University of Deseret

The first university west of the Mississippi.

The John Pack family owned a low adobe house, which they made available to church members for early social and educational events in Salt Lake City. From this humble beginning would grow the University of Utah.



The John Pack family owned a low adobe house, which they made available to church members for early social and educational events in Salt Lake City. From this humble beginning would grow the University of Utah.

Officially founded in 1850, it is now the flagship campus of the Utah System of Higher Education and the state’s oldest and largest institution of higher learning.



Additional Media

The first University of Deseret classes were held in the living room of the Pack home beginning in November of 1850, just three years after the arrival of the Saints in the valley. Daughters of Utah Pioneers

Brigham Young suggested that John Pack make his home a multipurpose structure. Daughters of Utah Pioneers

Kingsbury Hall, University of Utah. Daughters of Utah Pioneers

A coed class picture. Daughters of Utah Pioneers

Sewing, weaving and other domestic arts were taught in earlier days at the University of Utah. Daughters of Utah Pioneers

The marker sits embedded in the sidewalk to mark the corner where John Pack’s home stood and where the first university classes were held. Photo by David M. Whitchurch

Young men posing in a science laboratory at the University of Utah. Daughters of Utah Pioneers



Initially called the University of Deseret (Utah was first called the “State of Deseret”), it was the first university west of the Mississippi. It was inaugurated in February 1850 and classes began in March. The doors officially opened November 11, 1850, with forty students enrolled the first year. Because the territorial government failed to appropriate funds for the school, tuition was often paid with produce, lumber, chickens, barrels of molasses, and baskets of fruit, which were then sold by John Pack to fund the school. Tuition was eight dollars the first quarter. Cyrus W. Collins was the first teacher, and Wilford Woodruff, an important record keeper in the early Church, donated much of the library.

The Packs demonstrated bold faith in their new-found religion after joining the Church in 1836. During the exodus of the pioneers from Nauvoo, John was chosen to be a member of the original pioneer company, arriving in July 1847. He was later called to settle the Carson Valley of Nevada.

Once while still in Missouri, he was threatened by a mob who tried to compel him to deny his new-found faith. Standing with unflinching resolve, he said, “[The mob] came to me and stopped my carriage, and asked me if I was a Mormon. I told them, Yes! I am a full-blooded Mormon!

“They dragged me from my wife into a wood, and told my wife to take a last farewell of me. [The mob leader] asked me if I would forsake the Mormons, and deny Mormonism. I told him, No! I would not; I knew that it was true, and I would not give up my faith. They condemned me to death. [The leader] then took ten men, and led me into the woods to shoot me, but no one could be found to do it.

“They quarreled among themselves, and after some time I was liberated.”

The stone reads:


Daughters of Utah Pioneers No. 53. Erected Oct. 15, 1939. First University West of the Mississippi. The Parent School or the University of Deseret, established November 11, 1850 in the home of John Pack, was located on this corner. Forty students enrolled the first year. Produce, lumber, etc. were take for tuition and sold by Mr. Pack. Cyrus W. Collins was the first teacher. In 1851 the school was moved to the Council House, then to 13th Ward Hall, in 1867 back to the Council House, in 1878 to Union Square, 2nd West and 1st North Streets. In 1892 the name was changed to University of Utah, and in Sept. 1900, moved to the present site.

INTERESTING FACTS

  • Visitors can see a re-creation of the historic Pack Home at This Is the Place Heritage Park, located at the mouth of Emigration Canyon in Salt Lake City.