's college of Harvard University. More impressive was her record at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, where she broke a gender barrier as the first woman admitted to and graduated from (1912) the Bachelor of Divinity program. While in Scotland, she was ordained in 1910. Her education continued at Berkeley, California, where she received the S.T.M. (Master of Sacred Theology) degree from the Pacific School of Religion just prior to going to Nampa. She also brought to her position eight years of teaching experience at early Eastern Nazarene College.

Throughout her tenure at Northwest, Winchester taught her specialties; Biblical literature and languages. Later she added sociology and Christian education to her teaching load. President Wiley, who appreciated good talent and Olive Winchester, made her vice president of the College in 1922, and the following year she was appointed academic dean as well, holding both positions simultaneously until her resignation in 1935. Somehow she also found time to complete her Th.D. (Doctor of Theology) degree, which she received from the divinity school of Drew University in 1925. A history of Northwest's first quarter-century summarized her administrative role in a sentence: "She contributed very much to the development of the right attitude toward scholastic standards, as vice-president and dean of the college had much to do with the internal organization of the institution."

Dr. Winchester resigned in 1935 and went to Pasadena College where she taught until her death 12 years later. Among her three books, Crisis Experiences in the Greek New Testament stood in the linguistic-exegetical tradition of 19th century Methodist theologian Daniel Steele. But at the center of her legacy stood the undeniable fact that she was a pivotal figure in the transition of Northwest Nazarene College from a sagebrush academy to a sound academic institution.


Stan Ingersol is manager of the Nazarene archives at the International Headquarters of the Church of the Nazarene.