John McDonogh (1779-1850) was born in Baltimore but lived most of his adult life in New Orleans as a businessman, plantation owner, sometime-politician, Presbyterian, and a supporter of the American Colonization Society. When he died, he bequeathed approximately half of his enormous wealth to the city of New Orleans “for the establishment and support of Free Schools […] wherein the poor (and the poor only) of both sexes of all Classes and Castes of Color, shall have admittance, free of expense for the purpose of being instructed….” Baltimore City, however, already had an established public school system, so McDonogh directed that the other half of his wealth be used to establish “a School Farm on an Extensive scale, for the destitute, and the Poorest, of the Poor, Male Children and Youth.”
McDonogh School was founded on November 21, 1873, when 21 poor boys from Baltimore City arrived on the 835-acre campus, approximately 15 miles northwest of Baltimore's harbor, where they would live, work, and learn. The first principal of the school, Col. William Allan, organized the boys into a semi-military program, and the school became a military, boarding, farm school for poor boys for most of the next century.
Major milestones in McDonogh’s structure include the first pay students admitted in 1922 and the first day (non-boarding) students admitted in 1927. The first African-American student was admitted in 1959. The semi-military program was abolished in 1971, and the first female students enrolled in 1975.
Today, McDonogh is a PK-12, non-denominational, coeducational, college preparatory day school that also offers a five-day residential life option for Upper School students. John McDonogh’s Rules for Living, the McDonogh Character Compass, the school's diversity, equity, and inclusion, and the LifeReady Academic Plan guide current students to become resilient, lifelong learners of strong character.