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The Brief Career of Young University at Salt Lake City

Utah Historical Quarterly

Vol. 41, 1973, No. 1

The Brief Career of Young University at Salt Lake City


A LITTLE KNOWN CHAPTER in Utah's educational history concerns Young University in Salt Lake City. Prior to its official establishment in 1891, Young University was known as the Brigham Young Academy of Salt Lake City. In 1892 it was rechristened the University of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and was known as the Church University.  Young University was of central importance because it was intended to become the Mormon institution of higher learning and "a high class university, second to none in the west."  Although of short duration, Young University became a determining factor in the survival and future development of three modern educational institutions: the University of Utah and the LDS Business College in Salt Lake City and Brigham Young University in Provo.


Young University's mercurial history began with the endowment of educational institutions by Brigham Young during the last years of his life. It is generally recognized that Brigham Young endowed land in Provo in 1875 and in Logan in 1877 for the establishment of academies, but his similar provision for an educational institution in Salt Lake City is less well known. On September 28, 1876, Brigham Young executed a deed of land for the establishment of an academy in Salt Lake City. Of the three, the institution intended for Salt Lake City was the last to develop.

The initial delay in establishing the Young Academy at Salt Lake City is understandable in view of the problems connected with Brigham Young's estate. Whereas Brigham Young deeded the property in Provo to a board of trustees comprised of Abraham O. Smoot and other nonmembers of the Young family, the Salt Lake City property was deeded to a board of trustees comprised of David O. Calder, George Reynolds, Hiram S. Young, Ernest I. Young, Brigham Young, Jr., John W. Young, and Willard Young. The presence of five sons of Brigham Young on a board of seven men certainly left the impression that the property had not really passed out of the hands of Brigham Young and his heirs. Less than a year after Brigham Young executed the deed, his death initiated an inheritance dispute which put all of his properties on uncertain ground.

The dispute centered in a labyrinthine fusion of Brigham Young's private property with that belonging to the Mormon church. This may have been part of a conscious effort to circumvent the 1862 Morrill Act which limited the church's financial holdings to $50,000. The bitter contest between some of Brigham Young's heirs and the church over the settlement of the estate lasted until October 4, 1879, when an out-ofcourt settlement was achieved.  Lacking the more secure position of the property in Provo which had already been used for educational purposes, the Brigham Young Academy property in Salt Lake City fell more directly under the cloud caused by the estate imbroglio. Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that there was no development of the Young Academy of Salt Lake City at that time.

The delay for the next few years seems to have resulted from the personal circumstances of the trustees. George Reynolds was imprisoned from June 1879 to January 20, 1881, because of his plural marriages. Ernest I. Young died four days following the settlement of his father's estate, and his brother Willard left Salt Lake City in 1879 to become an instructor at West Point Military Academy, rarely visiting Utah until he completed his teaching duties four years later. None of the trustees seems to have been anxiously concerned about carrying out the wishes of Brigham Young for the school until the return of Willard Young to Salt Lake City in August 1883.

In fact the history of Young University and the Church University is inseparable from Willard Young, who was the prime mover in its establishment. Born in 1852, he was the youngest member of the trustees appointed by his father for the projected academy in Salt Lake City. Willard graduated from West Point as a commissioned lieutenant, the first Mormon to do so. Trained as a civil engineer, he returned to West Point to teach civil and military engineering. A man of enormous energy and vitality, Willard disrupted the lethargy of the other trustees shortly after his return in the summer of 1883.

He began this enterprise on September 10, 1883, by talking with his brother John W. Young about holding a meeting of the board of trustees. The minutes of this board are not extant, but from the available diaries of the board members, it would appear that there had been no meeting of the trustees until Willard Young began urging it. His journal indicates that this first meeting occurred on September 15, 1883 :

Meeting of Board of Trustees of B. Y. Academy of Salt Lake in evening. John W. Brigham D.O.C. Bro Reynolds & myself present. We determined to go ahead & establish a school if possible. Brigham & I appitd a committee to wait upon Bro Taylor & confer with him on following points. 1st if he approvd of our going ahead, if he objected to Bro. T. B. Lewis as principal if Don Carlos should be put on Board in Ernest's place. If he would rent Cannon house.  If he would help financially. 

In a meeting on September 19, the trustees examined the deed, "and when we saw its conditions were puzzled to know what to do." The exact nature of the problem was not specified, but later that evening, the trustees considered the possibility of turning the land over to the Salt Lake Eighteenth Ward or selling the land and giving the proceeds to the Brigham Young Academy at Provo. 

Although the obstacle in the deed was apparently clear to the trustees, the cause for their concern is not readily apparent in the deed itself. With the exception of the names of the trustees, the location and description of the property, and such minor word substitutions as "property" for "real estate," the deed for the Salt Lake school is a verbatim version of the earlier deed providing for the BYA at Provo, which had already been in operation for seven years. The only substantive differences in the two documents were provisions in the Salt Lake City deed which specified that the LDS canon of scripture "shall be standard Text books" and a further caveat prohibiting the use of any books derogatory to Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith, or to "the principles of the Gospel."  It is unlikely that such conditions would pose a threat to the establishment of the institution. Whatever the nature of the obstacle, the trustees decided to continue their plans for establishing the institution in Salt Lake City.

The problem with the deed posed only a temporary deterrent, but the trustees soon found a more formidable obstacle in the person of John Taylor, president of the LDS church. In meetings with Willard Young on September 16 and September 20, Taylor had declined to give his opinion of the proposal. On September 21, Willard Young discussed the proposed academy with Taylor's counselors, George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith, who gave him hearty personal encouragement, but indicated he might find opposition from President Taylor. The following day, Willard Young had another audience with John Taylor, who "was not favorable though he wanted me to see how much money I could raise toward starting it." Taylor's personal opposition to the project was so disheartening to the trustees that they voted that evening to sell the property and give the proceeds to the BYA at Provo. 

Taylor's opposition to the proposed Young Academy at Salt Lake City is significant. In one respect, it could be argued that this opposition derived from his concern about the possible confiscation of properties belonging to the church. Such an interpretation, however, would erroneously anticipate the later maneuverings of Mormon authorities to avert the worst of the 1887 Edmunds-Tucker Act. In the fall of 1883, the federal "Raid" on polygamy was in its initial stages, John Taylor was still a public figure and not in exile, and church business was operating on a fairly normal basis.

Avoiding confiscation was not the source of Taylor's opposition to the academy, nor can his position be explained as simply an effort to avoid spending large amounts of money to erect and establish such an academy. Willard Young had asked for the privilege of inaugurating the academy in the Lion House, which would have reduced the budget virtually to the employment of instructors. This John Taylor also denied. 

Although an economic explanation of Taylor's opposition is open to question, a more personal explanation of his position may be possible. 10 The lands for these academies had been deeded by Brigham Young as though they were his personal properties—said academies to bear his name and to be subject to control by his heirs. In the fusion of his personal finances with those of the church, however, it is by no means clear that these lands were his personal property. It is possible that this donated real estate had been acquired by Brigham Young with church funds and that the donation, therefore, was not a personal one. There are also indications that John Taylor and Brigham Young may have had personal disagreements of such a nature as to make each of the men to some extent unsympathetic to the personal programs of the other. Assuming a degree of personal estrangement from Brigham Young and recognizing John Taylor's unpleasant experience with several of the Young heirs over the estate, his disinclination to further the cause of the proposed Young Academy is more understandable.

Although Taylor was cool to the idea of furthering the academy, Willard Young, after a three-hour meeting with the president, obtained his acquiescence in the project. It was a hollow achievement, however, because it involved no financial assistance from the church. Furthermore, the same day Willard Young obtained this concession, he received military orders to report to Portland, Oregon. During his remaining week in Salt Lake City, Willard feverishly tried to obtain financial donations from interested parties. Lacking substantial success elsewhere, he decided to sell some of his personal property in Salt Lake City and donate the proceeds to the academy. Taylor accepted the property in exchange for 100 shares of Utah Central stock. This was the extent of his support of the project.

Following Willard Young's departure from Salt Lake City on October 1, 1883, there was no further progress toward establishing the institution. In his absence labors of the other trustees seem to have been limited to an interview given by Don Carlos Young to one of the Salt Lake newspapers, which was almost plaintively titled, "The Young Academy, President Young's Munificent Intentions, Will They Be Carried Out?" That was a question which remained unanswered throughout John Taylor's administration.

On the other hand, Taylor reacted favorably toward the proposed Salt Lake Stake Academy. In July 1886, William B. Dougall suggested to Karl G. Maeser the possibility of establishing a stake academy at Salt Lake City. When the First Presidency was asked about such a proposition, "the movement received their hearty endorsement, Prest. Taylor giving the free use of the Social Hall basement for the purpose." The contrast between Taylor's reaction to this proposal and to that for the Young Academy seems evident. The only material difference in favor of establishing the Salt Lake Stake Academy in 1886 was that it would not bear Brigham Young's name, be connected with his estate, or be controlled by his heirs.


After the death of John Taylor in 1887, his successor Wilford Woodruff resurrected Brigham Young's program of establishing academies. On April 5, 1888, the General Church Board of Education was organized at the LDS General Conference. Within the year, eighteen academies were organized and put into operation through the ecclesiastical stakes of the church. The inauguration of this program reflected, as one researcher has commented, a counterattack against the economic and political thrust of the "Raid." It channeled church properties and funds into education, where they would presumably be safer from confiscation, and it also responded to the sectarian educational program which by 1888 had ninety-three denominational schools operating within the territory.  After a ten-year lull, the Mormon leadership had begun an active program of sponsoring increased secondary education in Utah.

This educational emphasis by Wilford W'oodruff caused a renewed interest in Brigham Young's plan for an academy in Salt Lake City. On June 8, 1888, the General Church Board of Education met and read over the deed of trust for the Brigham Young Academy at Salt Lake City. Following the meeting, Wilford Woodruff wrote a letter to Willard Young asking his aid in using the deeded property for the Salt Lake Stake Academy.  Young's response to this proposal is not known, but for whatever reason, the situation remained basically unchanged regarding the Young Academy.

It soon became evident that church leaders intended Salt Lake City to become the center of higher education in the church and in Utah. On March 21, 1889, Karl G. Maeser, general superintendent of church schools, indicated the scope of that intention:

Prof. Maeser being called upon explained his position as General Supt. of the Church Schools System and of the desire of the General Board to make Salt Lake School the leading School in the Territory with proper chairs endowed of such high grade as to preclude the necessity of our youth going away for education. 

Maeser's remarks indicated that there were plans to establish a Mormon university in Salt Lake City, and he seemed to indicate that the Salt Lake Stake Academy would be that institution. The change of the academy's name on May 15, 1889, to LDS College appeared to be a step in that direction. 

Within a year, however, Wilford Woodruff indicated that no currently existing educational institution was intended to develop into the Church University. Even on the day Maeser had spoken to the Salt Lake Stake Board of Education about a central church school, the deed for Young Academy at Salt Lake City was discussed. At a subsequent meeting, the stake board of education decided to ask the Brigham Young heirs for a quit claim deed, so that the land could be used for the benefit of the LDS College (Salt Lake Stake Academy).  In the absence of confirmation, it can be safely assumed that the heirs did not agree to such suggestions. It is not certain when Wilford Woodruff decided to establish a university distinct from the current church schools, but on May 1, 1890, he and his counselors wrote Willard Young, asking him to resign his commission in the army and become president of the new university. The letter indicated the scope of Woodruff's plan for the school.

Our Church schools and academies are successful beyond our anticipations, and, as one step leads to another, we now find ourselves confronted with the fact, that to meet the educational necessities and desires of our youth, a University or other establishment of learning, in advance of any now in existence in our midst, must be opened where the sciences and arts, languages and technical branches can be taught by competent professors. [Italics mine.]

Long a champion of his father's plan for establishing a Salt Lake City school, Willard Young, now a captain in the U.S. Army, speedily accepted the offer, indicating he would return as soon as he could complete his resignation from the military. 23 Brigham Young's intentions of more than a decade before were not only to be fulfilled but surpassed.

Willard Young returned to Salt Lake City on November 30, 1890. A meeting with the First Presidency on the clay following his arrival began his marathon of activity toward establishing the new university. His journal records:

Call on Prest. Woodruff & have a talk about the School. They decide to call school Young University & instruct me to get title to land in 18th Ward. 

Willard had his cousin LeGrand and his nephew Richard W. draft the transfer of title from the heirs of Brigham Young to a board of trustees comprised of nine Young heirs and seventeen others including the entire First Presidency, seven apostles, and one member of the First Council of Seventy. Leaving the legality of the transfer to his cousin LeGrand, Willard Young contacted the scores of Young descendants to obtain their assent to the proposed use of the land. The Board of Trustees of Young University had their first meeting on June 1, 1891," and on the following day public announcement was made of the establishment of the new university. 

Unlike the previously established academies and colleges, Young University was designed to be an educational institution of grand proportions. Despite the financial squeeze on the church caused by the confiscation of its properties, the First Presidency had indicated to Willard Young in May 1890 the extent of their intended financial commitment to the Young University at Salt Lake City.

If the Supreme Court of the United States will only decide on the question of church property, so that the Presidency can know what our powers are in such matters and what we can rely upon, the Church would donate liberally towards the erection of the building. 

With this understanding, Willard Young contacted the American Institute of Architects, asking for a recommendation of a highly qualified architect to design the buildings. He was directed to contact Bruce Price of New York City, who accepted the commission on June 29, 1891. Willard Young's choice of an architect was apparently motivated by a desire to have a man of acknowledged reputation: Bruce Price had served as the architect for the homes of Pierre Lorillard and Jay Gould as well as for the Saint James, International Bank, and American Surety buildings in New York City.  A week later Young informed the board of his offer to Price and presented a plan for a complex of buildings to comprise Young University. The board unanimously approved both.

Prest. Cannon expressed himself as strongly in favor of having whatever may be done, done in first class manner, such as to reflect credit upon us and our conception of the growth and development of our community. 

The First Presidency of the church had committed itself enthusiastically to an expansive program for the university.

The next important development in the establishment of Young University occurred on December 30, 1891. In a meeting of the General Church Board of Education on that date, James E. Talmage was appointed to serve on a committee with Willard Young to take "immediate steps" to commence the school. An English convert, Talmage had been educated at Brigham Young Academy in Provo, Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, and Johns Hopkins University. He had been an instructor at BYA at Provo from 1884 to 1888, and since 1888 he had been the president of LDS College (Salt Lake Stake Academy) in Salt Lake City. Upon learning that he would be released from that position to work for the establishment of Young University, Talmage was exultant :

This is to me gratifying news. I have long yearned to see an institution of learning established among our people, which should be a leading one in all good respects. 

The choice of James E. Talmage as co-founder was an important one for Young University because of Talmage's eminence as a Utah educator and his unswerving determination to establish the university.


During 1892, Young and Talmage devoted themselves to this work. In January, Talmage proposed that Young University receive the Deseret Museum and all the properties of the Salt Lake Literary and Scientific Association.  The latter was a subsidiary of the church which had been established during the "Raid" to have title to, and therefore protect from confiscation, church properties facing the Salt Lake Tempie.  Talmage's proposal and the expansive plans of the First Presidency for the new university made it increasingly apparent that Young University was rapidly outgrowing the original intents of Brigham Young. Young University was designed to diminish the importance of the other academies, to be the only Mormon university, and to be financed generously by the church.

Recognizing the increasing role of the LDS church in founding the new university, Willard Young on March 3, 1892, proposed to the General Church Board of Education that the church officially found the institution and that it be called the "University of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." He also offered a resolution to this effect to be ratified at the next General Conference. Concerning the proposed change of name, Talmage said, "Though all concerned seem desirous that the name of President Brigham Young should be commemorated in honor, yet it appears reasonable that no other power than the Church itself should found the highest educational institution of the Church." 

In pursuance of this, Willard Young's resolution was presented at General Conference on April 4, 1892, and a committee of five men was appointed by the conference to present resolutions to the conference for the establishment of the university. On the committee were Willard Young, James E. Talmage, Karl G. Maeser (superintendent of all church schools), Benjamin Cluff, Jr. (president of Brigham Young Academy at Provo), and James Sharp (a regent of the University of Utah and member of the General Church Board of Education). On April 5, the committee presented a resolution on behalf of the general membership of the church petitioning Mormon leaders to found the institution, to call it by the name Willard Young had previously suggested, and that it be commonly known as "The Church University." 

James E. Talmage and Willard Young had succeeded in committing church leaders to founding and supporting Young University and had also put the church membership under a virtual covenant to support it. By so doing, they had relegated the previously established and currently expanding church schools to a subordinate role. On June 16, 1892, Karl G. Maeser announced, "It was now designed that the L.D.S. College, the B.Y. Academy at Provo and the B.Y. College at Logan would do the work of a University until such time as a University could be established.  Implicit in this decision was the idea that once the Church University at Salt Lake City was established the other institutions would not be allowed to teach college level courses. Less than two weeks later, Willard Young as president of the Church University was given supervisory control over LDS College (Salt Lake Stake Academy) and was soon granting final approval in such matters as the salaries of its instructors.  As the Church University expanded, this supervisory control by its president quite naturally would have extended to the other academies as well. Moreover, having 1 voted for the Church University, Mormons in Utah had a more than casual commitment to sustain it. Therefore, throughout 1892 the prospects for the new Church University could hardly have appeared more assured.

The situation for the Church University changed rapidly, however, during the next year. The financial Panic of 1893 gripped the Utah economy, which had been largely untouched by previous national panics. By 1893 Utah's economy had become more integrated with that of the nation and therefore was hit hard by the national depression.  Apostle John Henry Smith's journal indicated the severity of the Panic in the church. "I was in company most the day with the Presidency. Money matters are simply desperate, no person to know how to turn in order to meet their obligations."' Under stringent financial necessity, the General Church Board of Education on August 11, 1893, decided to close twenty of the church schools and to postpone the first session of the Church University. James E. Talmage, however, was determined that the Church University should open its doors for the 1893-94 academic year. On August 26 he offered an alternative proposal.

I laid before the Committee the following plans:—1. that certain rooms in the new building be granted to the Latter-day Saints College free of rent for the use of that institution during the ensuing year; 2. That the Church University institute full class courses in Chemistry and Natural Philosophy, for the conducting of which I assume the whole labor, dispensing with the two assistant teachers intended for the work, and using only the men at present working in the institution (draughtsman, clerk, and janitor) ; 3. That all qualified applicants from among the College students be admitted to these courses free of charge, and the College be thus relieved of the responsibility and expense of conducting any classes in these branches; 4. That a thorough course of popular public lectures be established under the auspices of the University.

The board accepted these recommendations and opened the way for Young University, or the Church University, to begin its work. 

Despite the Panic of 1893, the Church University demonstrated notable vitality. It opened its doors, at 233 West 200 North Street, in September of that year with an impressive enrollment. Talmage was surprised at the large attendance at his daytime classes in chemistry and natural philosophy and noted that between two hundred forty and two hundred fifty regular students attended evening lectures as well. Besides his academic lectures during the week, Talmage conducted theology classes for the Church University on Sundays; no doubt these were also well attended. In addition to Talmage, Richard T. Haag continued his services, presumably teaching German, for the Church University through March 1894.  The Church University gave every indication of becoming a permanent institution.

Despite this encouraging first term, the Church University did not survive beyond its first academic year. From all available evidence it appears that the dire financial situation would have delayed, but not ended, the growth of Young University, or the Church University; it was political circumstances rather than financial considerations which prevented its further development. The closing of the Church University was demanded by, and directly aided, the already existing University of Utah. In addition, the closing of Young University aided the LDS Business College and more specifically contributed to the development of Brigham Young University.


In the preparations for Young University at Salt Lake City, there seems to have been little or no concern about competition with the University of Utah campus in the same city. At that time the two were separated by only a few city blocks, yet no mention of possible conflict or competition is found in the minutes of Young University, of the General Church Board of Education, of the Salt Lake Stake Board of Education, or even in the minutes of the Board of Regents of the University of Utah. Although a certain degree of competition was inevitable, no one was apparently concerned about it.

The circumstances of 1893 rapidly changed the situation between the two schools. The Utah Territorial Legislature in 1894 made an appropriation for the University of Utah which was marginal at best.  The financial chaos of 1893 and the inadequate appropriation put the University of Utah in a precarious position. At this point, the Church University opened its doors for its first academic year and had attendance figures in the hundreds, even though only a few classes were being taught. The University of Utah enrollment for the same year was only 412 students.  It soon became apparent that if the economic situation did not close the University of Utah, the new Church University would do so.

Under these circumstances, representatives from the University of Utah met with the Mormon president and asked him to close the Church University and save the University of Utah. The first recorded meeting for this purpose was on January 25, 1894, when Joseph T. Kingsbury and William M. Stewart of the University of Utah met with Wilford Woodruff and James E. Talmage. "These professors asked the Presidency to use the Church influence in behalf of the State University, giving up the present idea of advancing the Church University." In addition, the professors proposed that in exchange for closing the Church University, Talmage would be appointed president of the University of Utah. Four days later Wilford Woodruff accepted the proposal concerning Talmage but stipulated that plans for a church university would be only suspended instead of being forever renounced. 

In a subsequent development, the church was apparently also requested to provide financial support for the University of Utah. Apostle Abraham H. Cannon recorded in his diary that on March 14, 1894, "President Woodruff decided that the Church will help to sustain the Utah University for the coming two years [italics mine] inasmuch as the Legislature failed to appropriate a sufficient amount of means."  As a result of this decision, the Board of Regents at the University of Utah unanimously voted on March 15, "that the University continue to run during the next two years."  To accomplish this, the church subsidiary, the Salt Lake Literary and Scientific Association, established the Deseret Professorship of Geology with an endowment of $60,000.  Through this direct subsidy the Mormon church kept the University of Utah alive.

There are several reasons why church leaders decided to abandon the Church University and save the University of Utah. Young University was a financial drain on the church, having required a $5,000 budget even during its limited first academic year.  Despite the church's financial difficulties, it is unlikely that the leaders would have abandoned their project for financial reasons alone. Previous expressions by the leaders, as well as the announcement of the close of the Church University, made it clear that the Church University was intended to develop even at the expense of the other church schools. One writer has suggested that there was also an implied threat that if the University of Utah had to close, the LDS church would be held responsible.  Considering that it was less than three years since Wilford Woodruff's Manifesto brought a dramatic lessening of church-state conflicts in Utah, the above interpretation seems plausible. The Liberal Party had dissolved only a month before, and politics in Utah had not yet overcome the Mormon-Gentile conflicts of the past. If the University of Utah had closed, it would have been easy to lay the blame on the Church University and charge the LDS church with undermining secular education in Utah. Such political considerations, though not directly mentioned, seem to have been implicit in the decision to close the Church University and subsidize the University of Utah. 

The sacrifice of Young University was successful in saving the University of Utah. An initial payment of the $60,000 endowment was made by transferring $15,000 of scientific apparatus from the Church University to the University of Utah, the rest to be paid in cash. After the close of the Church University, its building (afterwards called the Deseret Museum Building) was leased to the state institution for $1,800 annually. In 1896, the University of Utah accepted the building as a final payment on the endowment for the Deseret Professorship of Geology.  In addition to the transfers of scientific apparatus and the building itself, the church (through its subsidiary) made cash payments to the university for interest, which by June 30, 1899, totalled $900.  In 1900, President Lorenzo Snow told members of the General Church Board of Education that the church had spent between $80,000 and $90,000 to support the University of Utah. 

The University of Utah did not fail to indicate its gratitude for this vital assistance. Its general catalogues specifically referred to the $60,000 endowment until 1933, when mention of the endowment was discontinued. The Deseret Professorship of Geology was held by three men: James E. Talmage (1894-1907), Frederick J. Pack (1908-38), and Hyrum Schneider (1938-49). Following Schneider's retirement, officials of the university and of the church mutually agreed to discontinue the Deseret Professorship of Geology at the University of Utah. Thus, the last reminder of this interesting bit of history slipped into oblivion.


Although less directly, the LDS Business College also benefited from the demise of the Church University. Through a series of name changes, the Salt Lake Stake Academy evolved into the LDS Business College at Salt Lake City. As previously discussed, it was expected in 1889 that the Salt Lake Stake Academy would become the chief school of the Mormon church, and during that same year its name was changed to the LDS College. Within a year, however, Young University had supplanted the LDS College's importance. When Young University was designated as the Church University, a movement was made by Talmage to change the name of the LDS College to "Young Academy."  The change of name never officially occurred, thus avoiding still another name confusion in the educational history of Utah.

Once efforts were made to establish Young University, the LDS College declined in stature. With obvious and understandable rancor, the trustees of the LDS College wrote the board in 1892:

We were also given to understand that what was then the Salt Lake Stake Academy would in course of time assume the leading position in the system of Church schools, and of course all steps that were taken were based on that anticipation. . . . Then came the request to release Dr. Talmage from being Principal of the College, that he might engage in developing Young University, which is designed to overtop all other Church educational institutions. Thus our prestige heretofore attained is taken away, and our opportunities for public financial support no longer exist. 

When the Church University had to close, the situation did not improve for the LDS College, because the First Presidency had officially encouraged church members to support the University of Utah.

Although Young University's brief sojourn stunted the growth of the LDS College, it did eventually aid the school by turning over to the college in 1901 the balance of its property in Salt Lake City. As a result of the merger, as it were, of Young University with the LDS College, the name of the college was changed to LDS University.  The institution maintained that title until 1927, when the name reverted to LDS College. Aside from its schools of business and music, however, the LDS College was a high school, and in 1931 the college closed, leaving the McCune School of Music and the LDS Business College to continue.


Another interesting effect of the brief career of Young University at Salt Lake City was its role in transforming Brigham Young Academy at Provo from a neglected institution into the church's only university. Although this result was direct, it operated through an inversion : BYA at Provo gained ascendancy because of the demise of Young University at Salt Lake City and the ascendancy of the University of Utah.

The early decades of Brigham Young Academy at Provo did not indicate that church authorities had any grand designs for the institution. It undoubtedly fell under the same cloud during John Taylor's administration as did the Young Academy at Salt Lake City. Even after Taylor's successor put increased emphasis upon founding and supporting church academies, the appropriations from the Church General Board of Education indicate that BYA at Provo was not given high status. In 1891, for example, the board appropriated $2,000 for the Salt Lake Stake Academy (later LDS College), $1,000 each for the Bear Lake and Oneida academies in Idaho, and $800 for the BYA at Provo, putting it on par with the Sanpete and Box Elder Stake academies which received the same appropriation for that school year.  A possible explanation for this situation is that the church leaders were determined at this point that Salt Lake City, as the capital of the territory and later of the State of Utah, should also be the capital of Mormonism and its educational system. Therefore, even though the LDS College at Salt Lake City was losing status because of the development of Young University, the church authorities gave the college in Salt Lake an allocation more than double that of the Provo school.

Moreover, as Young University was beginning its brief career, the continued existence of BYA at Provo became questionable. By March 1893 the Provo School was already $100,000 in debt.  On August 11, it was rumored that the Catholics in Provo were buying up the notes of the debt-ridden school with a view to taking over the institution. Mormon leaders discussed this situation for over a year, and on March 15, 1895, President Wilford Woodruff lamented: "I learned that the Committee could not Borrow any Money for the BY Academy Things looked dark."  Despite the concern for the BYA at Provo, it was the University of Utah which the church actively saved from closing. Moreover, in 1895 the First Presidency apparently did not appropriate money to cancel the BYA's $100,000 debt, but on July 10, 1895, they did agree to offer that exact amount for an option on a new mine investment.  Church authorities clung to the hope of having the Church University at Salt Lake City, and, much as they disliked the thought of losing BYA at Provo, still they left its salvation primarily to residents of Utah Valley.

The failure to establish the Church University at Salt Lake City eventually, however, directed the interest of the church towards BYA at Provo. Benjamin Cluff, Jr., president of the academy, immediately recognized this new hope when he wrote a letter to George H. Brimhall about the closing of the Church University in Salt Lake City.

If reports are true concerning the uniting of the Church University with that of Utah, the Academy [Brigham Young Academy] will rise in importance and will easily be made the leading normal school in the territory [italics mine]. 

Cluff's assumption was well founded, because if the University of Utah would strenuously oppose the establishment of a rival university in Salt Lake City, this would add prestige to the Provo academy which had more students than any other church academy. Evidence of the growing favor of BYA is found in the appropriations for the academies beginning with the 1895-96 school year: the Provo academy consistently received double the appropriations awarded the LDS College at Salt Lake City.  This reversal of the previous appropriations for these two church schools was almost certainly a direct result of the demise of Young University and the declining hope of having the Church University in Salt Lake City.

Although BYA at Provo had won greater ascendancy as a result of the demise of Young University, it was several years before the church leaders gave the Provo school the status which Young University was intended to have had. They still wanted the Church University to be located at Salt Lake City, and it took years for them to become resigned to locating the Church University in Provo. Anthon H. Lund, member of the First Presidency and of the General Church Board of Education, indicated their feelings at the time the Provo academy was given the name Brigham Young University:

The question about giving the name of a university to B.Y. Academy was discussed. Bros. B. Cluff, R. Smoot, R Young and Wilson Dusenbury spoke in favor of it. Pres. Smith emphasized that there would be no more money given to the institution. This was also the view of Bro J. Winder. I told them that I did not like the change of name in the L.D.S. College and I considered it was premature in this case also. I thought it was better to have a name a little less than we should do than use a title beyond us. 

In later years, the Provo school became the church's only true university and the center of the Mormon educational system. It was, however, a victory by default: a prominence denied to Young University at Salt Lake City by economic and political circumstances of 1893-94.


Young University at Salt Lake City was an early effort to end the migration of Mormon youth to universities and colleges outside Utah. It was also the church's first true effort to establish a university of such grand proportions that it could succeed in competing with leading educational institutions in the East. Because of its aims and because of its effect upon both the state and Mormon higher education, Young University is an important part of Utah's educational history. 

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