A month or so ago, Andrea got a Facebook message from a Michigan undergrad who writes for the Michigan Review, an alternative campus newspaper. This girl was writing an article about Mormons (prior to Mitt Romney's withdrawal from the presidential race), and she wanted to know more about Mormons in Ann Arbor. Andrea, of course, fired back a response that ran to about three pages, answering all of the girl's questions (and several questions she should have asked but didn't). The writer thanked Andrea for her "extensive" response and then said: "I actually would like to know a little bit more about the statistics and history of the community's presence in this area ... Is there something significant about Ann Arbor or the U of M that draws, say, Mormon students from the West to study here?"
That got my inquisitive juices flowing. I recalled that a number of 19th century Mormons had come to study at Michigan, but I had forgotten their names, so I started doing a little research. Here are four of the people I got to know along the way.
Martha Hughes Cannon (1857-1932)
Martha Hughes Cannon was born in Wales, but came to the U.S. as a young child after her parents were converted to Mormonism. Her father died three days after arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, but her mother later remarried James Paul, who provided encouragement to Martha's educational ambitions. Martha graduated with a degree in Chemistry from the University of Utah (known at the time as the University of Deseret), and at the age of 21 travelled to Ann Arbor to enroll in the University of Michigan Medical School. She graduated in 1881, in the first Michigan class to receive 3 full years of instruction (rather than just 6 or 9 months). When she returned to Utah, she worked as a resident physician at the Deseret Hospital, which was later absorbed into the University of Utah Medical School. In 1896 Martha entered politics as a Democrat, and became the first woman in any of the United States to be elected as a state senator, soundly defeating the Republican nominee, who also happened to be her husband of 12 years, Angus Cannon.
Benjamin Cluff (1858-1948)
Benjamin Cluff came to Ann Arbor in 1886. He had served as a missionary in Hawaii, studied under Karl Maeser at the Brigham Young Academy in Provo, and had even been an instructor there, but he felt he needed more rigorous study to be effective. While a student at Michigan, he became a close friend of the president of the University, James B. Angell, the namesake of Michigan's iconic Angell Hall:
He received a bachelors and masters degree from Michigan, and returned to Provo fired up about the prospects for higher education in Utah. Benjamin succeeded Karl Maeser as principal of Brigham Young Academy in 1892 and tried to make the school a little more like Michigan, even bringing some Michigan faculty to Provo as guest teachers. He eventually succeeded in revamping the Academy into Brigham Young University (serving as the first president of BYU), and was responsible for bringing the school under the official auspices of the LDS Church. He probably shaped the destiny of BYU more than any of its other leaders, with the possible exceptions of Maeser and E.L. Wilkinson.
Alice Louise Reynolds (1874-1938)
Alice Louise Reynolds enrolled in the Brigham Young Academy at the age of 12, following her mother's untimely death. After six years of study there, she followed the advice of Benjamin Cluff and travelled to Ann Arbor in 1892, where she studied literature at the University of Michigan for two years (apparently without receiving any degree). When she returned to Provo she received a faculty appointment at the young age of 21, and spent the next 44 years teaching literature at BYU. Alice was the first woman to become a full professor at BYU, chaired the library committee for 19 years, and taught thousands and thousands of students. In fact, her students admired her so much that they created the Alice Louise Reynolds [Fan] Club in her honor, which grew to include 16 official chapters located in several states.
Joseph F. Merrill (1869-1952)
Although he was the son of an LDS apostle, Joseph F. Merrill grew up in relative poverty, and started working in railroad camps at the age of 10. As a boy he came across a science book by James E. Talmage and was captivated by the descriptions of the chemistry involved in everyday life. He resolved to become a scientist someday, and to study chemistry in particular. At the age of 18 he began attending the University of Deseret, and received a teaching certificate two years later. He knew he needed further education to realize his ambitions, so he approached his father about his plans: "I ventured to ask him if I could go to Ann Arbor to the University of Michigan the following year. Instantly he replied, 'yes, and I will keep you there as long as you let the girls alone, and devote yourself to study.'" He spent 4 years in Ann Arbor, graduating in 1893 with a Bachelor of Science degree with a focus in Chemistry. He was the president of the Ann Arbor Branch of the LDS Church, and would have had Alice Louise Reynolds and Richard R. Lyman in his branch. He later received a PhD in Chemistry from Johns Hopkins University, taught Chemistry for 30 years at the University of Utah, and was a diehard Democrat, holding prominent positions in the party. He retired from the University of Utah in 1928 to become Church Commissioner of Education, and was ordained an apostle in 1931, a position he held for over 20 years, until his death in 1952.
There are many more I'd like to include, like Ellis R. Shipp, Richard R. Lyman, Oscar McConkie, and George Sutherland (who wasn't technically Mormon, but would fit well into the narrative). Maybe someday I'll put together a paper for the MHA, but for now I've got a start. What about you? Odds are, if you're reading my blog you're either (a) Mormon, (b) affiliated with the University of Michigan, or, most likely, (c) both. Leave me a comment about your time in Ann Arbor, either as a student, professor, or spouse/child of a student or professor. You can take pride in a long tradition of higher education at what I like to call "The Lord's Graduate School."