History Minute: The University of the State of Deseret

On February 28, 1850, two and a half years after the pioneers entered Great Salt Lake Valley, the General Assembly of the State of Deseret chartered the , which eventually became the . The founding of the university in the early years of Utah settlement, the first such institution west of the Mississippi, indicates the value Latter-day Saints placed on education.

Although chartered as a university, the school had a humble beginning and slow and interrupted development in its early years. Its first term opened for men on November 11, 1850, in a private home in Salt Lake City. The second term opened in 1851 for both women and men and was held in the State House, known later as the Council House. After the third term, held in 1852, lack of funds closed the school.

In 1867 the University of Deseret reopened, primarily as a business school, and in 1884 its first building was constructed on the site now occupied by West High School. The first commencement exercises, in 1886, conferred ten normal (teaching) and two bachelor degrees. By the 1890s 400 students were enrolled, and B.A. and B.S. degrees were offered in classical, scientific, and normal programs.

In 1892, four years before statehood, an amendment to the University of Deseret charter changed the name to the University of Utah. In 1894, Congress granted sixty acres of land from Fort Douglas on the east bench of Salt Lake Valley to the university, which established its campus there.

In the 1890s, a nationwide financial crisis and the competition of other institutions for students and funds threatened the fledgling state university. Responding to the crisis, the LDS Church discontinued its support of its own recently founded university in Salt Lake City and urged Latter-day Saints to “faithfully devote their influence and energy to the University of Utah.”

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