“Let it endure like the Wasatch Mountains; call it Wasatch Academy”
As a Presbyterian Minister devoted to life improvement through education, Duncan McMillan opened the doors of Wasatch Academy’s first schoolhouse to local residents of Utah’s Sanpete County in 1875. That now famous quote cemented not only the name of the school but began a tradition of excellence that has lasted throughout the years. Since its founding, Wasatch Academy has been a place of nurturing excellence through education in its students, even as the vision has adapted and changed over the years.
Challenging the status quo
The Liberal Hall Museum on the Wasatch Campus is the oldest campus building, originally constructed in 1874 by the Liberal Club of Mount Pleasant. This Liberal Club was comprised of Mormons who were diverging from the norms of their doctrine and had been excommunicated from the Mormon Church for disagreeing with the views of the Mormon Church at the time.
Meanwhile, Presbyterian Minister Duncan James McMillan, former Superintendent of Schools in Carlinville, Illinois, arrived in Salt Lake City in February of 1875. He was among a group of missionaries who moved to the region to challenge the Mormon status quo in the region—including in education. Mormon leaders at the time were against the idea of compulsory education for all children, with the belief that pioneer children only needed basic reading, writing and math skills. McMillan believed that low-cost boarding schools could provide a much better education for students in the region. The school began with the purchase of Liberal Hall—and the first classes began in 1875 for the initial 44 students to attend.
A modernized vision for a changing world
For many decades, the school was partially funded by the Presbyterian Board of Missions. But in the early 1970s, the Board of Missions shifted its focus on a national level away from its large-scale support of schools in order to serve a broader social mission. As a result, Wasatch Academy lost its sponsorship. When the school re-opened in 1974 as an independent school, it lost its affiliated sponsorship and became a privately run institution of exceptional learning. This shift also incorporated a change from serving students throughout the western United States who wanted an exceptional education for their children, to serving students from all around the world, embracing the school’s current vision as a globally diverse and highly integrated campus.