Church History
Endowment House

“Endowment House,” Church History Topics

“Endowment House”

Endowment House

Between the exodus from Nauvoo in 1846 and the dedication of the St. George Temple in 1877, Latter-day Saints did not have a temple in which to administer baptisms for the dead, endowments, and sealings.1 Brigham Young did, however, authorize the performance of some temple ordinances outside of temples while the Saints settled the Great Basin and constructed temples in St. George, Logan, Manti, and Salt Lake City. In doing so, he followed a pattern established in a revelation given to Joseph Smith in 1841, which allowed the Saints to perform some temple ordinances outside of temples “in the days of your poverty, wherein ye are not able to build a house unto me.”2 In Nauvoo, Joseph had authorized baptisms for the dead to be performed in nearby rivers for a short period and later administered the first endowments in the upper room of his store.3

Only a small number of temple ordinances were administered between 1847 and 1850 while the Saints moved and began to settle in the West.4 Beginning in February 1851, endowments and sealings were performed more regularly in the Council House, Utah’s first large public building. The ground floor housed public events, including banquets, balls, and meetings of the territorial legislature and courts. The upper floor was used for endowments and sealings until April 1854.5

Council House exterior

The Council House in Salt Lake City.

Eventually Brigham Young decided that a more secluded space was needed for administering sacred ordinances. But it would be many years before a temple could be completed in Salt Lake City.6 In 1854 President Young directed that a building be constructed on the northwest corner of the temple block in which the Saints could receive the endowment and have their marriages sealed. Completed in April 1855, this modest two-story structure was called the Endowment House. It served, in the words of architect Truman Angell, as a “Temple Pro Tem.”7

The Endowment House was the first structure laid out exclusively with the needs of administering endowments and sealings in mind and served as an inspiration for the interior features and layout of future temples. In 1856 a stone baptismal font was installed and dedicated in an addition on the west side of the building for use in both living and proxy ordinances.8 Another extension was built later that year to add space for temple workers to prepare for their work and to cook and eat meals.9

Endowment House exterior

Photograph of the Endowment House, circa 1885.

Between 1855 and 1889, the Saints performed more than 54,000 endowments, 68,000 sealings, and 134,000 baptisms for the dead in the Endowment House.10 Brigham Young taught, however, that some temple ordinances, including proxy endowments for the dead, could not be performed until a temple was completed. The first such ordinances were performed in the St. George Temple in 1877.11

As temples in St. George, Logan, and Manti became available for ordinance work, the need for the Endowment House diminished, though it was still used by Saints in Salt Lake because travel to other temples was not always feasible. In 1889, however, the solemnizing of plural marriages in the Endowment House became a point of contention in the Church’s legal and political battle with the United States government.12 Wilford Woodruff decided to demolish the building in October as a demonstration that he was serious about curtailing new plural marriages.13 The Endowment House was dismantled over the next few weeks.

Related Topics: Temple Building, Temple Endowment, Baptism for the Dead, Sealing


  1. See Topic: Temple Building.

  2. Revelation, 19 January 1841 [D&C 124],” in the Book of the Law of the Lord, 5,; see Doctrine and Covenants 124:29–32.

  3. See Topics: Baptism for the Dead, Temple Endowment, Anointed Quorum (“Holy Order”).

  4. Wilford Woodruff performed some baptisms for the dead in Winter Quarters and later in City Creek (in Salt Lake City) in 1853. About 150 sealings were performed in Winter Quarters, and at least one marriage was sealed in the Salt Lake Fort in 1848. In 1849 the endowment was given to departing missionary Addison Pratt on the top of Ensign Peak, a hill just north of the future temple site in Salt Lake. (See Richard E. Bennett, “‘The Upper Room’: The Nature and Development of Latter-day Saint Temple Work, 1846–1855,” Journal of Mormon History, vol. 41, no. 2 [April 2015], 7, 15, 23–27.)

  5. About 2,200 endowments and over 2,100 sealings were administered in the Council House (see Bennett, “The Upper Room,” 18, 24, 27; see also Topic: Sealing).

  6. See Topic: Salt Lake Temple.

  7. Lisle G. Brown, “‘Temple Pro Tempore’: The Salt Lake City Endowment House,” Journal of Mormon History, vol. 34, no. 4 (Fall 2008), 8.

  8. Until 1864 the font was mostly used for baptisms for the living. Thereafter it was used mostly for proxy baptisms (see Brown, “Temple Pro Tempore,” 20).

  9. As early as the 1870s, a greenhouse was added to the south of the southern extension (see Brown, “Temple Pro Tempore,” 27).

  10. Richard E. Bennett, Temples Rising: A Heritage of Sacrifice (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2019), 171.

  11. See Topic: Temple Endowment.

  12. See Topic: Antipolygamy Legislation.

  13. See Topic: Manifesto.