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University of Nauvoo 1841-1845

University of Nauvoo 1841-1845

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Published by Leena Rogers
The University of Nauvoo, 1841–45
Susan Easton Black

Susan Easton Black (susan_black@byu.edu) is a professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU. A number of new sources reveal little-known facts about the University of Nauvoo. These facts provide unique properties and greater clarity to our understanding of the role of the university. This article will explain these facts and show why the university was established in Nauvoo, describe its structure from 1841 to 1845, and analyze its
The University of Nauvoo, 1841–45
Susan Easton Black

Susan Easton Black (susan_black@byu.edu) is a professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU. A number of new sources reveal little-known facts about the University of Nauvoo. These facts provide unique properties and greater clarity to our understanding of the role of the university. This article will explain these facts and show why the university was established in Nauvoo, describe its structure from 1841 to 1845, and analyze its

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Published by: Leena Rogers on Sep 12, 2011
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 Article
Susan Easton Black 
(susan_black@byu.edu) is a professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU.
The University of Nauvoo,1841–45
Susan Easton Black 
 
 A number of new sources reveal little-known facts about the Uni- versity of Nauvoo. These facts provide unique properties and greaterclarity to our understanding of the role of the university.
 
This article will explain these facts and show why the university was establishedin Nauvoo, describe its structure from 1841 to 1845, and analyze itseffectiveness and role in the city.
Establishing a University in Nauvoo
The Lord commanded the early Saints to “teach one another thedoctrines of the kingdom” (D&C 88:77). The reason was so that theSaints “may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, indoctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto thekingdom of God” (v. 78). The Lord also admonished the ProphetJoseph Smith and his followers to learn “of things both in heaven andin the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things whichare, things which must shortly come to pass” (v. 79).Hoping to implement these directives, Joseph instructed his fol-lowers early on to establish private schools to educate the childrenof the Church. In response, Latter-day Saints in Ohio opened theirhomes, shops, and barns for academic instruction. Eliza R. Snow taught the basics—reading, writing, and arithmetic; Orson Hydetaught English grammar, oration, and writing; and M. C. Davis openeda singing school. W. W. Phelps asked subscribers of 
The Evening and 
 
The Religious Educator
 
• vo 10 No 3 • 2009190
the Morning Star 
to lose “no time in preparing schools for their chil-dren” in Missouri.
1
Oliver Cowdery responded by opening a school in what is today Kansas City.
2
John Corrill opened a school on the cornerof Union and Lexington streets in Independence. By 1836, Latter-day Saints had built a large schoolhouse in Far West. Helen Mar Whitney recalled that it was superior to “the ones built by gentiles of my nativetown.”
3
In this facility and others like it, teachers such as Mary Eliza-beth Lightner, Erastus Snow, Zenos H. Gurley, and John Murdock taught spelling, writing, reading, and geography. As for Joseph Smith,he started the School of the Prophets for men in Kirtland. Instructionin his school focused on Church doctrine and the gospel message of salvation. Thus most children growing up in Latter-day Saint homeslearned “things which are at home, things which are abroad” whiletheir fathers learned “the law of the gospel, in all things that pertainunto the kingdom of God” (D&C 88:78, 79).The lack of unity in an educational process driven by age andgender was riddled with problems in Ohio and Missouri. Many menstruggled with the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic while beingtaught truths of eternity. Children struggled to understand the basicsof the gospel, as their disinterest in Church matters later revealed, yetthey could readily recite the times tables. The need to combine tempo-ral learning with religious education that “all may be edied” (D&C84:110) was apparent, but the answer was slow in coming.It was not until the Latter-day Saints settled in Commerce, Illinois,that Joseph proposed an educational program that combined the learn-ing of this world with the learning of a better world. By establishinga more complete educational opportunity for his followers, Josephbelieved that his “people whose minds [are] cultivated and mannersrened by education” would have “great and precious enjoyments that[the] ignorant [would] not.”
4
Such a belief butted against establishededucational practices in Illinois. Educating one child in six was thestandard of state-sponsored education at the time. The reason was thatsurviving on the land “was too pressing to allow children the luxury of ‘idle’ hours at school.”
5
Such reasoning was unacceptable to Joseph. He held that all menand women, youth and adults, had the right to an education. Hisbelief was shared by John C. Bennett, who was well versed in educa-tional matters before the two men had become acquainted. Bennetthad petitioned the state legislatures of Virginia, Indiana, and Ohio toincorporate medical schools and universities. Granted, in a few cases hepetitioned legislators without the knowledge or support of the princi-
 
191t Unisiy of Nuoo, 1841
45
ples he professed to represent, but he was familiar with the legal processof creating a state-sanctioned university. For example, in December1832 he pushed through the incorporation of Christian College inNew Albany, Indiana, without the support of Alexander and ThomasCampbell, the very men he claimed to represent. The college wasfounded, and Bennett was appointed its chancellor even though theCampbells heard “nothing of this project until it was consummated.”Being called “a false brother, a person of no solid learning, and of very bad morals” did not stop Bennett from moving onto another state with another college plan.
6
The following year, he lobbied the Ohiolegislature for a university in Franklin County and later for Willoughby Medical University. By 1838 he had established at least six schools in various Midwest localities, and critics dubbed him a “getter up of col-leges” and a “diploma peddler.”
7
 With this checkered background, it is surprising that Joseph foundBennett a useful man. “He is a man of enterprise, extensive acquire-ments, and of independent mind, and is calculated to be a greatblessing to our community,” said Joseph.
8
At rst, Bennett proved tobe a blessing to the community of Saints. He arrived in Commercein September 1840 and boarded with the Smith family for the nextthirty-nine weeks. At an October 1840 general conference, Bennett was appointed to a committee to draft a bill that would incorporatethe city of Nauvoo. He was also appointed to be a “delegate, to urgethe passage of said bill through the legislature.”
9
Bennett accepted theappointments and, after the bill was drafted, joined Almon W. Babbittin Springeld for the December convening of the Illinois legislature. As a lobbyist, Bennett renewed his acquaintance with Whig and Demo-cratic legislators, including Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln.The bill to incorporate Nauvoo moved quickly through both housesof the legislature with little discussion or debate. The bill was signedinto law on December 17, 1840, by Governor Thomas Carlin. Thelaw, known as the Nauvoo Charter, granted the city of Nauvoo severalrights, including the right to establish a university—the rst city uni- versity in the state of Illinois.
10
Section 24 of the charter reads, “The City Council may establishand organize an institution of learning within the limits of the city, forthe teaching of the Arts, Sciences, and Learned Professions, to be calledthe ‘University of the City of Nauvoo,’ which institution shall be underthe control and management of a Board of Trustees, consisting of aChancellor, Registrar, and twenty-three Regents, which Board shallthereafter be a body corporate and politic, with perpetual succession

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