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Benjamin Cluff, Jr. and BYU

Benjamin Cluff, Jr. (Third principal of BYA and first president of BYU)

Benjamin Cluff, Jr. (Third principal of BYA and first president of BYU)

Benjamin Cluff, Jr. enrolled as a student at Brigham Young Academy in the spring of 1877.  He excelled at his studies and was asked to teach in the Primary Department in the fall of 1877.  This began a nearly thirty year association with the Academy.  His early teaching experience created a deep desire in Cluff to further his education and in 1886 he received a leave of absence from his teaching responsibilities to pursue his own education.  He enrolled in the University of Michigan were he distinguished himself as a scholar and polished his skills as a writer by defending the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in print.  While at Michigan Cluff was exposed to the works of several of the most influential educators of his time including Charles W. Eliot, John Dewey and Aaron B. Hinsdale.  He dreamed of taking many of these new educational ideas back to Brigham Young Academy to strengthen the young institution.  Cluff returned to Brigham Young Academy in 1890 and was appointed assistant principal under Karl G. Maeser.

Cluff became the third principal of Brigham Young Academy in 1892 when Maeser stepped down to focus on his work with the Church school system.  Cluff immediately began to implement changes that he felt would strengthen the Academy.

The Brigham Young Academy faculty, 1900.

The Brigham Young Academy faculty, 1900.

These included lengthening class periods from half an hour to one hour, increased expectations of the faculty, adding new courses to the curriculum, and increasing the reading and writing requirements expected of students.  By 1903 Cluff had convinced the Academy board of trustees to rename the institution Brigham Young University–due largely to his academic reforms.

Cluff was interested in more than just academics.  He wanted a complete collegiate experience–much like the one he had experienced at the University of Michigan.  It was under Cluff’s administration that competitive athletics became part of the BYU experience.  Baseball began in 1891, football in 1896, and track and field in 1899.  Women’s basketball was introduced in 1900.  Athletics continues to remain an important part of the university’s identity.

The University Archives is home to several collections that document the impact that Benjamin Cluff, Jr. had on Brigham Young University.  They include:

  • UA 1093 Benjamin Cluff Brigham Young University President’s records, 1892-1903.  This collection contains correspondence that documents the administration of Brigham Young Academy under Benjamin Cluff.  For view the finding aid for this collection click here.
  • MSS 1667 Benjamin Cluff diaries, 1881-1909.  This collection consists of four diaries. The earliest of these, 1881-1886, covers the time when Cluff was a student at Brigham Young Academy.  For online access to this diary click here.   The volume covering 1886-1900 relates his experiences as a student at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and as president of Brigham Young Academy. The remaining two volumes, 1 Jan.-21 Aug. 1904 and 1906-1909, describe his activities and experiences as a plantation owner in Tabasco, Mexico.  To view the finding aid for this collection click here.
  • UA 135 Benjamin Cluff papers, 1900-1902.  This collection contains a scrapbook containing newspaper articles (photocopies) concerning the Brigham Young Academy South American Expedition.
  • UA 1013 Benjamin Cluff Photographs and correspondence, 1911-1943.  This collection contains potographs and correspondence of Benjamin Cluff, Jr. Among the photographs is a family picture of the Benjamin and Harriett Cluff family. Correspondence is between Cluff and his son, Cyril, as well as Cluff and the Utah-Mexican Rubber Company.
  • UA 191 Benjamin Cluff theological notes, 1882-1885.  This collection contains notes on theology, articles by Cluff, education notes, world situation notes, and titles of library books.

If you would like to learn more about the sources available for studying Benjamin Cluff, Jr., please contact the University Archivist at (801) 422-5821 or gordon_daines@byu.edu .

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