Oregon State UniversitySpecial Collections & Archives Research Center

Paul H. Jensen Oral Histories, 1979-1993

Biographical Note:

Paul Henry Jensen (1907-1994) was born to a farming family in Teestrup, Denmark on the island of Sealand. In 1928, after a two year period in Canada, he immigrated to the United States in search of educational opportunities. For ten years Jensen worked his way through school, receiving a bachelor's degree from Midland College in Fremont, Nebraska before moving on to the University of North Dakota where, in 1938, he took a doctorate in history and psychology. Following World War II, Jensen moved to Mexico for five years, during which time he helped establish multiple Universities of the Americas. He and his wife Arlene Munkres Jensen visited Oregon on holiday in 1958 and decided to move to Corvallis shortly thereafter. For four years Paul taught social studies at Highland View Middle School while Arlene worked as a librarian at Corvallis High School.

In 1962 Jensen visited Alaska for the first time, a trip which sparked a research interest in native Arctic culture that consumed him for the remainder of his career. Employed by what was then known as the Oregon College of Education (now Western Oregon University) and working under contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Jensen spent twenty-seven years engaging with Eskimo populations throughout Alaska, establishing Eskimo schools and training native groups on techniques for adjusting to modern life. Jensen was also instrumental in creating a student exchange program wherein Alaskan Eskimo youth visited Corvallis, Monmouth and Dallas, Oregon for seven weeks of exposure to the culture of the Pacific Northwest. Jensen was likewise responsible for putting the Eskimo language of Yupik into print for the first time. During the peak of his activity, Jensen traveled around 80,000 miles per year, shuttling back and forth between Alaska and Oregon.

Over the course of his long exposure to Eskimo culture - and prompted by what he felt to be the degradation of that culture - Jensen collected a large volume of art and artifacts documenting various aspects of the traditional Alaskan Eskimo way of life. In 1985 these materials were made available to the public through the Jensen Arctic Museum, established in Monmouth, Oregon on the campus of present-day Western Oregon University. Under Jensen's curation, the museum's original collection was comprised of more than 4,000 items, including clothes, tools, children's dolls, interpretive signs, umiak boats and stuffed musk oxen, wolves and polar bears. The Jensen Arctic Museum remains the only museum on the west coast of the United States that is devoted to Arctic culture.

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