Abraham O. Smoot I
Church & Business Leader, School Founder & Politician

Abraham O. Smoot
Abraham O. Smoot I

Brigham Young Academy
Board of Trustees

2020 Petition calls for BYU to change building
named after slavery supporter
[see bottom of page].

Abraham Owen Smoot I, the first President of the Board of Trustees of Brigham Young Academy in Provo, Utah, served on Board of Trustees from 1875 to 1895.

Abraham O. Smoot I, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Brigham Young Academy, was the indominable force behind the Academy. He served first as mayor of Salt Lake City, then as mayor of Provo. His leadership involved almost every facet of the development of the whole territory and its rapidly expanding population.

When Brigham Young died in 1877, the leadership of BYA fell heavily on Smoot, acting as liaison between a dubious but hopeful public, and an ambitious, driving leader in Karl G. Maeser. He gave his life and his fortune to build up the Academy.

In his last days he assumed the debts of BYA amounting to more than $100,000. He mortgaged his properties and holdings to liquidate them. A wealthy man, he died practically penniless to save the honor of the Church and the Academy. After he died on March 6, 1895 at the age of 80, over 5,000 people came to the Provo Tabernacle to pay honor to him.

The Academy had its origins in various locations. As the Dusenberry School, it started in an adobe building on First West and Center Street. The school was later moved to the Lewis Building on Third West and Center Streets.

On Sunday evening, January 27, 1884, a fire, which started in the chemistry lab, completely destroyed the Lewis building.

On a call from founder and principal, Karl G. Maeser, the following morning, A. O. Smoot I, faculty and students fitted up quarters in three temporary locations: a Provo meeting house, the First National bank in a business block completed by Smoot, and a new store belonging to S. S. Jones.

During the summer, the ZCMI warehouse, located at the south end of University Avenue, was remodeled. School was held there until January, 1892, when the structure known as the High School Building, and later Education Building, or BY Academy Building, was completed.

Located at the northern edge of the city, the large new building was constructed of locally manufactured brick trimmed with sandstone and wood. The roof was composed of metal shingles. The large structure had 2 main floors, a basement and an attic.

Electricity generated at Abraham O. Smoot's sawmill two blocks to the west provided for electric lights in the building. Heating for a portion of the building was accomplished by forced air over steam radiators; the remaining rooms were heated by coal stoves.

Brief Biography: Smoot, Abraham Owen (1815-1895) -- also known as Abraham O. Smoot; A. O. Smoot -- of Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Utah; Provo, Utah County, Utah. Nephew of Daniel Rowlett and Joseph Rowlett; father of Abraham Owen Smoot (1856-1911) and Reed Smoot; grandfather of Abraham Owen Smoot III and Isaac Albert Smoot. Born in Owen County, Ky., February 17, 1815. Mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah, 1857-66; mayor of Provo, Utah, 1868-81. Mormon. Died in Provo, Utah County, Utah, March 6, 1895.

Abraham Owen Smoot was sent to Provo by Brigham Young in 1868, where he presided over the Utah Stake (all of Utah Valley) for 27 years until his death in 1895. He was also the first President of the Board of Trustees of the Brigham Young Academy (1875-1895) and is still the longest standing mayor of Provo.

Despite steady growth during its early years, Brigham Young Academy was threatened by a series of financial and physical setbacks.

With the help and sacrifice of Abraham O. Smoot, the campus moved in 1892 to new facilities located on University Avenue.

A. O. Smoot I, a highly successful businessman, stake president, mayor of Provo, and Chairman of the Board of Brigham Young Academy, gave his buildings, his land, and mortgaged his home in order to save the institution. He died penniless, having given everything to the school.

Smoot, in summary, was a dominant figure in the history of Provo and the state of Utah. He was described by his son-in-law, Orson F. Whitney, as "colonizer, financier, civic officer, legislator, missionary, Bishop and Stake President, who frequently sat with the leaders of the Latter-Day Saint Church."

Abraham O. Smoot I was born on February 17, 1815 in Owenton, Kentucky, to Ann Rowlett and George W. Smoot. His wives:
1. Margaret Thompson McMeans Adkinson,
2. Emily Harris,
3. Sarah Gibbons (div.),
4. Diana Tanner Eldredge, and
5. Anna Kirstine Mouritsen
He married all five wives before he became Mayor of Salt Lake City.

The founder of Brigham Young Academy, Abraham O. Smoot, took a slave whom he'd purchased from the Bankhead brothers with him to Provo.

Petition calls for BYU to change building
named after slavery supporter
by McKenzie Stauffer
Wednesday, June 17, 2020

(KUTV) - Students at Brigham Young University are calling on the school to change the name of a building on campus.

The Abraham O. Smoot Administration Building is named after a prominent figure in the university's history, who also has ties to slavery.

Smoot's legacy largely includes his time in Provo, where he helped establish and ultimately save Brigham Young Academy in the late 1800s, according to BYU Magazine. The school became a university in 1903.

Six decades later, the Abraham O. Smoot Administration Building was dedicated in his honor.

Students at Brigham Young University are calling on the school to change the name of a building on campus.

Now, a petition is calling for the building to be renamed because of Smoot's ties to slavery.

"Despite not being raised in a slaveholding home, and initially supporting Joseph Smith's abolitionist sentiments, upon moving to Utah, he made the decision to become a slaveholder," the petition on Change.org states, citing the book "Mormonism and White Supremacy: American Religion and The Problem of Racial Innocence" by Joanna Brooks.

"Everyday BYU students of many races walk through the doors of this building — a building named for a man who may have willingly enslaved some of them," the petition created by Colton Quist states. It continues:

"In his recent statements addressing the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, BYU President Kevin J. Worthen stated, 'BYU stands firmly against racism and violence in any form and is committed to promoting a culture of safety, kindness, respect and love.' He also said, 'We know there is work to do, on campus and throughout the nation, for us to better come together, to address injustice and to truly love one another. It will take sustained effort from all of us to make things better. We remain committed to doing that.'"

"For these aspirations to be credible, we must change the name of the building housing the university’s highest officers. It cannot continue to bear the name of a man who held slaves, some of whom were near the age of the students on campus.

"Students at Brigham Young University are calling on the school to change the name of a building on campus."

2News has reached out to BYU for comment.

This petition comes as several statues and buildings across the country, that bear the names and images related to slavery or prominent slaveholders in U.S. history, are in the process of being changed and/or taken down. It also comes during the Black Lives Matter movement. Source

Descendants weigh in on controversy.

Historical context:
Brigham Young taught that slavery was ordained of God and taught that the Republican Party's efforts to abolish slavery went against the decrees of God and would eventually fail. He also encouraged members to participate in the Indian slave trade.

Mormonism and slavery - Wikipedia

Brigham Young - Biographies
BYH Biographies