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Ben Wilson Olcott papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: Ax 081

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of nine scrapbooks arranged by Olcott that contain official and personal material concerning his terms as a state official and include correspondence, press releases, speeches, newsclippings, and material relating to the Ku Klux Klan in Oregon.

The first six volumes contain correspondence, press releases, speeches, newsclippings, and other material of an official nature that are arranged chronologically from about 1916-1923.

The other three volumes contain some official but mostly personal and social related documents and correspondence. Material is grouped by issue or event in no apparent order. Volume eight has a section near the end relating specifically to the Ku Klux Klan in Oregon.


  • Creation: 1911-1933


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time.

Conditions Governing Use

Property rights reside with Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries. Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs. All requests for permission to publish collection materials must be submitted to Special Collections and University Archives. The reader must also obtain permission of the copyright holder.

Biographical / Historical

Ben Wilson Olcott (1872-1952) was born on Keithsburg, Illinois on October 15, 1872. He came west to Salem, Oregon in 1892 to work with William Brown and Company. While in Salem he became acquainted with Oswald West, who was elected Oregon's Governor in 1910, and who exerted major influence on Olcott's future career. After a stint as a gold dust teller and buyer with the Fairbanks Banking Company, Olcott rejoined his friend West in 1907. West headed Oregon's State Land Office and he hired Olcott as an agent. When West decided to run for the governorship of Oregon in 1910, Olcott headed his successful campaign. West appointed Olcott as Secretary of State in 1911 when the incumbent died in office, even though West was a Democrat and Olcott a Republican. Noted for his "business efficiency" and integrity, Olcott was elected to the position in 1912 and again in 1916.

During Olcott's last term as Secretary of State, Governor Withycombe died in office and Olcott succeeded to the governorship, as provided by the state constitution. With the assistance of the U.S. Army, he pioneered aerial navigation and forest patrol work in the interest of forest fire prevention. He also secured protective legislation for forests bordering scenic highways, pushed development of hard-surface roads, and personally lobbied the state legislature for funds to construct a new boys' State Training School.

Olcott was defeated in his 1922 election campaign by Walter M. Pierce, the Democrat candidate. The election centered on the notorious "School bill," an effort by anti-Catholic groups (especially the Ku Klux Klan) to prohibit the use of public tax monies in funding private, i.e. Catholic parochial, schools. Although a Protestant, Olcott refused to support the proposed measure and reportedly saw that Klan members were vigorously prosecuted whenever they engaged in activities of terror. Pierce, on the other hand, supported the anti-Catholic measure and tacitly accepted the Klan's endorsement of his campaign.

Olcott returned to banking after the 1922 campaign, serving as manager of the Bank of Italy's branch in Long Beach, California, from 1923-1924. He then accepted the position of director with Oregon Mutual Savings Bank in Portland, where he completed his career. Olcott died in 1952.


4 linear feet (9 volumes)

Language of Materials



Ben Wilson Olcott (1872-1952) became Oregon's Secretary of State, 1911-1919, and governor, 1919-1923 and as governor he opposed the anti-Catholic "School bill" of 1922. The collection consists of nine scrapbooks arranged by Olcott that contain official and personal material concerning his terms as a state official and include correspondence, press releases, speeches, newsclippings, and material relating to the Ku Klux Klan in Oregon.


Collection is arranged by volume number.

Material within this collection is minimally arranged. Any arrangement is either derived from the records' creators or custodians or from staff at the time of initial processing. It may be necessary to look in multiple places for the same types of materials.

Other Finding Aids

Paper finding aid with additional information is available in Special Collections & University Archives.

Related Materials

Other collections relating to Walter M. Pierce at Special Collections and University Archives include: Walter M. Pierce papers, Coll 068.

Physical Description

9 volumes.

Processing Information

This finding aid may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

This collection received a basic level of processing including minimal to no organization and rehousing.

Description information is drawn in part from information supplied with the collection and initial surveys of the contents.

Guide to the Ben Wilson Olcott Papers
Complete Description
Tanya Parlet.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.
Funding for production of this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

Repository Details

Part of the University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives Repository

1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR 97403-1299 USA