Sometimes referred to as an American Moses, Brigham Young was a spiritual and civic visionary who led more than 60,000 Mormon pioneers from Illinois, across the plains, and into the Rocky Mountains. There, he presided over The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as its members established hundreds of settlements and turned the desert into the thriving cultural and economic center known as the crossroads of the West. He was the founder of Brigham Young University.
Brigham Young was born June 1, 1801, in Vermont, the ninth of eleven children. His father was a Revolutionary War veteran, and his mother passed away when he was only 14 years old. He learned to work hard as a young man, and he also developed a deep interest in religion. He sought the personal contentment and peace that spirituality could offer, and he had a particular interest in finding the Church of Jesus Christ as described in the New Testament.
When he met missionaries from the newly emergent Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Brigham was intrigued but cautious. It took him two years of fervent study of the Book of Mormon before he decided to be baptized; once he joined the Church, however, he was whole-heartedly devoted. He served 10 proselyting missions in the eastern United States, Canada, and Great Britain, and his missionary service contributed to a major influx of baptisms, changing not only the lives of individual converts but also the face of the Church.
After the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1844, many thought that the Church would soon diminish and die. Intense persecution as well as internal dissensions threatened the safety of members of the Church and the vitality of their cherished religion. The senior apostle in the Church and a staunch supporter of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young was ordained the Church’s second president in August of 1847.
Brigham Young’s pragmatic, undaunted, and prophetic leadership saw the Church through some of its most trying times and helped it to flourish in the Salt Lake Valley. Serving as the territorial governor of Utah, he was interested not only in the spiritual and temporal well-being of the Saints but also in their creative and educational development. He received only 11 days of formal education himself and grew up in an austere home without much music or recreation. Brigham saw these as key enterprises in fostering healthy individuals, families, and communities. He founded the institutions that would later become Brigham Young University and the University of Utah.
Brigham Young passed away in 1877, having been president of the Church for 30 years. The Church he led, rather than dwindling, continued to grow and expand and now comprises more than 16 million members worldwide. Brigham Young University has become one of the largest private universities in the United States and is nationally recognized for its academic, athletic, and artistic programs as well as its determination to blend scholarly study with faith in Jesus Christ. Brigham Young’s passion for the gospel and his strong leadership have influenced the lives of countless people in and outside of the Church.