Development of Gentile Education in Utah
History of Congregational United Church of Christ, Ogden
A Continuing Series by Dr. Gordon Harrington
Copyright, 2011, Gordon Harrington
Part of the background of Congregationalism in Ogden was the development of education by that denomination in the city as well as in the rest of Utah. To understand the Congregational educational system, it is essential to examine briefly the whole of Gentile education which came into existence in Utah in the last quarter of the 19th century.
Gentile education was begun generally for two reasons. First, Gentiles found it totally impossible to send their children to territorial schools. These schools were inadequately financed, and also, since the Mormons controlled the school boards, they were for all intents and purposes Mormon seminaries, making them unacceptable to Gentiles. Second, Gentile education was begun as a means to wean Mormons away from their church. Approaching the problem as they would in pagan lands, Gentile missionary and educational societies believed that if one could gain control of the minds of Mormon youth through good education, one might win them away from Mormonism.
The Protestant Episcopal Church began the process in July, 1867, by opening St. Mark’s School in Salt Lake City. The Presbyterians followed in 1875 by establishing the Salt Lake Collegiate Institute. By 1895, the Presbyterians were supporting thirty-one day schools with nine hundred students, seventy-five percent of whom were of Mormon parentage. Also in 1875 the Methodists opened a high school in Salt Lake City, and by 1889 they had built twenty-one schools, with close to fourteen hundred students in attendance, half of whom were Mormon.
The Congregational Church entered the field of education when the Salt Lake Academy was opened in 1878, sponsored by the First Congregational Church in Salt Lake City. Soon, however, this institution and a few others were to come under the administration of a new national educational agency, the New West Education Commission.
The New West Education Commission came into being in 1879. In that year at a meeting of the Congregational Ministers Union in Chicago, the attendees heard about the educational needs in Utah. A committee was appointed to investigate the problem. It consulted Col. C. G. Hammond, an executive of the Union Pacific Railroad, who had lived in Utah. Col. Hammond suggested the name of the Commission and gave a thousand dollars to put it into operation. The Commission was assigned the task of building schools in the Utah Territory and in other areas of the Southwest. The Rev. Charles R. Bliss, who was associated with Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado, was elected the corresponding secretary.
To publicize its endeavors, the Commission published a journal called the New West Gleaner, a bi-monthly that emphasized the degradation of Mormon polygamy, and the alleged treason of Mormon leadership toward the United States. The journal was propagandistic, biased, and narrow, but it accomplished its task, which was to raise money from easterners for teachers and schools in Utah.
Many women were associated with the New West Education Commission. Miss Margaret A. Towne was in charge of the Chicago office and Miss Lucia A. Manning ran the Boston branch. By 1887, out of forty-two teachers working in Utah, thirty-seven were women. It was thought that highly educated Gentile women, generally unmarried, standing on their own, would serve as worthy examples to Mormon women who reportedly suffered mightily from the rigors of polygamy.
The New West Education Commission built the largest Gentile school system in Utah. By the end of the 1880s some thirty-eight schools had been built, with nearly twenty-five hundred children attending.
In 1883, the New West Education Commission built the Ogden Academy, a small two-room school at the corner of 25th Street and Adams Avenue, on a lot bought from a Mr. Clayton. An existing three-room house, built by Mr. Clayton, was used as a kindergarten while the upper grades were taught in the newer building.
Professor H. W. Ring was in charge. He was assisted by Miss S.Y.M. Ludden and Miss Ludden’s niece, a Miss Hamlin. Professor Ring and his wife taught in the old Clayton house. The first students to graduate from the school were Albert Thorburn and Ruth E. Prout (Bullock). In a typed church history titled Our Book of Golden Memories, Ruth Bullock gives us a clear description of the Ogden Academy:
The two rooms were separated by folding doors, which when opened made a good sized room for programs and meetings. Professor Ring and Mrs. Ring were our teachers at the time. Every school day the doors were opened for morning devotions. There was a small organ in the intermediate room, and Mrs. Ring played and led us in singing Gospel Hymns, usually chosen by the students. After this we would listen to a reading by Professor Ring from the Bible or a selection from one of Dr. Talmadge’s sermons. This made a good beginning for our day’s lessons.
Ruth Bullock also noted that the students studied advanced algebra, geometry, chemistry, physiology, Latin, physics and civil government. She noted with amusement that “Albert Thorburn and I worked our chemistry experiments on a window sill near our desks, sometimes to the horror of the other students.”
As noted before the New West Education Commission built other schools in Utah. Of particular importance for Ogden was the New West school at Lynn or what is now known as Five Points. It was also used as a Sunday school and later for a time became the Second Congregational Church in Ogden. Generally it was served by ministers and others of the Ogden First Church.