Named for a notable pioneer woman, Amanda Knight Hall was part of BYU’s pioneering effort to house its growing student body.
In 1938, after Brigham Young University’s new Allen Hall dormitory for men successfully addressed student housing needs, BYU administrators resolved to build a companion hall for women. BYU rehired Allen Hall’s architect, Joseph Nelson, to design the second building. Nelson innovated upon the Jacobethan Revival style he used for Allen Hall by seamlessly blending it with the English Tudor Revival, such as in the steep main gable, making the building simultaneously regal yet domestic.
BYU Administrators named the building after Amanda Knight. Known as a philanthropist to BYU alongside her husband Jesse Knight, Amanda Knight also exemplified positive attributes worth emulating. Knight was thrifty, unselfish, devout, and feisty. A nephew’s journal noted her home industry, as she made and sold butter and cheese while raising her children. A friend, Mary Hammond, called Knight “absolute[ly] devot[ed]… to all that is better and purer and truer.”
Construction crews finished building Amanda Knight Hall in 1939, and nine women lived there as early as April 1940. Only two were from Utah, while one was from Canada, two from Hawai’i, and three from Mexico. Over the years, many students, from around the world, followed these initial nine. Amanda Knight Hall was BYU’s first all-women dormitory, and before World War II it was BYU’s only institutional housing for female students. In 1954, the hall housed 130 students.
Amanda Knight Hall was designed for student use. For “those interested in the books,” as a 1954 dedicatory program described, the hall had a study room with nighttime quiet hours. There was also had a sewing room so students could practice applied home economics. Student government was another feature, and residents elected a hall president and council to serve, represent, and manage the hall.
Students lived in Amanda Knight Hall until 1964, when BYU stopped using the building as a dormitory. The university occasionally used Knight Hall as extra office space, and the Church’s Language Training Mission also used the building as overflow housing for missionaries until 1976, when the Church completed new housing and headquarters for the Training Mission. Thereafter, BYU also used the building for language training, and its English Language Center held classes in Amanda Knight Hall through the 1980s. The offices of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies even had a stint in Amanda Knight Hall into the 1990s.
By the twenty-first century, however, BYU began seriously considering demolishing the building, deeming it unsafe. Amanda Knight Hall lacked modern earthquake-proofing, and its lead paint was a health hazard. However, Preservation Utah—a historic preservation nonprofit—urged BYU to instead conserve the building, especially after BYU demolished Allen Hall in 2018, making Amanda Knight Hall the last “visual tie between the original (lower) campus and the current (upper) campus of Brigham Young University,” in Korral Broschinsky’s words.
Administrators had reservations about Amanda Knight Hall’s usefulness, but under university president Kevin Worthen’s leadership, BYU forestalled demolition and placed the building on sale. In 2019, Mountain Classic Real Estate—a firm with historic renovation experience—purchased Amanda Knight Hall and announced it would restore the building for its original purpose: student housing. During the process, the firm’s managers, brothers Chris and Davis Phipps, serendipitously learned they had a personal connection to the building: their grandmother, Patricia Leone Taylor, lived in Amanda Knight Hall in its early years.
After two years of renovation, Mountain Classic held an open house for the restored building in August 2021, and it opened its doors for up to fifty-seven women as BYU contracted women’s housing. More than eighty years old, Amanda Knight Hall could once again be home to pioneering women scholars in honor of its pioneer woman namesake.