University of Deseret

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University Hall, the first permanent home of the University of Deseret

The University of Deseret, also known as Deseret University, was the precursor to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Believing firmly that education was vital, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now settling in the Salt Lake Valley pursued providing education for their children. On February 28, 1850, the General Assembly of the State of Deseret (as it was called before the name of Utah) created the University of Deseret. Orson Spencer was appointed as chancellor.

The beginning of the university was humble. Due to circumstances such as crop failures, a difficult economy, and pressure from the federal government to abandon polygamy made the basics such as books, teachers, and classrooms difficult to acquire. The university limped along with classes being held in private homes and funds for teacher and supplies coming from private donations. But by 1853, the university suspended operations. For more than ten years classes were held intermittently in the State House, later known as the Council House.

Under John R. Park, who was appointed principal in 1869, the University of Deseret began to be more than a dream. By 1876, classes moved from the Council House to the Union Academy located at 200 West 400 North (currently the site of West High School). The Regents of the University obtained Union Square from the city of Salt Lake and moved into its first building in 1886. The University began granting degrees and the Alumni Association was formed. 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. The Utah Territorial Library was transferred to the University of Deseret in 1890.

Noted faculty included Joseph B. Toronto, Joseph T. Kingsbury, and Karl G. Maeser. Students included Heber M. Wells, first governor of Utah; Rudger Clawson, a General Authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Heber J. Grant, president of the Church of Jesus Christ; Don Carlos Young, a famous architect; Richard W. Young, who would rise to the rank of General in the U.S. Army; B. H. Roberts, the famous historian; and Orson F. Whitney, a Church leader, scholar, and historian.

On February 17, 1892, the Territorial Legislature changed the name of the University of Deseret to the University of Utah. Before John R. Park resigned due to failing health, he began negotiations with the US Army to obtain land at Fort Douglas to relocate the University on the east bench of the Salt Lake Valley. The Territorial Legislature petitioned the U.S. Congress for a grant of land for a new campus and in 1894, Congress granted sixty acres of land from Fort Douglas for the University. The Fort Douglas land, and more granted throughout the years, is the current home to the University of Utah.