Sanborn Signatures

Founded 1853 ISSN 0887-0888 Volume XVI — Issue 1 — Fall 1999

UTAH STATE UNIVERSITY’S FIRST PRESIDENT Allen LeBaron

The biography attached to Jeremiah Wilson Sanborn’s name (VCS #2043) outlines a Utah connection that may be somewhat unexpected. Utah was still a territory when the US Congress established legislation that underlies our nation’s system of land grant universities (the Morrill Act, 1862). Territorial status was not a hindrance and leading citizens from north of Salt Lake City seized on the opportunity to establish some kind of public institution they might influence. Federal money now was available to support an experimentation unit; simultaneously the foundation of a non-existent college had to be laid. The Mormons had been farming in Utah for 40 years and they knew some things about irrigated agriculture but they had no technically trained person in their midst. Acting on an August 1889 recommendation of I P Roberts of Cornell Agricultural Experiment Station Council, the Utah group hired Jeremiah Sanborn, then at Columbia MO, to organize an agricultural experiment station at Logan UT.
Sanborn took up his post on 1 Jan 1890, assembled 5 additional staff, drawn almost totally from outside the Territory and, in the fall, commenced operation. By this time he also had been named president of the new Utah State Agricultural College and, to the surprise of the Trustees, supplemented Federal funding by squeezing $35,000 out of the Territorial Legislature. Within 2 years quite a few students were taking courses at the “A C”. In fact, progress was so rapid that conflicting jealousies and ambitions developed. Supporters of the University of Utah at Salt Lake City wondered if the new institution (and its financial resources) should not be incorporated into the “U’s” existing structure. The people of the Cache Valley wondered if the University shouldn’t be moved north. President Sanborn was at the center of much of this wrangling because he wanted neither to happen. His desire was for the new college to serve or satisfy territory-wide interests and to not have its operations and objectives subject to local influence. In the end his view prevailed – at least to the degree that the institutions were kept separate. None of Sanborn’s non-Mormon staff remained in Utah for more than 4 years and he returned to New Hampshire in 1894. In the interim various replacements and appointments had been made and soon a number of Utah boys had finished training in the East and they assumed direction of the Agricultural College and eventually converted it into the University of our day. In the mid-1920’s, the director of the Utah Agricultural Experiment station began contacting persons who had been early staff members of the College and requested each of them to write impressions of their Utah experience. In November 1925 Jeremiah Sanborn sent a report that, when transcribed, ran to 10.5 double spaced pages. This was supplemented by a substantial cover letter. Apparently allegations about Sanborn’s personal motives for resisting any deviation in the course he first laid out for Utah State College were in circulation at the time of his resignation. But he states his reasons for leaving were purely personal. [Author’s note: originals of President Sanborn’s review and cover letter cannot be located in USU archives. Whether the originals were handwritten or typed is unknown. All that is known is that the person who transcribed them made typographical and probably reading and diction errors. This explains the few editorial interpolations or alterations in the quotations used and alterations to the copy of the cover letter.]

Summary of President Sanborn’s Review

He begins with a background statement: “While reverent to the Deity and the Golden Rule, I attached a very minor importance to Sectarian differences and[,] by inheritance from sturdy ancestry[,] [I was] a strong friend of equit[y] to all in the institutional life of a state.” This position is fleshed out with his stated support for the aim of the Morrill Act to create educational centers “for the great mass of workers, the farmers and artisans.” But all his experience at Dartmouth College and the University of Missouri had, instead, pitted him against “academic faculties and students who did not conceal their contempt for college without a literature having a pedagogic form.
At the time I came to Utah, rural and public sentiment was growing slowly friendly to the new colleges.” Still, he continued, “I quickly found there was practically a universal misapprehension of the function of the college, the Experiment Station being practically an unknown factor.” The 85 acres set aside for the new college’s farm was a rocky place, which had never been used and was “the centerpiece of ridicule and contempt.” Of course, within a few seasons good harvests were obtained. Another aspect of his public relations activity was to aim for quick research results coupled with prompt publication of findings. He devotes almost 5 pages to recounting what would be classified as his necessary public relations activities. The words “sectarian” and “political” appear in several places. One convolution of the general struggle by various forces to alter the focus of the new college took the form of attempts to dissuade potential students from going to Logan and to reduce the size of any State appropriations. While all this was going on, President Sanborn oversaw the construction of the main building, which is still the centerpiece of a pretty campus. Then he writes about the first organizational steps, the design of the courses and assignments of himself and the other 5 faculty members. One of these was put in charge of a “preparatory course” designed to get new students up to speed for college work. President Sanborn devised a system of College sponsored dances, held in the new gymnasium, to keep the students away from the Friday night dances held in the local Mormon meeting houses. (Late Fridays “were followed by a lethargic Saturday classroom day.”) Although he knew attempting any form of “Chapel exercise” was risky, a system of invited speakers and lectures on religious subjects was instituted. The students enjoyed it and no complaints were received from either the Mormon or non-Mormon general public. He pays tribute to the students and their parents and says his relations were unmarred … “by a single unfriendly act or word.” He gives the same high marks to the Trustees who never “exhibited any [religious or political] bias … and were loyal to the College and able in their discharge of their duties.” The experimental farm and station policy was geared to climatic and social conditions. “The farmers of Utah were found living in villages and handling their farm processes at a costly loss of time and at large distances. Social life was enriched at the expense of economy, and coupled with the limitations of rainfall and irrigation necessitated small farms, generally one-man farms. These general conditions created an equality of conditions and a democracy unknown in the humid areas of the nation.” His review ends with description of the types of farming and husbandry questions that the early experiments were designed to answer.

Copy of the Transcribed Cover Letter

Wilson Farm, Gilmanton NH; Office and Station, Pittsfield NH
Dear Mr. Cardon:
I have written under great pressure for time, and by snatches of time, and consequently the material is not all logically connected and fully presented and as legible as it should be. Please overlook its imperfections, it being a first draft. Quite likely it fails to cover just the ground you had in mind. I shall be pleased to supplement it by further data as details and to add anything we touched upon. Dates can in part be supplied. I came to Utah as I recall to begin official work January 1, 1890 and left – summer of 1894 to act as agricultural editor of Town and Farmer of Manchester N.H. This also brought me back to the ancestral farm home dating back to its origin in the woods, 1727. I had resigned as chief officer of the institution and its organizer from ground up about two weeks before but it was not known to [the] public so that in the misguided battle [in] Logan for union of University with State College and the counter-fight-by university to celebrate the union at Salt Lake City, all criticism by either side [was] wholly misguided in attributing to me [any] personal motive. To you I may state, what I have to no one else, as private information. I was offered the presidency of the joint college if I would be wholly neutral and let Salt Lake City become victor. The points of the question were wholly one-sided, but in the light of wide experience and the historic break [down] of such moves in other states [I] concluded that Utah having thus far developed the State College had not better turn back. My resignation was in nowise governed by local conditions, as was inferred, as my aged Father had long needed me on the family estate in New England a great estate for N.E. and my going was a long deferred one. I went to Utah as an advisor, but stayed 4 1/2 years – virtually 5 years. I retain a great interest in the college and interest for Utah.
J.W.S.
Allen LeBaron, 1108 Thrushwood Dr, Logan UT 84321. Email: leebe@pcu.net.