John McDonogh, a Baltimore-born merchant and philanthropist, was born in 1779. He moved to New Orleans in 1800, just before his 21st birthday and built his fortune as a merchant and a trader. McDonogh was known for his piety and frugality, financial and otherwise, derived from his Presbyterian beliefs. He was a hard worker, a bold leader, and a constant thinker, and his unrelenting devotion to work made him appear aloof from strangers and even close friends. These ideals and visions guided his action in his personal and business life, and he expressed his philosophy at age 24 in his Rules For Guidance in My Life in 1804.
Twelve years before his death in 1850, he thoroughly expressed his plans in a handwritten will. Aside from a small amount meant for his sister, John McDonogh left half of his estate to Baltimore and half to New Orleans. His dream was for students to learn in a disciplined environment under his philosophies of hard work, frugality, and compassion.
Because a public school system already existed in Baltimore, the mayor and City Council used the funds to solely endow the farm school for poor boys of good character. In 1872, a tract of 835 acres was purchased for $85,000 for the school's establishment.
Since 1873, the McDonogh community has lived by the words of its founder, John McDonogh, who sought to leave the world a better place. The notion of doing the greatest possible amount of good is inculcated in McDonogh students of all ages. Through community involvement, students learn to broaden their sight, give to those less fortunate, and discover the joy in making a difference.