John McDonogh, a Baltimore-born merchant and philanthropist, was born in 1779 and died in 1850, bequeathing half of his estate to the City of Baltimore to educate children. However, since the public school system already existed in Baltimore, the mayor and city council used the funds to endow a “school farm” for poor boys of good character. Mr. McDonogh had envisioned such a school in his handwritten will dated 1838.
In 1872, a tract of 835 acres—essentially the same land that comprises the campus today—was purchased for $85,000 for the school’s establishment. McDonogh School was founded on November 21, 1873 with the arrival of twenty-one poor boys from Baltimore City. From the beginning, the boys followed a semi-military system, which provided leadership opportunities and ensured order. Major milestones in McDonogh’s history signaled change. The first paying students arrived in 1922 and day students in 1927. The semi-military program was dropped in 1971, and the first female students enrolled in 1975.
Today, McDonogh is a non-denominational, college preparatory, co-educational day and boarding school. The school calls many accomplished athletes alumni. They include tennis-pro and sports commentator Pam Shriver, Orioles pitcher Brian Erbe, and equestrian Olympic gold medalist Bruce Davidson.