The History of Morgan Park Military Academy
Chicago (population 2.7 million) is located in northeastern Illinois in eastern Cook County. Lake Michigan, the Chicago and Illinois Rivers, and the Des Plaines River are the main waterways to and from town. I-90, I-94, I-55, and I-57 will all lead you to the “Windy City”. From what started as a small village in the early 1800s Chicago has grown to the nation’s third largest city and one of the most famous places in the world.
Chicago is known for its MANY individual neighborhoods, several of which were at one time their own town. One of these is Morgan Park which is located on the city’s far southwest side. One of the school’s that has an incredible history in Chicago is the Morgan Park Academy. Before the current Academy was set up as it is, the school was known as the Morgan Park Military Academy.
Captain Ed. N. Kirk Talcott and Henry T. Wright were Associate Principals of the Academy in the 1880s. In a flyer around that time, a description of Morgan Park Military Academy was the following:
“THIS is a thoroughly homelike boarding school for boys, and is the leading one of its class in the West. It is not a reform school, and boys who cannot be handled at home are not desired and will not be received. Particular attemtion is paid to fitting boys for the best American Colleges and the United States Military and Naval Academies. Situated on the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad, in the midst of one of the most beautiful suburbs of Chicago, thirteen miles from the city, the location is pleasant, healthful and elevated; the buildings large, well arranged and thoroughly appointed, and the grounds well laid out and cared for. For further information and Catalouge, send or call at the Academy Buiding at Morgan Park, or at the Chicago office, Room 12, Methodist Church, corner Clark and Washington streets, Chicago, Ill. Office hours, Wednesdays and Saturdays, from 2 to 3 P.M.”
According to the school’s own website, http://www.morganparkacademy.org/morganpark.aspx?pgID=878 , the history of the school is as follows:
“Morgan Park Academy…first called Mt. Vernon Military and Classical Academy — was founded on a ridge above “Horse Thief Hollow” during Ulysses S. Grant’s second term as president, just in time for the “Panic of 1873.” It survived that economic dislocation — and a few others in its venerable history — and has endured and flourished as an independent school for well over a century.
It became Morgan Park Military Academy in 1877, with the Civil War still a vivid memory and while the U.S. military operations were primarily concerned with the resistance of Geronimo and other Native American leaders in the West.
Tuition, in the 1870s, was $400 and included “board washing (twelve pieces a week), [and] mending of under garments.” Uniforms added another $64.50 to the bill.
It was, from its inception, a proprietary school, with the land and buildings owned by the headmaster, and intended to operate for the profit of the owner.
For a brief period (1890-1892), it was incorporated by the state under the name of the Illinois Military Academy. Operating simultaneously and in near proximity during those years was the “Owen Academy,” an informal school using buildings of the Baptist Theological Seminary to prepare students for entrance in advance of the anticipated opening of the new University of Chicago.
When William Rainey Harper became the founding president of the University of Chicago in 1892, the Academy became the non-sectarian, integrated and co-ed (quite unusual for that time, although the experiment did not survive the decade) preparatory school for the university. It was located in suburban Morgan Park, on land purchased in part from the Illinois Military Academy, and was given a new name: Morgan Park Academy of the University of Chicago.
Harper’s teachers at the Academy held university rank and one of them, Amos Alonzo Stagg, coached football for a time at both institutions. Two of the Academy’s alumni –Jesse Harper , at Notre Dame, and Wallace Wade , at Alabama and Duke, became coaches who were later elected to the College Football Hall of Fame. The Academy was also a participant in the first high school basketball game played in Illinois — in 1893, just one season after James Naismith invented the game in faraway Massachusetts. It was Amos Alonzo Stagg, who had worked with James A. Naismith at the YMCA Training College in Springfield, Massachusetts, who brought basketball to Chicago.
After William Rainey Harper’s death in 1906, the University of Chicago discontinued its relationship with the Academy, and the school once again became a boys’ military boarding school.
Part of Harper’s legacy, which continues to the present day, is a tradition of high standards, exemplary teaching, and a remarkable loyalty to the school on the part of faculty, administration, staff, alumni, and students. Just consider the tenures at the Academy of Harry D. Abells (1898-1945), Haydn Jones (1899-1946), Francis Gray (1917-1960) and David A. Jones (1957-1998), among others. Note, too, how many alumni have sent their own children to the Academy.
The Academy survived the Great Depression thanks, in part, to two bold moves by Superintendent Harry D. Abells. While other schools were going under right and left, Abells expanded to bring in revenue by starting a junior college (1933) and offering summer school courses — even to girls –from public and parochial schools.
Perhaps the most difficult decade in the school’s history was 1958-1967, after the reluctant decision to de-militarize. Girls were admitted for the first time in the 20th century in 1959, boarding was gradually phased out, and the school became integrated.”
The Morgan Park Academy is still established today as one of the premier schools in the Chicago area, if not in Illinois.