The late 1800s have been noted as a major transitional period for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When the beleaguered pioneers first arrived in Utah they were isolated from the influence and expectations of the United States. During that time, leaders of the Church became influential in every aspect of life in Utah. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, the period of isolation had come to an end. Nationally, the social norms had changed and religion was expected to stay in the churches and out of politics. Church leaders were faced with serious questions regarding what policies and practices could be altered without betraying doctrines and principles of the gospel. Education was at the forefront of this tension in Utah. Members of the Church tried to hold on to an integrated approach to education that incorporated both the spiritual and the secular. Others, however, adamantly opposed such an approach in public schools. In 1892, the First Presidency announced a new educational institution that would become the administrative head of all Church schools: The University of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Willard Young became the President and James Talmage was placed over the science department. Talmage traveled to Europe to purchase the best scientific equipment. With the scientific apparatus and a new building the leaders of the Church hoped to persuade the youth of the Church to obtain higher education at home rather than traveling east to attend secularized universities. The Church's first private university seemed destined to become a major influence in Utah education. However, after one successful semester, President Woodruff closed the school and donated over sixty thousand dollars to the University of Utah. The following research explores the history of the Church University and the circumstances surrounding its closure. The paper shows how a combination of the financial panic of 1893, the effort to obtain statehood, and a rare opportunity to quietly gain influence at the University of Utah factored into the decision to close the Church's first private university.



College and Department

David O. McKay School of Education; Educational Leadership and Foundations



Date Submitted


Document Type





Church University, Young University, Wilford Woodruff, Willard Young, James E. Talmage, Karl G. Maeser, Benjamin Cluff, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Private Education in Utah, Higher Education in Utah, Financial Panic of 1893, The Enabling Act, Separation of Church and State