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The Domestic Organization

The need to integrate the sacred and the secular in the fledgling Brigham Young Academy meant that discipline at the school was strict.  Karl G. Maeser had been educated in a German educational tradition that emphasized the need for order and obedience to established regulations.  Maeser saw rigid moral discipline as a way to help students develop character and he taught them that they should never bend their principles.  The regulations established by Maeser were particularly strict on campus.  They included: no smoking on campus, a prohibition on the usage of vulgar language, no use of strong drinks, and no loitering.  Students were further advised to suspend their studies on Sunday and to attend the theater no more than once a week.

Maeser also felt a keen need to ensure that Academy students followed the rules when they were not on campus.  The Domestic Organization was organized to monitor student behavior when they were not on campus.  Among the responsibilities assigned to the Domestic Organization were the approval of student housing and the implementation of the Visitorial System.  The Visitorial System was based on a Prussian model in which the lives of students were monitored at all times by school officials.  It allowed the administration to keep a close watch on the “manners, morals and activities of the Academy students.”  Students and faculty were assigned by the school to visit the homes of other students every couple of weeks to determine if they were abiding by the Academy’s standards of conduct.

The University Archives is home to several collections that help us gain a better understanding of the Domestic Organization and allow us to get a small glimpse of early student life at the Academy.  These records include:

  • UA 593 Brigham Young Academy. Domestic Dept. Enrollment statistics, 1895.  This collection consists of two photocopies of records listing students by county or home state.
  • UA 239 Brigham Young Academy. Domestic Dept. records, 1879-1881.  This collection contains a typewritten transcript of the minutes of the organization and a description of how the organization helped students maintain honorable conduct on and off campus.
  • UA 195 Brigham Young Academy. Domestic Dept. records, 1879-1890.  This collection contains meeting minutes and lists of students involved with the Domestic Department.
  • UA 1150 Brigham Young University annual school catalogs, 1876-1962.  This collection includes circulars, bulletins, and catalogs. Circulars contain much of the same information as the catalogs such as, a brief history of the University, course descriptions, program descriptions, and tuition and fee listings.  Circulars also contain information on expected student behavior at the Academy.   Bulletins are more of an overview of a specific department. These include aims of the department, reasons to study that major, requirements for that major, and again course descriptions.  Click here to see the finding aid for this collection.

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

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