Brigham Young High School History

From 1903 to 1920 ~
A High School Within a University

A High School within Brigham Young University


It was fall 1903. One hundred years earlier President Thomas Jefferson had sent Lewis and Clark to explore the American West. Now President Teddy Roosevelt was preparing to sign a treaty to give American ships access to a canal through Panama.

In relative obscurity, the Wright Brothers were headed to Kitty Hawk, N.C., to continue experiments in human flight for a fourth year. This time, on Dec. 17, 1903, their invention would fly 852 feet.


Wright Brothers Flight at Kitty Hawk, 1903

It was the same year Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company, and the year of the first Tour de France.

1903 was also the year this small Church academy in Provo made an audacious proposal that its name be changed from Brigham Young Academy to Brigham Young University. In 1895 the High School, extant since 1876, had been established as a separate department of the Academy. In 1896, the College Department was added.

The school had done nothing more to warrant the change. It had only 64 collegiate-level students, mixed in among classes for kindergarten, elementary, junior high and high school students.

In fact, school officials had just staved off elimination of all college courses two years earlier, arguing that they were good competition for the University of Utah.

LDS Church leaders, lead by President Joseph F. Smith, finally relented on that issue, concerned that they would lose control of matters at the state school that might be maintained at a church school.

So in September 1903, Academy President Benjamin Cluff proposed separating out the school's college students to establish a "Joseph Smith College." The Board of Trustees agreed to change the school's name from Brigham Young Academy to Brigham Young University.

It was hardly ready for so lofty a title. The campus was located on less than two blocks in what is now central Provo.

But bolstered by a new vision of the future and the leadership of a BYH/BYU student, Byron Owen Colton, in February 1904 the independent school purchased 17 acres on Temple Hill from the City of Provo for $125 an acre. The new fields were first used for athletics.

It was on the new "Upper Campus" that BYU would spread east and north for many decades, leaving a legacy to BY High of the historic "Lower Campus."

The graduation programs for May of 1903 carried the name "Brigham Young Academy" for the last time. By the time graduation season rolled around again in spring of 1904, the "Brigham Young High School" and "Brigham Young University" names were prominently featured.

At least one person, Anthon H. Lund, a member of the LDS Church's First Presidency, was uneasy about the name change. On Sept. 30, he wrote in his journal, "I hope their head will grow big enough for the hat."

Of course, a century of discovery and invention later, BYU's hat has become too small for its head. It evolved from an all-purpose school for Mormon kids snuggled in quaint, isolated Utah Valley, to become the second-largest private university in the United States, with more than 30,000 students from all over the world.

Sadly, the venerable and historic alma mater of BYU: Brigham Young High School, BYU Training School, and Academy Square itself, was abruptly idled, closed and abandoned in 1968.

But back in 1904, Brigham Young High School continued to be the dominant social and cultural force behind the life of the newly named Brigham Young University. For example, in 1906 the BYHS Class of 1907 started a chain of events that led to the placing of the block Y on "Y Mountain" in the spring of 1906.

Karl G. Maeser Memorial, dedicated in 1912
The Karl G. Maeser Memorial & the block "Y"

In 1909 work began on the Karl G. Maeser Memorial building, the first building on the upper campus. It was dedicated in May of 1912, and in the same year a monumental gate was added to the southwest corner of the Lower Campus. It became known to five generations of BY High students as "The Pearly Gates."

Many years passed before the University enrollment exceeded the High School enrollment. For example, in 1903-04 the combined school had 14 faculty, 825 high school students, and 74 collegiate students. In 1910 there were still more than 800 high school students, compared to approximately 200 university students.

Besides the Education Building, which was called the High School Building until 1922, the high school used five other buildings on the lower campus: the Arts Building, the Men's Gym, the Women's Gym, College Hall with its auditorum, and the Industrial Arts Building.

The Men's Gym had its beginnings in an article which appeared in the school newspaper in 1899 written by Eugene L. Roberts. This article pointed to the need of a men's gymnasium separate from the existing Women's Gym. Adequate funds, however, were not available to construct a separate gymnasium.

The Men's Gym on the Third Floor -- in 1902.
The third floor Men's Gym, in 1902.


Brigham Young University Training School - 1902
The BYU Training Building, new in 1902.

However, when the Training School Building was approved, a third floor was added to the original plans and was devoted to a men's gymnasium. The building was completed in 1902 through the financial assistance of Jesse Knight. The gym probably should have been named "The Knight Gymnasium".

Many generations of basketball players have thundered up and down the indoor flights of stairs to the Men's Gym for hours at a time, building their athletic stamina.


Jesse Knight, early Brigham Young Academy donor
Jesse Knight
Eugene L. Roberts, later coach at BYU
Eugene L. Roberts

The construction for the Industrial Arts Building began in 1904. It was the philosophy of Brigham Young that boys should learn to do something with their hands as well as their minds, and this building was in partial fulfilment of that philosophy. The building was constructed in order to provide courses in iron work and mechanics. The first blacksmithing class was approved in 1904 and got underway in January 1905, when citizens from the city of Provo donated ten forges.

Industrial Arts Building interior with forges 1904
BY Industrial Arts forges in 1905.

The Arts Building was constructed just to the left of the main 1892 Academy Education building, as one faces the main building. It was originally constructed to serve as a missionary training school. The Alpine, Nebo, Utah and Wasatch stakes contributed funds for the building. It was dedicated in 1903.

Brigham Young High School Arts Building, 1950s
The Arts Building -- High School Building

Emma Lucy Gates sang a series of concerts to raise money to equip the third floor for home economics, and that floor was named the Lucy B. Young Domestic Department. The Arts Building was completed in 1904 and dedicated in 1908.

Emma Lucy Gates
Emma Lucy Gates
Lucy B. Young
Lucy Bigelow Young

A landmark decision was made in 1908. BYU President George Brimhall got the Church Board of Education to agree in 1908 that BYU would be the official college for church teachers. Shocked, the administrators and faculty of Brigham Young Academy in Logan protested, to no avail, and the Provo school's role in the Church was cemented.

The BYU Class of 1909 published the first yearbook, the "Banyan", and it included five BY High group photos, but no class list with names. From that time through 1932, the Banyans included several pages of names and photos of BYH senior classes. In 1911, BYH students seized the initiative and published their own elaborate yearbook, called "11's H.S. Year Book". In 1912 BYH students published a beautiful yearbook called the "Mizpah". BYH student information was included in BYU yearbooks, usually called the Banyan, until 1933, when the High School began publishing yearbooks every year up to and including 1968.

In the 1920s, BY High adopted as their mascot the name "Wildcats" and when the high school began to regularly publish its own yearbooks, most of them carried the title "Wildcat".

Sadly, the BYU Banyan in 1932 failed to print anything about BY High, and the high school apparently did not publish a yearbook that year. Historically, the BYH Class of 1932 is truly the "Lost Class of BY High".
Brigham Young High School Yearbook, 1911
BYH 1911 Yearbook

There is a reason you won't find any historic football photos taken during the first two decades of the 20th century. In the 1890s there had been many serious football injuries throughout the US, and one fatality at another Utah university. On October 12, 1900, the Board of Trustees led by President Joseph F. Smith made a decision to ban football at both BYU and BY High. It was not reintroduced into the athletic curriculum until 1919, once again qualifying BY High to play in area football tournaments.

The High School Class of 1912 built a stone and iron gate on the southwest corner of the campus. It served as a Provo landmark for five decades, until the early 1960s, when it fell into disrepair and was removed. New gates was recently reconstructed. Many of the sidewalks surrounding the campus were constructed with funding donated by various high school classes.

LDS Pres. Heber J. Grant and others, SW gates BYA
Heber J. Grant & others by southwest gate.

In 1914, the school's debts reached a monumental $185,000. A gift of $20,000 from Jesse Knight and a loan from a church-held company helped, but by 1918 the fiscally independent university still owed $113,500.

Finally, the Church stepped in and, in exchange for the school's real estate, assumed the obligations. The school's financial independence was surrendered but the new arrangement was critical to future stability. The University and BY High were now subsidized by Church tithing funds, typically one-third of its annual budgets.

Known as "The Great War" until the outbreak of World War II, World War I began on August 1, 1914. Woodrow Wilson kept the United States out of the war until April of 1917, when he asked for a declaration of war from Congress.

That the members of the BYH Class of 1918 graduated in a time of high patriotic fervor is reflected in their graduation program.

Americans contributed whole-heartedly to "the war to end all wars." This great effort ended with armistice on November 11, 1918. Jubilant Utahns rushed into the streets to rejoice, waving flags and cheering. Chimes rang out in celebration in every Utah city that had a bell. Car owners honked their horns endlessly. Stores of fireworks accumulated for this purpose were set off.

Approximately 25,000 men from Utah had volunteered or were drafted into the war.

Utah's economy prospered because of the war. New coal mines were opened, copper and other metal mining expanded, smelters ran at or near full capacity, and farmers and ranchers received more for their crops than any other time in recent decades.

November 1918 brought historic national and Church milestones. Armistice Day arrived on November 11. Heber J. Grant became President of the Church on November 23, following the death of Joseph F. Smith in Salt Lake City on November 19, after 17 years as president.

Then began the glorious homecoming of Utah's soldiers in 1919, which was openly celebrated despite worries about the influenza pandemic of 1918.

The size of each class at B.Y. High School, which had sometimes exceeded 150, began to be limited to fifty, beginning with the Freshman class in 1920.

Armistice 1918


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Historical Overview ~ 1876 to 2006
From 1869 to 1903
From 1903 to 1920
From 1921 to 1930
From 1931 to 1940
From 1941 to 1950
From 1951 to 1960
From 1961 to 1968

Mount Timpanogas above Utah Valley
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