USU to offer scholarship honoring first woman student

President Noelle Cockett announced Aug. 26 that Utah State University plans to offer the Vendia Berntson Scholarship to honor the legacy of the first woman to enroll at the Utah Agricultural College in 1890.

LOGAN – President Noelle Cockett participated in the local “Celebration of a Century, 1920 – 2020” observance on Aug. 26 by announcing the creation of a scholarship fund honoring Utah State University’s first female student.

“Vendia Berntson was the very first student enrolled in the Utah Agricultural College in 1890, which later became known as Utah State University,” Cockett explained during the event on the steps of Cache County’s Historic Courthouse. “Unfortunately, she did not complete her studies. Although the tuition was free at that time, the $5 annual fee was more than she could afford and she left UAC after a few semesters.

“In recognition of her dedication to education,” she added, “I’m pleased to announce tonight that the Vendia Berntson Scholarship will be awarded to students with financial needs to help them complete their degrees at Utah State University.”

According to the USU website, when the Agricultural College of Utah officially opened for classes in September 1890, 14-year-old Vendia Bernston of Logan was the first of 106 men and 33 women to enroll that fall.

After completing preparatory classes, Berntsen pursued a degree in domestic arts, which included studies in liberal arts and science along with practical instruction. Berntson excelled in music and, after leaving UAC, she taught private piano lessons for several years.

Berntson married follow musician Wilhelm Fogelborg in 1900 and the couple was active in local musical circles for the next quarter century.

“We’re engaging in a fundraising campaign that will match an existing $50,000 contribution with the hope of endowing the Vendia Berntson Scholarship with a total of $100,000,” Cockett told the approximately 100 people who gathered to celebrate Women’s Equity Day, the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constituion.

The president explained that USU had planed to celebrate 2020 as the Year of the Woman with “concerts, tours, exhibits and programs,” but those plans were derailed by the coronavirus outbreak in March.

“While we were unable to implement all those wonderful plans for the Year of the Woman celebration,” Cockett explained, “we did have some major accomplishments … in researching the histories of amazing women associated with our university. These women also contributed to our local community, our state and the nation.”

Berntson’s story was one of those recently unearthed by USU student researchers. Cockett said that more than 80 similarly inspiring histories can now be found on the USU website.

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