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After Eells's resignation in 1869, the school struggled—and often failed—to attract students, pay teachers, and stay open for each term.

Whitman's trustees decided in 1882 that while their institution could not continue as a prep school, it might survive as the area's only college.

In 1883, the school received a collegiate charter and began expanding with aid from the Congregational American College and Education Society.

Despite local support for Whitman College and help from the Congregational community, financial troubles set in for the school.

Eells obtained a charter for Whitman Seminary, a pre-collegiate school, from the territorial legislature.

From the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, he acquired the Whitman mission site.

The school's first principal, local Congregational minister Peasly B.

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In addition to property in Walla Walla, the college also has about 22,000 acres (89 km) of other land holdings – mainly in the form of wheat farms in Eastern Washington and Oregon.

Reverend Stephen Penrose, an area Congregational minister and former trustee, became president of the college and brought the school back to solvency by establishing Whitman's endowment with the aid of D. Under his leadership, the faculty was strengthened and the first masonry buildings, Billings Hall and the Whitman Memorial Building, were constructed.

In 1907, Penrose began a plan called "Greater Whitman" which sought to transform the college into an advanced technical and science center.

Alexander Jay Anderson, the former president of the Territorial University (now the University of Washington), came to turn the institution into a college and become its president.

After modeling the institution after New England liberal arts colleges, Anderson opened the school on September 4, 1882 (Marcus Whitman's birthday) with an enrollment of 60 students and three senior faculty (Anderson, his wife and son).After losing favor with some of the school's supporters, Anderson left Whitman in 1891 to be replaced by Reverend James Francis Eaton.