About the Collection

Benjamin Cluff, Jr.

by Brian A. Warburton

See Diary

Benjamin Cluff Jr. was born 7 February 1858 in Provo, Utah, to Benjamin Cluff and Mary Ellen Foster. The family moved to Logan, Utah, when Benjamin was 4 years old. His father was called on a mission to Hawaii in 1864 and when Benjamin was 7 years old, in 1865, he and his family moved to Hawaii to be with his father. The family lived at a Mormon owned sugar plantation, in a one room thatched house for the first year, later they were able to move into a frame house. Benjamin worked on the plantation as a young child, helping to grow cotton and sugar cane. The Cluff family lived in Hawaii for five years and then returned home to Logan.

Back in Logan Benjamin, or “Bennie” as he was called, helped his father with carpenter work and started attending school in the winters. At first he hated school, but at about age fifteen he suddenly had a great desire to learn.1 In 1875 he went to live with his uncle William Cluff, in Coalville, Utah, where he worked in the tithing office and the post office. He was also the Coalville librarian and gained a great love of books and reading, while fulfilling this job. In 1877 he heard about the newly formed Brigham Young Academy, and wishing to attend the new school, he walked sixty-five miles to Provo and enrolled for the last three weeks of the spring term. He then began working and saving money in the summer to attend school again in the fall, but by this time Benjamin’s father had bought a new farm near Heber City, Utah, and had asked Benjamin to help him work it. Benjamin asked if he could go to school instead. His father was reluctant, but Benjamin promised to pay for the schooling himself, after which his father agreed. He again enrolled at B.Y.A. and began working as a janitor to pay for his tuition, however, as Benjamin was getting adjusted to his school life he received a call from the LDS church headquarters in Salt Lake City to serve a mission to the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands. The call came in October 1878, in the middle of the fall semester.  

Benjamin arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii near the end of November 1878. Soon after arriving in Hawaii, Benjamin traveled to the island of Molokai, and during this short boat trip, the water became very rough and all the passengers of the small whaleboat nearly died.2 Benjamin and his companions traveled around the countryside asking to preach in the churches of other faiths. This often created situations where Benjamin had to defend his faith. He related one incident in which he asked a preacher for permission to preach in his church. The man told him “If you preach Christ all night, but when you preach Mormonism I don’t want it.” Benjamin replied “that the doctrines of Christ and the doctrines of our church are one and the same thing”.3 Much of Benjamin’s time, while on his mission was spent helping to better organize the church in Hawaii by starting new congregations or branches and appointing leaders over these branches. Towards the end of his mission, Benjamin was part of a receiving party that welcomed the king of Hawaii to Laie. “About 4 p.m. the royal party came over the hill. As they approached we all dismounted and when he came nearer we all uncovered our heads just as he entered our gate I and Kalama stepped forward. I speaking to his majesty in the native tongue welcoming him to Laie etc etc.”4

The mission came to an end in 1882, and he arrived back in Utah on May 9th of that year. Upon returning home, he was offered a teaching job by Karl G. Maeser at Brigham Young Academy. He was assigned to be an instructor of mathematics. Benjamin was soon married to Mary Jane John in Salt Lake City 16 August 1883. He later entered into marriage with Harriet Cullimore on 17 December 1886, and Florence Mary Reynolds in 1898, in Mexico. In 1886 he was given a leave of absence and he attended school at the University of Michigan, being one of the first students from Utah to attend a University in the eastern half of the United States. He received his Bachelor of Science from the University of Michigan in 1890 and he returned to Utah, becoming the assistant principal of the B.Y. Academy.

For several years the school had been housed in a rented warehouse, but when Benjamin returned to Provo, he became a leader in the plans to complete a building for the academy. Under his directions the students selected white and blue as school colors. The school was also organized into classes and a founder’s day was instituted. By this time the LDS church wanted well trained leaders to run the school and they asked Cluff to return to the University of Michigan and receive more training and then tour several Universities in the Eastern United States and Canada. In 1893 he received a master’s degree from the University of Michigan. Upon his return to Utah, he became the principal of the Brigham Young Academy.

On 20 July 1895 Benjamin’s title was changed to President, and heads of departments were named as principals. Benjamin continued to add to the physical growth as well as the academic growth of the academy. In 1900 he led an expedition of students to South America to do archeological research. Not long after his return from the expedition President Cluff asked that the school be designated Brigham Young University; this was done on 3 October 1903. A few months later on 23 December President Cluff resigned his position with the University and took a position as superintendent of a rubber plantation in southern Mexico.

The Cluffs spent many tumultuous years in Mexico and after the entire company failed, they returned to the United States in 1924. He moved to Southern California and ran a store in Redondo Beach. He remained there the rest of his life. Cluff had twenty-one children with his three wives. Two years before his death, on 4 June 1946, Benjamin was recognized by Brigham Young University with a “Distinguished Service Award.” He died 14 June 1948 in Redondo Beach, California, at the age of ninety.


1 Orson F. Whitney, History of Utah, vol. 4, (Salt Lake City: George Q. Cannon and Sons Publishers, 1904) , 362.

2 Eugene L. Roberts, Benjamin Cluff Jr.: scholar, educational administrator and explorer, second principal of Brigham Young academy, and first president of Brigham Young University; a study of the life and labors of one of Utah’s first school administrators. [s.l.], 1947. 19-20.

3 Benjamin Cluff Jr. “Diaries, 1881-1909” MSS 1667, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University. 21 January 1881.

4 Cluff., 5 April 1882.


Carter, Kate B. ed. Vol. 19, Our Pioneer Heritage. Salt Lake City: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1976.

Cluff, Benjamin. “Diaries, 1881-1909” MSS 1667, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.

Jensen, Marinus J., N.I. Butt, Elsie C. Carroll, Bertha Roberts, History of Brigham Young University. Provo, Utah: privately printed, 1942.

Pardoe, Earl T. The Sons of Brigham. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Alumni Association, 1969.

Roberts, Eugene L. and Mrs. Eldon Reed Cluff. Benjamin Cluff Jr.:scholar,educational administrator and explorer, second principal of Brigham Young Academy, and first president of Brigham young University; a study of the life and labors of one of Utah’s first school administrators. [s.l.], 1947.

Whitney, Orson F. History of Utah. Vol. 4, Salt Lake City: George Q. Cannon & Sons Co. Publishers, 1904.