Peterson, Henry, educator, was born in Huntsville, Utah, May 9, 1868, son of Hans Jorgen and Elsie (Eliason) Peterson. His father came to this country from Denmark in 1862 and settled first in Farmington, Utah, and later at Huntsville, where he was a farmer and basketmaker. Henry Peterson received his preparatory education at Weber Academy in Ogden, Utah, and at the Brigham Young Academy in Provo, Utah, attended the University of California for a semester and was graduated B.S. in 1905 at the University of Chicago and A.M. in 1906 at Harvard University.
Meanwhile, he began his career in 1892 as principal of the Uintah Stake Academy, a church school which he had organized in Vernal, Utah. In the following year he was principal of the Uptown School, Montpelier, Idaho. In 1895 he was called upon by his church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to fill a mission in the mining and farming settlements of central California. He served in that capacity for two years, being one of the first seven missionaries to open the California mission of his church. He then taught for a year as principal of Summit Stake Academy, a church school in Coalville, Utah, and during 1899-1900 he taught at Weber Academy. From the latter year until 1909 he was a mathematic teacher at the Latter Day Saints Business High School, Salt Lake City, Utah, and during 1909-1911 was dean of the Teachers College at Brigham Young University. He served as superintendent of schools in Box Elder County, Utah in 1911-1912 and from the latter year until 1914 was principal of Jordan High School, Sandy, Utah. He was next superintendent of schools in Logan, Utah, during 1918-1921. In the latter year he became professor and head of the department of education and psychology at Utah State Agricultural College (later Utah State University of Agriculture and Applied Sciences). In 1929 he became professor and head of the department of psychology a the university, continuing in the latter capacity until his retirement as professor emeritus in 1938. While serving as dean of the Teachers College of Brigham Young University he took a stand in favor of the theory of evolution and a scientific interpretation of the teachings in the Bible, differing with the older and more orthodox interpretations taught by his church. He maintained this stand despite considerable pressure and resigned his position at the university, becoming nationally known for his action.
As superintendent of schools in Box Elder he was instrumental in bringing about a consolidated school district and the first extensive system of student transportation at Jordan High School and was one of the first principles to foster the development of student self-government while at that school. The first public high school in Logan City was built while he was superintendent of schools, and the initiative for the first legislation to provide state funds to assist the poorer school districts. He was also instrumental in setting up the first teachers' salary schedules in the state, which paid the teacher according to his training rather than according to the grade he taught.
In later year Peterson lectured frequently on law enforcement and juvenile delinquency, and in 1927 he was a member of the 9th International Congress on Psychology, held in New Haven, Connecticut. In addition to his teaching career he constructed a number of residential dwellings in Logan City, at one time raised mink, and in 1926 founded the second chinchilla ranch in the United States, which he operated for a number of years. In 1937 he served as a member of the Utah House of Representatives. He also served as a trustee of the Utah State Agricultural College from 1941 to 1947. From about 1910 to the close of his life he was active in the Boy Scouts of America movement in Utah, serving as a member of the Cache Valley Council of the Boy Scouts of America. In recognition of his service to scouting, he was given the Silver Beaver Award in 1933. Peterson was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, National Education Association, Utah Education Association (president 1924), International Society for Extrasensory Perception, and Phi Kappa Phi.
His religious affiliation was with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which he served for some thirteen years as a member of the general board of Sunday School Workers. Politically he was an independent. He was interested in prehistoric man and the theory of evolution, and for recreation he enjoyed reading and gardening. He was married in Provo, Utah, May 29, 1895 to Mary Jane, daughter of James Boyden of that community, a farmer, and had four children: Maurine Meredith, who married A. Virgil Tollestrup; Henry Merrill: James Lloyd; and Ruth Elaine, who married Ervine Fischer Smith. Henry Peterson's death occurred in Logan, Utah, June 18, 1957.
The above biography was copied from a biography of Henry Peterson prepared by his family. This volume also contains several autobiographical chapters and can be found in USU Special Collections and Archives under the call number: 920 P442.
The five box, Henry Peterson Papers chronicle the adult life of a significant, early twentieth-century, Utah educator. The papers touch upon the above professional activities with correspondence, notebooks, personal writings, and diaries.
The correspondence consists primarily of incoming letters to Peterson. These have been arranged alphabetically by correspondent. One folder contains outgoing correspondence from Peterson that has been arranged chronologically. There are two exceptions to the above filing order, first are two cases in which Peterson was involved and because there were documents that went together with the correspondence, these sections were left intact. The other exception was a series of correspondence by Peterson's children that did not involve Henry Peterson directly. These items were filed under the name of the child.
This collection also contains a series of diaries which Peterson kept from 1895-1907. These diaries cover his missionary experiences in Sacramento, California, and his attendance to the above mentioned universities. Of particular interest her is the diary kept by his wife, Mary Jane "Polly" Peterson, while the family was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, from 1906-1907.
Perhaps the most significant single part of the collection is the material pertaining to a controversy over the instruction of evolution at the Brigham Young Academy. Peterson, at this time, 1909-1911, was dean of the LDS Teachers College. He chose to teach the idea of evolution in his classes and this created a controversy a the school that led to Peterson's resignation. Peterson kept a scrapbook containing newspaper articles about the event and wrote several essays about the problem. One letter that stands out in this context is a copy of a lengthy letter that Peterson sent the then LDS president Joseph F. Smith explaining his stand on evolution.
Two other items of particular interest that are in the collection are Josephite affidavits that Peterson received when on his mission. One affidavit from Miss F. C. Neal stated that she heard Alexander Smith say that the revelations given to the ‘inspired translation' of the Bible was not correct, and that Joseph Smith Jr. had changed parts of the Bible. The other affidavit, also from Miss F. C. Neal, stated that Jason Briggs had attempted to persuade her into becoming his plural wife. Briggs later became a founder of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (now the Community of Christ) and denied ever having believed in the idea of plural marriage.
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Henry Peterson papers, 1895-1940. (COLL MSS 105). Utah State University. Special Collections and Archives Department.
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Detailed Description of the Collection