St. George Stake Academy: The Beginnings of Dixie State University

The St. George Stake Academy was first opened in 1888, but was closed only a few years later. In 1911, it was opened again as the first high school in the St. George area. Over the course of the years, the school was expanded and grew into what is now known as Dixie State University.

Dixie State University’s history is intertwined with the history of the Latter-day Saints in the St. George area. In October of 1861, some 300 families were called to the cotton mission and were to join the 28 families that had already established the settlement of St. George to grow cotton. This is when St. George started its growth and the need arose for schools in the area. One of the first orders of business at a camp meeting among the recently arrived settlers in December of 1861 was to establish a school for the children. The Saints had run into several difficulties, including a flood, but were able to maintain small schools until 1864, when the first large schoolhouse was built for the First Ward. Even with these newly erected schools, some children were taught privately in homes and still others took classes in the basement of the Tabernacle and in the social hall for many years.

Dixie State University can trace its beginnings to the 1880s. It was first opened as St. George Stake Academy, which housed elementary and immediate grade levels. Classes were held in the basement of the St. George Tabernacle. The academy was opened along with about 20 other academies by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which experienced varying rates of success. The St. George Stake Academy opened its doors in 1888 and closed its doors just a few years later as public schools grew in popularity and didn’t require tuition.

Two decades later, in 1911, the St. George Stake Academy reopened as a secondary school, the first of its kind in the St. George area. Enrollment grew steadily for the first years and the school added different classes. In 1916, the academy was approved to add a teacher preparation program and the school had its name officially changed to Dixie Normal College in 1918. The name was changed again in 1922, this time to Dixie Junior College, when the church decided to drop the high school and keep only the college courses. The phasing out of the high school progressed slowly, but the school donned Junior College status.

Around 10 years later, the Church decided to relinquish control of their Junior Colleges as the Great Depression took its toll. Dixie Junior College was in crisis as the legislature did not assure that it would get funds. Nevertheless, the community of St. George helped keep Dixie from going under until it was able to get funding again. Dixie has since grown and gained the title of State College in 2000, followed by that of Dixie State University in 2013.