George H. Brimhall

Fourth Principal of Brigham Young Academy (1895 to 1900)
President, Brigham Young University (1904 to 1921)

George H. Brimhall, 1910
George H. Brimhall, 1910


The Brimhall family experienced dire financial conditions. George's mother, Rachel Ann Mayer Brimhall, was determined that he get an education.

She arranged for him to attend school in Ogden, Salt Lake City, Cedar Fort, southern Utah, and Spanish Fork. When a high school was started in Provo -- the Dusenberry school on Second East, then known as Timpanogos University -- George worked odd jobs to pay for his board.

When George couldn't find work, the family sacrificed, despite hard financial times, so he could attend. He had completed his education at the Dusenberry school before it became Brigham Young Academy in January of 1876.

At a certain point, a group of forty-two young Utah County men decided it would be a good idea to have a high school in Spanish Fork, and each one contributed $15 in work and funds. Working together, they brought logs down from Santaquin Canyon. Within forty days they held a big house-raising, with the whole community present.

They called their new school the Young Men's Academy, but women came too. George's first wife, Alsina Elizabeth Wilkins, was a student there. Tom Beesley taught first year students, and George taught the next two or three years, incuding Algebra, Bookkeeping, Grammar, History, and Elocution.

George H. Brimhall became Spanish Fork's Superintendent of Schools for two terms, then Utah County School Superintendent for two years.

He was authorized to be ordained a patriarch by LDS Church apostles in 1887.

Brigham Young Academy moved to its new campus on Academy Avenue and Fifth North in January of 1892.

George H. Brimhall served as Fourth Principal of Brigham Young Academy high school from 1895 to 1900.

When Brigham Young Academy President Benjamin Cluff led an expedition to find Zarahemla in South America in 1900, George Brimhall was named acting president. Cluff returned and convinced Church leaders tothen [?} succeeded Cluff in 1904.

In 1903 the Academy had become Brigham Young University, and George Brimhall was its second president. He introduced the B.S. program in 1904 and the B.A. in 1907.

The Maeser Memorial building was completed on Temple Hill (on the Upper Campus) in 1911. That was also the year that a conflict arose between those who taught orthodox church teachings, and those who taught evolution and higher criticism.

The controversy led to the dismissal or resignation of Joseph and Henry Peterson, and Ralph Chamberlain. Brimhall had hired the three and was sympathetic toward the professors, but Superintendent of Church Schools Horace Cummings was determined to rid BYU of "modernists".

Despite severe chest and abdominal pain, from which he suffered throughout his life, George Brimhall served for seventeen years as President of BYU — until 1921. In that year, at age eighty, the pain became so severe that he took his own life with a hunting rifle.

George H. Brimhall did not raise all of his fourteen children.

He committed his first wife, Alsina Wilkins, to an insane asylum (after having given birth to seven children in eight years, she suffered post-partum stress disorder and mourned the premature death of her last baby). Brimhall sent all five of his then-living children to reside with their grandparents, and started a new family with Flora Robertson.

Brimhall, George Henry
Provo, Utah
George + Alsina Wilkins/Flora Robertson

He studied at the Timpanogos Branch of the University of Deseret in Provo, a predecessor of both the University of Utah and Brigham Young Academy. The Timpanogos Branch was a Provo extension of the school that became the University of Utah; after financial problems forced the closure of its Provo branch, it reopened the next year on January 3, 1876, with the same principal [Warren Dusenberry] in the same building [Lewis Hall] but with a new name: Brigham Young Academy.

~ ~ ~ ~ Faculty & Staff. Theology, Pedagogy, and Psychology teacher, 1897-1932. He appears in a photo of the first faculty to serve under Principal Benjamin Cluff in 1892.

Fourth Principal of BY Academy 1895 to 1900. From 1900 to 1904 N. L. Nelson became Principal of BY High School.

Brimhall became became President of Brigham Young University from 1904 until 1921. Students under Brimhall remembered his tenure as "the good old Brimhall days." This is intended as a compliment to the spirit and personality of George H. Brimhall, for he breathed into the school a special leadership which people never forgot.

He was particularly known for his short, pithy talks at devotionals. Ezra Taft Benson has written "No man has so inspired me with so few spoken words as has President Brimhall in his famous four-minute assembly talks."

The President was equally impressive in his full dissertations. Often when speaking to the students he was both intense and dramatic and could either inspire them or evoke tender pathos or a sense of horrific guilt, illustrated in an incident reported by J. Edward Johnson, who describes a real "scorcher" given by Brimhall after a rash of pilfering had hit the student body at BYU. Brimhall was particularly incensed over the theft of a watch from a gym locker. "None who heard him would ever forget how small, little, unbelievably diminutive he made that thief." With dramatic pauses Brimhall said that if the culprit had "even so much as a trace of conscience and character every tick of that watch would say to him, 'thief." 'Thief, thief; thief, thief; thief, thief.'" He suggested that perhaps the guilty person might want to return the watch. The story goes that when he came into his office early the following morning, Brimhall found several watches on his desk.

George H. Brimhall was a strong personality with versatility in academic talent and achievement. In terms of his time and culture he is credited for his devotion to Brigham Young Academy and BYU, the Church, and the state.

While fathering 14 children, presiding over the Church University, and serving on the Church Board of Examiners, he still found time to write, teach, preach, and counsel. He not only guided the University through some of its most difficult times, but also guided students in choosing the paths they would follow in life.

"The school depends not on man, or any set of men. God planted it and we are but gardeners to take care of it." —George H. Brimhall

Born: December 9, 1852 in Salt Lake City. Died: July 29, 1932 in Provo, Utah. Father: George Washington Brimhall (1814–1895); Mother: Rachel Ann Myers (1829–1917).


A~~ Alsina Elizabeth Wilkins (1856–1926) md. December 28, 1874 - in 1885 committed to an insane asylum.

1. Lucy Jane (1875–1957);
2. Alsina Elizabeth (1876–1960);
3. [unnamed] (b. ca. 1878);
4. George Washington (1878–1854);
5. Mark Henry (1880–1965);
6. Wells Lovett (1882–1947);
7. Milton Albert (1883–1884).

B~~ Flora McDonald Robertson (1865–1950) md. September 11,1885 -

1. Dean Robertson (1886–1972);
2. Fay Robertson (1889–1972);
3. Fawn Robertson (1889–1960);
4. Burns Robertson (1892–1976);
5. Ruth Afton (1895–1965); 6. Alta Robertson (1901–1903);
7. Areo Robertson (1909–1990);
8. One living (Ancestral File).

~~~~ George Henry Brimhall (1853-1932) was the son of George Washington Brimhall (b.1814) and (2) Rachel Ann Mayer (b.1829) of Iron Co., Utah Territory. He married (1) Alsina Elizabeth Wilkins (d.1926), the daughter of George Washington Wilkins and Catherine Augusta Lovett in 1874. He married (2) Flora Robertson in 1885.

He was the father of 15 children. He served as an instructor and principal at Brigham Young Academy, and later as a President of Brigham Young University (1904-1921). [Brief profile in The Sons of Brigham by T. Earl Pardoe, 1969, pp. 15-25.]

George H. Brimhall
George H. Brimhall later in life.

Brigham Young - Biographies
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