Eliza R. Snow as Dorm Mother and Concert Master: Memorializing Mormon Women In Campus Spaces

By August 16, 2013

One trip through Rexburg, Idaho, or any amount of time spent there, reminds visitors of the methods of honoring the institutional, religious, and pioneering heritage of western settlements, in ways that often emphasize the prominence of male actors in that history, and the absence, or lesser importance, of female actors. Rexburg, like most Mormon pioneer towns, is possessed of place names as a ?Who?s Who? of male church, educational, and pioneer leadership.DSC_0721 Indeed, male founders are evident in everything, from the name of the town and neighboring towns (Rigby, for example), to the counties of Jefferson, Madison, and Fremont, down to local Smith and Porter Parks, and most especially in the campus buildings at one of the Church?s three flagship educational institutions, Brigham Young University-Idaho, formerly Ricks College. Of course, the names of Ricks College and Rexburg both come from Thomas E. Ricks, often memorialized both as the town?s founder, as well as the direct ancestor to many of the area?s residents.  However, if asked to name one of Ricks?s six plural wives, most townspeople? myself included?would fail miserably at that exam. Still, his legacy lives on, even after Ricks College became a renamed university in 2000. At BYU-Idaho in 2006, the Thomas E. Ricks building was dedicated as the home of various college departments, including my own History, Geography, and Political Science Department.DSC_0722 Wrapping around the north side of the Ricks Building are the beautiful Thomas E. Ricks Memorial Gardens, devotedly designed by the Landscape Design faculty and students, and cared for by an army of grounds crew student employees.

Mormon communities like Rexburg, Provo, and Laie (Hawaii), are typical of many college towns in America?Mormon or not?who memorialize their male founders, educators, and politicians. But these towns also represent the quality found among most sectarian colleges and universities, of honoring the ?Great Men? associated with the religion at large. For Mormon institutions, this takes the form of naming buildings after church presidents and apostles, even if those men might have little or no direct connection with the campus. As the LDS Church has appropriated architectural naming as a form of memorializing significant Mormon figures on its three campuses, it is no surprise that BYU-Idaho?s main campus area contains buildings named Kimball (Administration), Benson and Romney (Sciences), Joseph Fielding Smith (English), Taylor (Religious Education), McKay (Library) and Hinckley (Elementary and Secondary Education). Significant Ricks College greats are also included, like Jacob Spori (Art) and John L. Clarke (Family Living). Clarke?s name on the Family Living Building is perhaps most ironic because the Department of Home and Family there includes all of the traditionally feminine vocations of Early Childhood Education, Family and Consumer Science, and Child Development. Thus, the absence of Mormon women?s names from these buildings of higher learning is startling, not because so many of these men don?t deserve to have buildings named after them, but because so many women do deserve it.

An example from Provo is illustrative. At BYU, the only buildings that have honored the Great Women of the church are the various dormitories of Heritage Halls, named after the founding mothers, orators, journalists, Relief Society presidents, poets, medical doctors, artists, and suffragists of the 19th-century?Lucy Mack Smith, Eliza R. Snow, Zina D.H. Young, Emmeline B. Wells, Romania Pratt Penrose, Ellis Reynolds Shipp, Aurelia Spencer Rogers, Ruth May Fox, Louie B. Felt, Susa Young Gates, Mary Fielding Smith, Martha H. Tingey, Vilate Kimball, and Emily S. Tanner Richards, among others. DSC_0719These are a very ?Who?s Who? of early Mormon women, and yet all are relegated to the place of architectural dorm-mothers.  While it is admirable that these women were represented at all, it is unfortunate that their individual aptitudes and contributions were lost within their assignments to a mass of nondescript dormitories.  Perhaps this performed, or at least reinforced, the one-size-fits-all approach to defining Mormon women’s public and private roles.  And since the demolitions of 2012 (including my own beloved Emma Lucy Smith Bowen Hall and M. Smith Hall), many of those have lost even that status, having been replaced by larger, modern constructions now austerely labeled ?25,? ?26,? 27,? and ?28.?

Built between 1953 and 1956, the Heritage Halls women?s dormitories at BYU recognized the most known and faithful among historical Mormon women who had contributed to public life, spiritual leadership, and political activism, but were also used to emphasize a 1950s sense of true womanhood. Indeed, some of the buildings were named after women who represented ideal motherhood, or whose only claim to fame was that they had mothered or married well-known male priesthood leaders. Lavina Christensen Fugal was the American Mother of the Year in 1955, Mima Melissa Murdock Broadbentand was chosen ?because she was an example of a good homemaker,? and Alice Robinson Richards was the wife of apostle George F. Richards, and mother of apostle Legrand Richards.

BYU-Idaho also has six women?s dormitories, named for local women like Sarah Anne Barnes, who taught at the early Bannack Stake Academy (the forerunner to Ricks), Annie Spori Kerr, who taught English, Speech, and Debate, Helen Lamprecht, a significant Home Economics teacher and leader at Ricks and in Idaho, and Edna Ricks, who was a niece of Thomas E., and served longer than any other woman on the Ricks faculty. These women also represented a diversity of civic and religious leadership, musical and other talents, and college leadership, as department chairs and one Dean of Women. They remind us of the importance of finding ways to honor the female pioneers in our communities, even if those methods don?t often match the overall significance of those women to the town?s progress.

Besides these six dormitories (still standing) honoring a handful of Ricks College women, BYU-Idaho also has the distinction of housing the only non-dormitory, or main campus building named after a Mormon woman, among any of the three Church universities. Imagine that?of three large campuses, hundreds of buildings, and almost 50,000 students, only one non-dormitory building is named for a woman?Eliza R. Snow.DSC_0714 This might seem especially remarkable since Snow had no direct connection to Rexburg or Ricks College, but also because the university campus is located in arguably the most socially conservative of these Mormon communities. The story behind the naming of the Eliza R. Snow Center for Performing Arts is a story in itself, full of the drama and intrigue of planning and construction delays, financial setbacks, but most compellingly, the efforts of a passionate music professor and Music Department Chair at Ricks College, LaMar Barrus. Barrus was the son of Ruth Barrus, famed local organist, music instructor, amateur historian, and instructor in the Ricks Music Department. Not only did LaMar push relentlessly for the construction of the performing arts center?appropriately named after Mormon poetess and hymn writer Eliza R. Snow (shown above in the plaster reproduction of the original DUP statue; this one located on the main floor of the Snow Center), he also succeeded in naming a concert hall for his mother. The Barrus Concert Hall is the most significant musical performance venue on campus today, for its size and acoustics, but also because it contains a musical gem among Mormonism?s many musical gems, the Ruffatti Organ, which was installed in 1984 at a dedication ceremony attended by Elder L. Tom Perry and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir itself.DSC_0716DSC_0718

The naming of buildings at LDS universities invites us to think about how we honor historical figures in our public spaces, how shared institutional memory is conveyed?or not conveyed?through the built environment, and how we are falling short in memorializing the contributions of Mormon women.  Indeed, the absence of women in our campus constructions is emblematic of the larger problems in our historical remembrance– ask any LDS member to name a significant Mormon woman, and he or she is likely to come up with . . . Eliza R. Snow, and perhaps a few others.   It also offers a cautionary case against too much celebratory overstatement regarding the equal valuing of male and female contributions, especially in a culture of male leadership, male decision-making, and male institutional control.  Still, in my follow-up post, I hope to look at an example of a recent and relatively successful attempt to use public spaces for the purposes of recognizing and celebrating women?s historical contributions. I look forward to readers? responses on this, and other examples of where they have witnessed the successes or failures of memorializing Mormon women?s history through built, artistic, and natural environments, or the appropriation of other public spaces.

Article filed under Cultural History Gender Material Culture Memory Miscellaneous Public History Women's History


  1. Thanks, Andrea. This is a fascinating and important post.

    Comment by Christopher — August 16, 2013 @ 9:15 am

  2. Excellent piece. I would love to see more of these great LDS women publicly honored for their contributions–not because they need it, but because it gives a truer picture of our history.

    One correction: In Helaman Halls on the BYU-Provo campus, one building is named after a woman: May Hall (after Jean Fossum May).

    Comment by Kate — August 16, 2013 @ 9:19 am

  3. Thanks, Kate. I am glad you are reminding the readers of May Hall. I had thought about including it, but left it out in the interest of space, and having made my point with Heritage Halls.

    Comment by Andrea R-M — August 16, 2013 @ 9:38 am

  4. Thanks for the fascinating post, Andrea. Place names provide an illuminating window into ways that groups construct the past and what (and whom) those who have the power to name buildings value. I wonder if universities with women serving as presidents and other administrative positions have a more balanced gender ratio in the building names? This sounds like a good research project for an advanced undergrad or MA student.

    Comment by David G. — August 16, 2013 @ 9:50 am

  5. Absolutely brilliant, Andrea. Though outside my own speciality, I love these studies on the connections between environment, architecture, and history, because they reveal much about our own assumptions and biases. That’s why I loved Jared Farmer’s On Zion’s Mount, and why I find this post imminently important.

    Comment by Ben P — August 16, 2013 @ 9:56 am

  6. Wonderful! This is one of those areas where the way we name things matters; it is not a de minimus thing. It matters who we choose to name our buildings after, especially in a tradition of naming buildings after historically important figures (and not just for some rich old guy who gave the institution a lot of money). To me, it justifies and validates that person, and in a subtle way, educates us because it thrusts that person into our collective conscience.

    I would be very interested in hearing the “rest of the story” behind this teaser:

    The story behind the naming of the Eliza R. Snow Center for Performing Arts is a story in itself, full of the drama and intrigue . . .

    Comment by Hunter — August 16, 2013 @ 12:19 pm

  7. This is an important issue, not only for building names at universities but for the comparative lack of women in our community histories. As I may have mentioned online before, the major histories of Washington County, Utah, show a shocking discrepancy when you look at the relative representation of men and women in the histories. A fairly recent book (Alder, Brooks, A History of Washington County, 1996) did not even mention four of the five or six most influential women in early St. George. Major Mormon historians such as Leonard Arrington have been serial offenders in neglecting the role of women in our history. What an unfortunate blind spot.

    Back to the question of university buildings — thank you for bringing up this issue, Andrea. As you note, it is especially important now with the construction in Heritage Halls. (Wondering if it’s even possible to feel any group loyalty and warm feelings toward to a residence called Building 26 or Building 29.)

    So, is an imbalance in building names a Mormon-specific issue? I chose an Ivy League university, the University of Pennsylvania, and looked at a list of the buildings. It was not always easy to tell who a building was named after, and eventually I couldn’t justify any more time on this, so I stopped after the “L”s. From the first half of the university buildings:

    * 49 were named after function or place or class (for example, Bookstore, Class of 1920 Commons) (44%)
    * 40 were named after men (Franklin Field, Jon Huntsman Sr. Hall) (36%)
    * 6 were named after women (Carolyn Lynch Laboratory) (5%)
    * 5 were named after married couples (Melvin & Claire Levine Hall) (4%)
    * 4 were named after the Annenbergs (4%)
    * 8 I couldn’t figure out, but due to the age of the buildings were probably named after men (Cupp Pavilion, Gregory College) (7%)

    So it looks like this problem of building names is not limited to the BYU campuses. However, one major difference between BYU and UPenn is that, if named, the UPenn buildings are often named after a major donor. This is not the case with the BYU campuses.

    Comment by Amy T — August 16, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

  8. Other than the Marriott Center, of course.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 16, 2013 @ 1:47 pm

  9. BYU Provo has the Amanda Knight building and a new continuing education building named after Caroline Hemenway Harman. But agreed, the number of women after whom buildings are named on BYU campuses is way too low.

    Comment by Austin — August 16, 2013 @ 1:49 pm

  10. Yes, there is the Amanda Knight Building–began as a dormitory, then was taken over by the Language Training Mission. I don’t know what it’s used for now.

    And the “new” Harman Continuing Ed building. Thanks, Austin, for making me feel young again. It was completed in 1982, several years after I left BYU. So it is new. 🙂

    Comment by Mark B. — August 16, 2013 @ 2:08 pm

  11. Ha, sorry about that, Mark B., you’re right. They renovated it while I was there a few years ago, and I thought they had just built it then. On my phone so it’s hard to do a lot of detailed research 🙂

    Comment by Austin — August 16, 2013 @ 2:32 pm

  12. David and Amy: I had similar questions as both of you regarding the factors that determine the naming of buildings. Could it be age and tradition of the school– was it single-sex or coeducational to begin with? What about donors, and do those donors have the power to influence the progress of the university? As you said, it seems that the church is less likely to allow outside influence from its donors, and tends to fall back on choosing its names from among top church leadership. Like you, Amy, I also did a cursory search of my alma mater, the University of Nebraska’s buildings, and was daunted by the number, but found numerous dorms and other main buildings, named after Willa Cather and Louise Pound.

    Austin and Mark– Thank you for the reminders about Amanda Knight and the Harman Building. I am still not certain about the status of the AKB– is it technically part of the official campus anymore? I always understood that it was not. And the Harman Building to my memory, is not used for full-time students’ classes, as much as outside conferences, community-at-large events, and of course, evening enrolled and continuing ed students. I’m not sure if those qualify it as a regular campus building, or not, but it might stand as an exception to my exceptions.

    And while we’re at it, a quick search revealed that some of the Wymount Terraces are named after Sarah M. Kimball, Alice Louise Reynolds, and Julia Lambson Smith.

    Comment by Andrea R-M — August 16, 2013 @ 2:43 pm

  13. In the category of not-quite-sure exceptions that don’t detract from the main point, there is also Allen Hall, which houses the Museum of Peoples and Cultures and is named for husband and wife Robert Eugene and Inez Knight Allen.

    (Inez Knight was half of the first companionship of non-married sister missionaries, which is how I, a non-BYU grad, happen to know about her corner of campus.) As to whether it’s part of “main campus,” I don’t know, but it and AKH are both on the campus map.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — August 16, 2013 @ 2:56 pm

  14. Thanks, Edje. Great example. I am wondering if anyone wants to jump in with examples from BYU-Hawaii.

    Comment by Andrea R-M — August 16, 2013 @ 3:40 pm

  15. Amanda Knight Hall still has a BYU sign in front of it–which you can see on Streetview–the building is on 8th North, just east of University Avenue, in Provo.

    And I think you’re correct about the Harman Building–I don’t think it’s used for anything but continuing education and conferences. But it is part of the campus.

    An aside–it was paid for, at least in part, from contributions from the Harman family. The founder of Harman’s Kentucky Fried Chicken gave a substantial sum, and the building was named, at his request, in honor of his mother. My father happened to be chatting with him during the dedication and in response to praise for his gift he replied that “a man’s gotta do something with his life other than fry chicken.”

    Comment by Mark B. — August 16, 2013 @ 4:48 pm

  16. Andrea, yes, these buildings, by how completely unknown they are to students (and I assume faculty), end up proving your point too. I generally counted anything with one of the official BYU signs as a campus building, but a definition that requires them to be, ya know, used for some actual university purpose would of course be legit.

    For what it’s worth, the online BYU map gives this description of Amanda Knight Hall: “Amanda Knight Hall was constructed in 1939 as a women?s dormitory and named after the wife of Jesse Knight. Amanda Knight Hall was originally a cooperative where the 90 residents assisted in the house work and kitchen. From 1964 through the construction of the MTC in 1976, Amanda Knight Hall provided Language Training Missionary housing. From 1980 through 1999 the building housed the English Language Center. Since 1999 Amanda Knight Hall has temporarily housed several academic groups during construction and remodeling of various campus buildings.”

    So it’s kind of a backup plan for displaced offices, or something? It’s also across the street from the main campus, which makes it feel even less “official.”

    Comment by Austin — August 16, 2013 @ 4:58 pm

  17. Two other place names come to mind, although they’re not buildings. The Harris Fine Arts Center contains the “Franklin and Florence Jepperson Madsen Recital Hall” and the “T. Earl and Kathryn Pardoe Drama Theater.” I don’t know anything about Kathryn Pardoe, but Florence Jepperson Madsen was a world-class vocalist, who performed in concert halls and opera houses across the United States. (She also sang at the dedication of the Brooklyn Ward Chapel in early 1919.) She was associated with the BYU music department from early in the 20th century, and was central to its development. She also was the founder and director for many years of the Relief Society “Singing Mothers.”

    Comment by Mark B. — August 16, 2013 @ 5:06 pm

  18. Fantastic post.

    Comment by BHodges — August 16, 2013 @ 5:45 pm

  19. Thanks, Mark and Austin, for even more clarification on some of the BYU buildings. I especially love that some of these specific performance spaces within buildings are so named for married couples and their donations. I was also thinking of the almost life-size portrait of BYU graduate and Metropolitan Opera alum, Ariel Bybee, hanging in the Harris Fine Arts Center. I believe the painting has its own little viewing and sitting area, if I remember correctly.

    Here at BYU-Idaho, the new “I-Center,”– our version of the Conference Center in Salt Lake– has an entire upper floor in the open areas devoted to Minerva Teichert’s studies on the Book of Mormon, all reproductions. Still, the avenue of visual and representational art opens a whole other discussion of forms of honoring women, both as artists, and as subjects.

    Comment by Andrea R-M — August 16, 2013 @ 6:15 pm

  20. […] Andrea R-M: Eliza R. Snow as […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Hemming Village: Val and Alice Hemming and Memorializing Mormon Women’s History in Public Spaces — August 17, 2013 @ 9:23 am


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