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Contributions of the Class of 1891: Thomas J. Yates

Another member of the Class of 1891 was Thomas Jarvis Yates, who is remembered as the first seminary teacher in the Church. While he pursued a career as a mechanical engineer following his graduation from Brigham Young Academy, Yates retained a love of teaching throughout his life.

Class of 1891

Portrait of Class of 1891. Yates standing just right of center in the back row. (LTPSC UA P 2)

Thomas J. Yates

Thomas Jarvis was born in 1870 in Scipio, Utah to Thomas Yates and Elizabeth Francis. During his studies at the Millard Stake Academy in Fillmore, he developed an appreciation of teaching and determined to obtain a normal degree. In the winter of 1890-1891 he studied at Brigham Young Academy with Karl G. Maeser and Benjamin Cluff, and was able to complete the program with the Class of 1891. After graduation he hoped to attend college in the East, but due to finances decided to work as a teacher in Deseret, Utah and in Meadow, Utah. By 1894 he had determined to leave for college the following year, but his plans were interrupted by a mission call to the Southern States. After his return he attended Cornell University, earning degrees in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering.

Returning from New York in 1902, Yates took a position with Utah Power and Light working in power plants. By 1907 he began consulting in the area, building power plants in Heber City and Murray, Utah. It was during this time living in the Sugar House Ward in Salt Lake City that Yates was approached by his stake president, Frank Y. Taylor, and Joseph F. Merrill to establish a seminary to provide religious instruction for students at Granite High School, the first program of its kind in the Church. While Yates was only able to remain for the initial 1912-1913 school year due to other obligations, his work during that year provided the model for Church educational growth during the 20th century.

More information about Thomas J. Yates in available in Yates’ autobiography, a copy of which is held in Special Collections (MSS 6831). A fuller discussion of Yates and the Granite High School Seminary is also provided in a biographical essay by Casey Paul Griffiths from the Religious Educator.

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