The Beginning of Education in Brigham City
Education of their children was one of the first considerations of the early settlers, usually undertaken by parents with whatever books might be available in the home. During the winter of 1853-54 some families engaged Henry Evans, who went from house to house teaching children basic reading, writing and arithmetic.
School became more formal in 1854 after a sawed log schoolhouse was erected outside the southern extension of the Box Elder Fort, where George Bramwell taught during the winter of 1854-55. Jonathan C. Wright became the teacher the following season and taught until 1861.
Since no credentials were required for teaching, in the 1850s various individuals opened private schools, most often in their homes. Mary Southworth Byington was the first local female teacher, teaching during the winter of 1857. Anna Lenora Morely, sister of President Lorenzo Snow, was another of the early teachers. Other women who taught private schools include Rosetta Snow Loveland, Margaret Hunsaker and Sarah Ralph. The most well-known teacher was Olivia Box, known as “Auntie Box” by a decade of children she taught in a log room near her home at First South and First West.Lydia Walker Forsgren, ed., History of Box Elder County, (Brigham City: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1937), 206-211.
“There was a dearth of qualified teachers in the early Utah years — and many who were educated either could not afford to teach or were diverted from it by pioneering…” noted Charles S. Peterson, a professor of history at Utah State University (1980) adding that teachers were poorly paid and most who taught covered only elementary subjects.Charles S. Peterson, “A New Community: Mormon Teachers and the Separation of Church and the State In Utah’s Territorial Schools,” Utah Historical Quarterly Vol. 48, No. 3, (Salt Lake City: Summer 1980), 295. Most teachers had a set rate of one dollar per term for beginning students and three dollars per term for fifth grade students, teachers were usually paid in food, clothing, firewood and other goods since cash was in low supply.Lydia Walker Forsgren, ed., History of Box Elder County, (Brigham City: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1937), 206-211.
Taxation for public schools by local entities had been legalized by the Territorial Legislature as early as 1854, upon the advice of Governor Brigham Young. On March 10, 1856, the people of Box Elder elected school trustees Lorenzo Snow, Samuel Smith and Joseph Grover to oversee collection of funds and hiring of teachers for public schools. The people voted a tax of one percent to support the schools, which included Brigham City, Willow Creek (Willard) and Three Mile Creek (Perry).Charles H. Skidmore, Administration of Supervision of Box Elder School District, (Brigham City: Board of Education, 1921), 70.
By 1861, when William L. Watkins was called to the Brigham City school post by Lorenzo Snow, the public school was housed in the east end of the courthouse basement. Watkins began teaching in the 1861-62 season. He taught the older students, while his daughters Susan and Maria, taught the younger children. School hours were 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m., with a morning and afternoon recess. In addition, night school was conducted for adults and many men spent their evenings learning writing and arithmetic. For all of this, Watkins’ salary was $3 per student per quarter, paid in anything from eggs to cedar posts.Lydia Walker Forsgren, ed., History of Box Elder County, (Brigham City: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1937), 207-208.
Brigham City was one among a growing number of schools in Utah. Territorial Superintendent L. John Nuttal recorded that in 1862 there were 50 school districts, 62 schools, 102 teachers, 7,612children of school age, with a total of 3,824, or about 50 percent enrolled; and an average daily attendance of 2,391.Charles H. Skidmore, Administration of Supervision of Box Elder School District, (Brigham City: Board of Education, 1921), 70.
Lorenzo Snow was appointed as superintendent of public instruction by the court in 1870 and made a wise decision for local education by inviting “Professor” Louis Frederick Moench to teach in Brigham City from 1871-74. During his brief tenure Moench implemented a number of modern concepts of education. He didn’t remain long in Brigham City before moving to Ogden, after which he became one of Utah’s leading educators, and is credited as the founder of the church-owned Weber Stake Academy, the precursor of Weber State University.
“Louis Frederick Moench was an educator in the complete professional sense of the word and more than most depended entirely upon education for his livelihood and his position in the community….
“His achievements were broad and he touched thousands of scholars, including such figures as David Eccles and Charles W. Nibley, with an enthusiasm of music and drama as well as the humanities and sciences.” Ibid., 304.
Subsequent local teachers followed many of the new educational principles introduced by Professor Moench. One of those teachers who became a leading force in local education was Elijah A. Box, son of early teacher “Auntie Box”. Over a period of 25 years, he served as a teacher, principal, and as county superintendent until 1883.Lydia Walker Forsgren, ed., History of Box Elder County, (Brigham City: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1937), ??????. As principal and teacher of upper grades, Box was known for promoting the talents of students, as noted by Andrew Christensen’s report to the Deseret News in 1876:
“E. A. Box, principal; Minnie J. Snow, Luna Nichols, and Joseph Jensen, assistants. Three hundred students were in attendance at the program. The school was held in the Social Hall (on the corner west of the First National Bank Building).* Lorenzo Snow, who visited these exercises, considered the work so meritorious that in his address to the students he gave the school the title of ‘Academy’.”Ibid., 209-210. Forsgren evidently changed the wording of this portion of the Deseret News article since the building which housed First National Bank at the time of the DUP publication in 1937, was not erected until the 1890s as the BC Cooperative Merchandise store.
This designation has confused some historians, since the term Academy was usually reserved for schools above the grammar school level, but there is no indication that curriculum went beyond eighth grade and may have not extended beyond sixth grade reading level.9
Records for this period are sketchy, but a Deseret News report for August 1874 notes the election of Charles Wright as county superintendent. Attendance was growing, about in the same proportion as throughout the Territory of Utah, which by 1873 had expanded to 163 districts with 16,970 enrolled, which was 58 percent of school-age children, according to Superintendent Nuttall’s report.Charles H. Skidmore, Administration of Supervision of Box Elder School District, (Brigham City: Board of Education, 1921), 70.
This was part of a growing education movement in the LDS Church in response to mission schools being opened in Utah Territory by Protestant churches in the years immediately after the Civil War and especially after the arrival of the railroad. Peterson notes, “Mission schools were opposed from the pulpit, where Protestant teachers were denounced and the Saints counseled to send children only to Mormon schools’.”Charles S. Peterson, “A New Community: Mormon Teachers and the Separation of Church and the State In Utah’s Territorial Schools,” Utah Historical Quarterly Vol. 48, No. 3, (Salt Lake City: Summer 1980), 297.
4 Ward Schools
Whether it was before or after Brigham Young’s historic final visit to Brigham City in August 1877, just days before his death President Young appointed John Taylor as School Superintendent for Utah Territory. In his dual role as church president and school superintendent, Taylor appointed prominent church educators (including Moench) to travel as his envoys.Ibid., 307. With this new emphasis on education, not only did President Young create the Box Elder Stake and divide Brigham City into four wards divided by Main and Forest Streets, but each ward was given the responsibility to erect a school building and employ teachers for their ward or district. This was to be a priority even before they built houses of worship, although schools could be used for that purpose, as well.
As Brigham City wards set about building meeting houses and schools, they held school and religious services temporarily in a variety of buildings including the courthouse, Rosenbaum Hall, Christ Holst’s store, a long adobe building at First North and Main Street, and in the Social Hall at First West and Forest Street. The Statistical Report of Box Elder Stake, as of September 30, 1877, was as follows: First Ward – 462 souls, 98 families; Second Ward – 444 souls, 85 families; Third Ward, 427 souls, 87 families; Fourth Ward – 440 souls, 86 families.Charles H. Skidmore, Administration of Supervision of Box Elder School District, (Brigham City: Board of Education, 1921), 16.
Permanent schools erected in response to this calling found three named for prominent writers and educators: Webster in the First Ward, Whittier in the Second Ward, Emerson in the Third Ward; while the Fourth Ward chose Columbia as its school name.
The First Ward erected a rock school in 1884 at the present address of 311 South 100 East. The building was referred to as “the old rock school” until an adobe addition was built and officially called the Webster School. It was used as the chapel until a separate brick building was built. It also closed in 1911 and was then used as a recreation hall until the ward campus was sold to the Presbyterian Church in 1954. Remodeled and used as a chapel by the Presbyterian Church, this is the only one of the original ward schools that remains standing.
Whittier School, located at Second West and Second South, was the most permanent of the ward schools. A small rock school preceded this attractive two-story brick structure erected by the Second Ward in the 1890s. Later housing public school, Whittier was used as an educational facility until 1940. It was designated as a Boy Scout building until it was razed to make room for a parking lot at the Second Ward.Sarah Yates, “School began in Brigham soon after settler came,” Box Elder Journal, (Brigham City: July 24, 1975), 1-3.
Emerson School was built by the Third Ward in 1887, located just north of the present church property on Second North and Third West. According to a written report of 1890, it was built of concrete but class pictures taken in the early 1890s show it was either covered with wood siding or that one of its wings was built of wood. It was an L-shaped building with one wing of 34 x 26 feet and the other 24 x 24 feet. Emerson School closed in 1911 and was sold to a private resident who converted it into a home.
Columbia School was built in 1878 as a combined meeting house and school located at Third North and Third East. In 1893 a new Fourth Ward meeting house was built, at which time the school building was remodeled for full use as a school. It was no longer needed after Lincoln School opened in 1911. It was returned to the ward and used as a recreation hall until it was torn down in 1952.
Although there had not been a mission school in Brigham City at the time of the ward division in 1877, the Presbyterian Church had made its presence known the previous year as the Rev. Samuel L. Gillespie delivered a sermon from the steps of the courthouse on April 3, 1876. He gained enough local support to purchase property at 71 and 77 North Main in October 1877 and began holding services there in February 1878. Rev. Gillespie opened a free school in September 1878, assisted by his sister. The Board of National Missions sent qualified teachers for the school from 1891 to 1909, closing it after public schools were firmly established locally.Sarah S. Yates, History of the First 125 Years for Community Presbyterian Church of Brigham City, Utah, (Brigham City: 2003), 3.
To operate the four ward schools, residents gathered in mass meetings to select school trustees, who would estimate the costs of operating schools, employ teachers and determine how to fund the schools. As an example, Foresgren cites an excerpt from minutes of one set of trustees:
“Board of Trustees met September 25, 1882, present: J. M. Jensen, Adolph Madsen, and O.G. Snow. On motion of J. M. Jensen, Adolph Madsen was chosen chairman. Secretary and treasurer was authorized to engage a teacher for the coming winter term. Commencing October 31, tuition to be – Primary $1.00, Third Readers $1.50, Fourth Readers $2.00, Fifth Readers $3.00.”Lydia Walker Forsgren, ed., History of Box Elder County, (Brigham City: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1937), 217.
Local educators saw there was a need for better understanding between trustees and teachers. County Superintendent E. A. Box called a meeting of teachers and trustees on December 13, 1882, to form an organization in which they could meet and discuss school matters. That was the birth of the Teachers Educational Association of Brigham City. Among subjects discussed by this short-lived group was a unified system of teaching writing and reading in the city schools.Ibid., 221.
This was also a period in which teacher qualifications were coming to the fore, both locally and statewide. In earlier years, a local board would examine an applicant’s qualification. As school operation gradually became more public than denominational, a state teaching certificate of qualification was required. Teacher training was the primary focus of the University of Deseret in Salt Lake City, and provided certification to most of the local qualified teachers. Both early county superintendents E. A. Box and John D. Peters had attended institutions of higher learning and were qualified to serve in their administrative roles.Ibid., 221.
By 1883 there were 17 districts within the county. Of those 17 districts, new Superintendent J. D. Peters reported that Brigham City was the largest district with 400 enrolled and 600 on the census. Four male and two female teachers were employed.Charles H. Skidmore, Administration of Supervision of Box Elder School District, (Brigham City: Board of Education, 1921), 71.
High School Level
Education through sixth grade remained physically based in the four ward buildings, becoming more public and less church-operated throughout the Cooperative period and the 1880s. By 1890 when the Territorial Legislature struck down tax support for denominational schools, the four local grammar schools were already in the public domain and consolidated in a district. Schools were also to be tuition-free in order to include all income levels.There was also a movement to make it possible for local students to attend high school in Brigham City. During the 1880s local students had to leave the community and board in bigger cities to obtain an education beyond sixth grade. This was acceptable when there were few students with that desire, but residents saw a growing need for a local institution of higher learning.
In 1888 the Box Elder Stake Board of Education leased an unused building erected by the Cooperative as a shoe and harness shop in 1870, located at the corner of Fourth East and Forest Street, and remodeled it to serve as the Box Elder Stake Academy.Sarah Yates, “A place of higher learning was needed,” Box Elder Journal, (Brigham City: July 31, 1975), 8.
The Academy opened its doors on September 3, 1888, for registration of upper school students. Under the direction of Joseph T. Anderson as principal, the school’s curriculum was primarily junior high school subjects and studies. There are no attendance records to show how many students participated. The school operated for four or five years, but was closed in 1893.
Closing of the Academy brought about a crisis that resulted in a number of mass meetings, after which the 12 trustees of the four Brigham City districts employed John S. Bingham to serve as teacher-principal during 1894-95, conducting classes in the same building which had housed the Academy. The two following seasons high school studies were conducted by Milo Rigby in the Whittier School.
After Brigham City consolidated supervision of schools in 1896, School Trustees William C. Horsley, Eugenia Peirce and Oleen N. Stohl of Brigham City employed D. L. McDonald as high school teacher on September 3, 1897. However, the high school’s attendance, according to trustee minutes of March 1899, was so small that it was continued for only one term that fall. The school opened again the next fall under the direction of Principal J. W. Hoopes and continued into the early 1900s, at which time a new era consolidation and changing attitudes brought stability to higher education throughout the state.Ibid., 8.