Karl G. Maeser

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Karl G. Maeser
Karl G Maeser.jpg
Principal of
Brigham Young Academy

 (later becoming Brigham Young University
In office
August 1876 – January 1892
Preceded by Warren Newton Dusenberry
Succeeded by Benjamin Cluff
Personal details
Born (1828-01-16)January 16, 1828
Meissen, Germany
Died February 15, 1901(1901-02-15) (aged 73)
Salt Lake City, Utah

Karl Gottfried Maeser (January 16, 1828 – February 15, 1901) was a prominent Utah educator and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). He is most famous for having served 16 years as principal of Brigham Young Academy,[1][2] which became Brigham Young University (BYU) in 1903, where he is seen as the true founder of the institution.[3]

A native of Saxony, Maeser served as a missionary for the LDS Church in four nations and held many leadership positions in the church, including serving as the head of the Church Educational System and in the central leadership of the Sunday School.


Born in Meissen, Germany, Maeser attended the Kreuzschule in Dresden.[4] By 1855 Maeser was a teacher at the Budig Institute in Dresden. The year before he had married Anna Mieth, the daughter of the director of the Budig Institute.[5] Maeser joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Dresden. He was baptized by Franklin D. Richards with William Budge.[6]

At the time the church was banned in Germany, so he had to be baptised at night. At this time all Latter-day Saints were urged to gather together in Utah. Maeser and his family began the journey towards Utah, but in England he was called to serve as a missionary, serving both there and in Scotland, and delaying their journey to Utah. Among other assignments Maeser served as a missionary among the Germans in London.[7] While they were in England, Karl and Anna's second son was born, Karl Franklin Maeser. He died in port as they arrived and they buried him on land when they arrived on July 4, 1857. After living a few weeks in Philadelphia, Maeser was called to serve as a missionary to the German-speaking people of Philadelphia, and spent some time laboring in Virginia. While in Virginia Maeser earned keep for himself and his family by giving music lessons. Among Maeser's students in Virginia were the daughters of former United States President John Tyler.[8] Maeser returned with Anna to Philadelphia, where he was called to serve as Conference President in Philadelphia. Maeser and his family left Philadelphia in 1860 and traveled across the country in Patriarch John Smith's company. Maeser thus arrived in Utah Territory on September 1, 1860.

In 1860 Maeser was appointed to head the church meetings in Salt Lake City held in the German language. However shortly after this, most of the Swiss Church members moved to Santa Clara, Utah and other locations in southern or central Utah, so the meetings in Salt Lake City were ended. He was called to serve a Mission to Switzerland in 1867 and appointed mission president in 1868. He founded the church magazine Der Stern in January 1869. Upon his return to Utah in 1870, there were again enough German speaking church members in Salt Lake City for them to hold their own church meetings, and Maeser was again the one who presided at these meetings.[9]

In his early days in Utah Maeser served as the tutor for Brigham Young's children, but also instructed other children who came to the Young household for this purpose including Ellis Reynolds Shipp.[10]

In 1876, Maeser became the second principal of Brigham Young Academy in Provo, Utah, which was later to become Brigham Young University.[11] He was the first superintendent of the Church Educational System from 1888 to 1901.

Once, during some difficult times as the school was struggling, Maeser pondered going elsewhere. He had a dream, or what he called a vision in which he saw "Temple Hill filled with buildings - great temples of learning."[12]

A moving story comes from when the old Lewis building where the academy first met burned down. Reed Smoot, a former student of Maeser's approached him and said "Dr. Maeser, the academy is no more." Maeser responded "no such thing, the building has burned but the academy lives on in us."[13]

For a short period of time Maeser was an assistant organist for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.[14]

Maeser was married twice, first to Anna Mieth in 1854, and then in 1875 to Emilie Damke as a plural wife. Karl had a total of 11 children, several of which died in infancy.[15]

One of his sons, Karl Emil, went on to be a respected educator and school president.

Brigham Young Academy[edit]

BYU's Karl G. Maeser Building

When Maeser arrived at Brigham Young Academy in 1876 it was dying. Enrollment had declined since Warren N. Dusenberry had started the school a few months before. There were only 29 students at the time of Maeser's arrival.[16]

Maeser believed that "Come follow me" and not "Thou Shalt" was the best principle for teaching.[17][18]

Maeser had a profound effect on his students. One of them, Alice Louise Reynolds, wrote "He had the ability to inspire. He made his students feel the worth of life; he told us that the Lord had sent each of us to do a special work, and that the proper preparation was necessary for that mission."[19]

Among the students who studied under Maeser were Reed Smoot, George Sutherland, William H. King,[20] Alice Louise Reynolds, William Spry,[21] Bryant S. Hinckley, James E. Talmage, George Albert Smith and J. Golden Kimball.

California missionary work[edit]

In the mid-winter fair in San Francisco in 1893–1894, Maeser had charge of the Utah exhibit. Although this was largely to create interest in Utah, the state and the church were so intertwined that advancing one advanced the other. Maeser and his associates rented a hall in which church members held meetings along with new friends they had developed through the Utah exhibit. This was a key component behind the organization of the California Mission of the church. Maeser presided over this mission until August 1894 when he was replaced by Henry S. Tanner as president.[22]

Superintendent of the Church Educational System[edit]

In 1888 Maeser was made the superintendent of the Church Educational System.

During this same time Maeser served in the General Superintendency of the Deseret Sunday School Union. He was the Second Assistant to General Superintendent George Q. Cannon from July 1894 to January 1899. He then served as the First Assistant to Cannon from January 1899 until February 1901.[23]


Karl G. Maeser was born, raised and educated in Meissen. The house where he was born is present 10, Zscheilaer Strasse. Now, as a result, the two cities share a sister-city relationship. The connection between Provo and Meissen through Maeser was the original inspiration for the sister-city partnership. It is the hope of both cities that the relationship will grow to include the exchange of delegations, including manufacturers, youth, academicians, scientists, artists, associations, clubs, tourists, technicians and others, which will result in enriching the cultures of the respective cities. As of 2001 the two cities have been sending high school age students on a three-week-long exchange to gain more knowledge about their differences in society and culture.[24][25]

Karl G. Maeser's grave marker
Karl G. Maeser's grave marker
The house where Karl G. Maeser was born

Song to his memory[edit]

A poem turned song was written in his memory. The words were written by Annie Pike Greenwood, with the music by L.D. Edwards. It is titled "Come, Lay His Books and Papers by." This song became an LDS hymn and appeared in the 1948 edition of the hymn book as hymn #338. After the title it states "In memory of Dr. Karl G. Maeser." It is not included in the 1985 hymn book.


"I have been asked what I mean by 'word of honor.' I will tell you. Place me behind prison walls--walls of stone ever so high, ever so thick, reaching ever so far into the ground--there is a possibility that in some way or another I may escape; but stand me on the floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor never to cross it. Can I get out of the circle? No. Never! I'd die first!"[26]

"The fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom. This life is one great object lesson to practice on the principles of immortality and eternal life. Man grows with his higher aims. Let naught that is unholy enter here" (written on a chalk board during his Nov. 9th, 1900 visit to Maeser Elementary School in Provo, Utah.)[17]


  1. ^ 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 search of the BYU website for "Karl Maeser" generates 658 references, such as "BYU's legacy of success dates back to 1876, when Karl G. Maeser began his term as its first permanent principal" <http://newsnet.byu.edu/story.cfm/43902>
  4. ^ Burton. Maeser. p. 2
  5. ^ Ernest L. Wilkinson, ed., Brigham Young University: The First 100 Years (Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1975) Vol. 1, p. 84
  6. ^ Richards, A. LeGrand (2006). "Moritz Busch's Die Mormonen and the Conversion of Karl G. Maeser BYU Studies". 45, no. 4,. pp. 46–67. ; Whitney, Orson F. (1904). History of Utah. IV-Biographical. Salt Lake City, Utah: George Q. Cannon & Sons Co. pp. 327–328. OCLC 22886649. 
  7. ^ Burton, Alma P., Karl G. Maeser: Mormon Educator (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1953) p. v
  8. ^ Winder, Michael K., Presidents and Prophets: The Story of America's Presidents and the LDS Church. (Salt Lake City: Covenant Communications, 2007) p. 62
  9. ^ Jensen, Richard L., "Mother Tongue: The Use of Non-English languages in the Church in the United States, 1842–1983" in Bitton, Davis and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, ed., New Views of Mormon History (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1987) p. 277
  10. ^ McCloud, Susan Evans. Brigham Young: A Personal Portrait (American Fork, Utah: Covenant Communications, 1996)
  11. ^ "History of BY High from 1869 to 1903". Abc.eznettools.net. 1906-01-31. Retrieved 2014-04-12. 
  12. ^ [1] Archived September 1, 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Stated in interview with his daughter Eva Maeser Crandall on Oct. 26, 1958. Interview by Lars Crandall. Interview in possession of his descendants. Nov. 2012[unreliable source?][original research?]
  14. ^ "The Official Site of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir". Mormontabernaclechoir.org. Retrieved 2014-04-12. 
  15. ^ "LDS Ancestral file records". Retrieved 2009-02-08. [unreliable source?]
  16. ^ Wilkinson, Ernest L. Speeches of The Year BYU 1962, p. 2
  17. ^ a b MSE :: Maeser Chalkboards Preserved[dead link]
  18. ^ The Preparation of a Timeless Teacher, McKay Today Magazine, Brigham Young University, 2007, accessed 2009-10-17
  19. ^ "quoting They Galdly Taught. ed. Jean Anne Waterstradt (Provo: BYU, 1988) vol. 3, p. 132". Magazine.byu.edu. 1977-09-04. Retrieved 2014-04-12. 
  20. ^ Conference Report, October 1950, p. 32
  21. ^ 1962 speeches of the Year, p. 7
  22. ^ Jenson, Andrew. Encyclopedic History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Corporation of the President of the Church of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1941. p. 109-110.
  23. ^ LDS Church Almanac, 2008 Edition, p. 115
  24. ^ City of Provo, Utah :: Archived September 28, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  25. ^ [2] Archived September 28, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ "Honor Code - Home". Honorcode.byu.edu. Retrieved 2014-04-12. 


  • Burton, Alma P. Karl G. Maeser, Mormon educator. Deseret Book Co (1953), 79 pages. ASIN: B0007F29IE
  • Maeser, Karl Gottfried. School and Fireside. Skelton (1898), 358 pages. ASIN: B000882GWY
  • Maeser, Reinhard. Karl G. Maeser: A biography by his son. Brigham Young University (1928), 184 pages. ASIN: B000893U14
  • Hymns- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Copyright 1948 by Corporation of the President The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, published 1978 by Deseret Book Company for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Warren N. Dusenberry
Principal of Brigham Young Academy
 (later becoming Brigham Young University

August 1876 – January 1892
Succeeded by
Benjamin Cluff