Educating Zion

Brigham Young University is Built Upon a History of Sacrifice and Spiritual Learning

Brigham Young Academy
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long been a proponent of education and higher learning. In Nauvoo, Illinois, the Church encouraged multiple educational pursuits. Private and public schools were built to instruct the youth, and courses for higher education were held in homes, allowing the Saints to study Greek, Latin, philosophy, mathematics, and Hebrew. The Church also made sure that a low-cost school was available for those who could only afford to pay pennies. There were also plans to build a university, but when persecutions arose, these plans became impossible to carry out.1

When this persecution forced the Saints to move west, education remained a primary concern in the building of Zion. Though teachers, materials, and funds were hard to come by, schools were established. Soon after arriving in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, plans were drawn up to construct a university. The University of Deseret was established in 1850 and, even without an official campus, classes commenced. This school was the forerunner to what is now known as the University of Utah and became the model for educational institutions throughout the state. Within the first fifty years of settling the Salt Lake Valley, dozens of schools for higher education sprouted across Utah, marking the beginnings of colleges such as LDS Business College, Dixie State University, Snow College, Westminster College, Southern Utah University, Utah State University, and Weber State University.2 Brigham Young University also owes its beginnings to the University of Deseret.

When secular teaching was established in the valley, the Church began to build branches of the University of Deseret. In 1870, Wilson H. Dusenberry established the Timpanogos branch of Deseret University in Provo. As it struggled to find financial support, the Church began to fund the school and, in 1875, named it Brigham Young Academy (renamed Brigham Young University in 1903). In 1876, President Brigham Young called Karl G. Maeser as the school’s president. Brigham Young is quoted as telling Maeser, “I want you to remember that you ought not to teach even the alphabet or the multiplication tables without the Spirit of God.”3 This is a sentiment that has long been upheld by all of the university’s eleven presidents. From Karl G. Maeser to the current BYU president, Cecil O. Samuelson, each has worked to uphold the original value of learning with the Spirit, creating a welcoming and modest environment that celebrates the Church’s emphasis on life-long learning.

So much is owed to those early Saints and their willingness to forge ahead, seeking after higher education even when they had few resources to work with. Today, Brigham Young University stands as a nationally renowned school celebrated for its excellent undergraduate programs and successful graduates. More than that, this marvelous university allows students to study truths of all varieties, including spiritual truth. The emphasis on spiritually rooted learning will always be emphasized in the education of BYU students.

1. Carma de Jong Anderson, “In Beauty and Holiness: The Cultural Arts in Nauvoo.” Ensign, September 2002.
2. Newell and Ueyama. “Higher Education in Utah” Utah History Encyclopedia. Utah Education Network. Web.
3. Edwin Butterworth, Jr. “Eight Presidents: A Century at BYU,” Ensign, October 1975.