When students arrive at Dixie State University campus in St. George, Utah, they can enjoy an inviting landscape with fountains and statues, athletic fields, two gymnasiums, and many well equipped classroom buildings, computer laboratories, two theaters, an art gallery, two concert halls, dormitories and a student center with a food court, a book store and a dance hall. A fine library is at the center of campus, with a park on each side. There are two other parks, the Encampment Mall and the O. C. Tanner Fountain Plaza. It is a walking campus with parking for cars on the perimeter. Above all, there are professors, about 175 of them plus adjunct teachers, and vibrant students—about 10,000. Together they are engaged in the excitement of learning.
This is quite a contrast to the initial condition of the site in 1963 when the enrollment was 385 college students. They had just moved to the new campus from the one downtown built in 1911. When they arrived at the 700 South location for the new college there was no landscaping or parking, no student center or athletic fields. Girls recall that they wore tennis shoes to get through the dust to the buildings—the Gym, the Fine Arts Center, the first phase of the Science Building and Home Economics building—then they changed to regular shoes and carried the rubber ones. The Shilo Dorm, a small cafeteria and a furnace were also in place. It took a decade for the students, townspeople, faculty and staff to plant grass and trees. What a change today—and what changes are coming in the future!
The story of Dixie University on the old campus includes two decades of belonging to the LDS Church system of academies from 1911 to 1933. During that time there were about 25 faculty members who taught high school juniors and seniors as well as college freshmen and sophomores on the four-building campus on the town square.
During those years a tradition was begun to involve the students in college government as well as a vibrant social life–dances, clubs, choirs, band, orchestra, theater, field trips, debate team trips, and painting the “D” on the hill. Athletics were important on both the high school and college levels and the teams were both called “Flyers.” The colors were blue and white and they traveled to meet teams at Snow College, Ricks, Weber, Cedar City and even Eastern Arizona.
In 1926 the LDS Church decided to close most of its academies because public high schools were coming into existence. The church chose to create high school seminaries next to them instead of maintaining their own academies. By 1933 it became Dixie’s turn to be closed. It was a traumatic crisis for the southern Utah community. Delicate negotiations with the state legislature made it possible to transfer the college to the state in 1935 but the local citizens had to pay the costs of keeping the college alive from 1933 to 1935. They did that through donations and labor, continuing the tradition of supporting the college.
In 1935 the State Board of Education took over financing the college and high school. There were about 200 college students and about the same number of high school students. The board wanted the two split, with the high school coming under the direction of Washington County. The community resisted. They felt they needed the two to be together to provide a good-sized student body for the many social and academic programs. Also the county did not have the funds to build a new high school.
There were a couple of close calls between 1935 and 1963 when various state leaders proposed closing the college, but they were outmaneuvered because the local citizens were doggedly loyal to the college and willing to donate to keep it alive. Finally the local citizens, particularly the Dixie Education Association, raised the funds to purchase four blocks of land on 700 East and 100 South for a new campus. They presented that land to the state that in turn agreed to fund a few buildings for a new campus there. In 1957 the gymnasium was finished and by 1963 four other buildings were ready for college students with the high school students remaining on the downtown campus.
How Dixie Got Its Name
Dixie State University came by its name through many changes. In 1888, the LDS Church established the St. George Stake Academy. After functioning for five years in the basement of the St. George Tabernacle, it was closed. Then in 1909, Stake President Edward H. Snow, who also served in the State Legislature and the state government in Salt Lake City, began urging LDS central leaders to authorize the founding of a high school in St. George under their sponsorship. Snow argued that students in Washington County who wanted to graduate from high school had to travel outside the county at considerable expense to do so. With the support of Apostle Francis M. Lyman, who visited St. George for a stake conference, the Church agreed. A building was constructed on the town square using funds from both the central Church and from the local congregations between 1909 and 1911.
When it opened, the institution was called “The St. George Stake Academy.” It offered three years of high school and in 1912 the fourth year was added, allowing students to graduate from high school. In 1914, a year of teacher preparation was added and in 1916 the second year of college courses were begun. As a consequence of those changes, the school’s name was changed to “Dixie Normal College.”
Why did they use the name “Dixie”? It was the result of the community’s aspiration. The name “Dixie” was already used to identify the area. Within a year of the school’s beginning, students wrote the word “Dixie” on the Red Hill overlooking the town. The next year they painted the letter “D” on the Black Hill. The locals wanted the name “Dixie” linked to their high school. That attitude has continued generation after generation. When the students published their first yearbook it was called “The Dixie.”
In 1923, the word “Normal” (meaning teacher preparation) from the college name was removed because many students were taking two years of college in fields other than education. The name “Dixie Junior College” was then adopted. That name was retained until 1972 when the name was changed to “Dixie College.” In 2000 the next major development occurred. Following a long effort by a local citizen committee, the Utah State Legislature authorized Dixie to become a four-year state college with the name “Dixie State College.” Two-year degrees (Associate Degrees) were still offered but so were four-year Bachelor’s degrees. The institution did not abandon its role as a community college but added focus on four-year programs in many fields. Much of this expansion was linked to the amazing growth of the county that was ten times its population in 1965. In 2013, the Utah State Legislature expanded the role of the institution to become a university. After much debate on campus and among the alumni and community, the name “Dixie” was retained, resulting in the designation “Dixie State University.”