Benjamin Cluff

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Benjamin Cluff
Benjamin Cluff.jpg
President of
Brigham Young University
In office
October 1903 – December 1903
Succeeded by Karl G. Maeser
Principal of
Brigham Young Academy[1]
In office
January 1892 – October 1903
Preceded by Karl G. Maeser
Personal details
Born (1858-02-07)February 7, 1858
Provo, Utah
Died June 16, 1948(1948-06-16) (aged 90)
Los Angeles, California
Alma mater University of Michigan

Benjamin Cluff, Jr. (February 7, 1858 – June 16, 1948) was the first President of Brigham Young University, and the school's third principal.[1][2] Under his administration, the student body and faculty more than doubled in size, and the school went from an academy to a university, and was officially incorporated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Cluff changed class periods from half an hour to a full hour, adopted the official colors of the university, started summer school and the Alumni Association, encouraged the university's first student newspaper (White and Blue), provided the first student loans and developed an intercollegiate sports system.

Early life[edit]

Cluff lived in Coalville, Utah prior to his starting studies at Brigham Young Academy in 1877, where he studied in the Normal Department. After one year he became a teacher at Brigham Young Academy. He then went on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Hawaii in 1879. In 1882 he returned to teaching at Brigham Young Academy, teaching everything from language to bookkeeping. In 1886 he received approval for a leave of absence to go to the University of Michigan and was set apart to study there by John W. Taylor.

Cluff received a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan. He also served as president of the Ann Arbor Branch of the LDS church while there. At the time he left for the University of Michigan Cluff had two wives, Mary the daughter of David John and Harriet "Hattie" Cullimore.

Principal of Brigham Young Academy[edit]

By late 1891, Karl G. Maeser had to be replaced as principal of Brigham Young Academy. He had been called to oversee the entire LDS education program, and was unable to do both jobs. The Board of Trustees' initial choice was the twenty-seven-year-old James E. Talmage, but before they could extend the invitation, he was hired by an LDS college in Salt Lake City. They instead chose Cluff who had just recently graduated from the University of Michigan. Cluff had returned to Brigham Young Academy in 1890 when he began teaching classes such as educational psychology. He also was the moving force behind the class of 1891 organizing with officers and electing Richard R. Lyman as their class president.[3]

Cluff's methods as Principal have been described as nearly opposite those of Maeser. Maeser was insular and conservative in his teaching methods. He kept his teachings well within the LDS world, and adhered to classical education standards. Cluff was more open to new ideas and methods. He also believed that the world outside Mormonism had a lot to offer the school.[4]

Prior to 1891, Brigham Young Academy was still more like a present-day high school than a university. Some Academy students were at the elementary level and received tutoring from older students.[3] Cluff, however began implementing several changes to the school according to his experiences at Michigan. He began separation of the college from the high school, giving older students access to higher level materials. He also introduced an athletics program, which was quickly closed by the Board of Trustees (Many colleges at this time frowned on athletics programs).[4] The school was privately supported by members of the community, and was not absorbed and sponsored officially by the LDS Church until July 18, 1896.[5]

In 1902, Cluff organized an expedition to explore Mexico in search of the city of Zarahemla mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Although he was stopped in Nogales by Heber J. Grant, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and told to cease the venture, Cluff ignored this counsel and proceeded with the journey. The ensuing eighteen months saw Cluff incarcerated in a Mexican jail. He finally returned to his position in 1904, but was accused of various improprieties, including sexual immorality by his assistant Walter Wolfe. Cluff was forced to resign.[6] The charges of immorality stemmed from a post-Manifesto marriage between Cluff and twenty-five-year-old Florence Mary Reynolds conducted in Mexico. Cluff had obtained permission for the marriage from Joseph F. Smith.[7][8]

Founding of Brigham Young University[edit]

In Cluff's last official act, he proposed to the Board that the Academy be named "Brigham Young University". At first there was a large amount of opposition to this. Many members of the Board thought that the school wasn't large enough to be a University. However, the decision ultimately passed. One opponent to the decision, Anthon H. Lund, later said, "I hope their head will grow big enough for their hat."[6]

Today, the Cluff Building on BYU's Provo campus is named for him.

Later life[edit]

After leaving his post as head of BYU, Cluff spent many years running a business in Mexico.


  1. ^ a b Bergera, Gary James; Priddis, Ronald (1985). "Chapter 1: Growth & Development". Brigham Young University: A House of Faith. Salt Lake City: Signature Books. ISBN 0-941214-34-6. OCLC 12963965. 
  2. ^ "Brigham Young High School History: 1869 to 1903 - The Founding Years". Brigham Young High School. Retrieved 2007-08-19. 
  3. ^ a b "Brigham Young High School History: 1869 to 1903 - The Founding Years". Brigham Young High School. Retrieved 2007-08-19. 
  4. ^ a b Wilkinson, Ernest L. (10 October 1974). "Highlights in the Ninety-Nine-Year History of BYU". Brigham Young University Press. Retrieved 2007-08-19. 
  5. ^ "From 1903 to 1920 ~ A High School Within a University". Brigham Young High School History. Brigham Young High School. 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-20. 
  6. ^ a b Wilkinson, Ernest L. (10 October 1974), Highlights in the Ninety-Nine-Year History of BYU, Brigham Young University Press, retrieved 2009-11-15 
  7. ^ Quinn, D. Michael (Spring 1985). "LDS Church Authority and New Plural Marriages, 1890–1904". Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. 18 (1): 87–88. 
  8. ^ Anderson, Elizabeth O., ed. (2013). Cowboy Apostle: The Diaries of Anthony W. Ivins, 1875–1932. Salt Lake City: Signature Books. p. 205n50 [clarification needed]. ISBN 978-1-56085-226-1. OCLC 814372610. 


External links[edit]

Academic offices
New creation President of Brigham Young University
October 1903 – December 1903
Succeeded by
George H. Brimhall
Preceded by
Karl G. Maeser
Principal of Brigham Young Academy
January 1892 – October 1903
Academy split to become
Brigham Young University
and Brigham Young High School.