Written by Christine Ameduri
School military uniforms are one of the largest single artifact collections in McDonogh's Archives & Special Collections. Issued to all boys entering the school beginning November of 1873, uniforms were required dress until the military program was abolished in 1971. During that century, there were many variations of uniforms, and styles changed, overlapped, and/or were occasionally modified. New uniforms were phased in and did not always become standard for all cadets at the same time.
This past summer, Butch Maisel ’72, a military historian and Director of Boys’ Latin School Center for Military History, lent his expertise to help sort through several hundred uniforms scattered among the Archives and several other storage spaces on campus. The collection was in fact so large, that it had to be moved to the Middle School band room in the basement of the Jane Bay building to be processed. Maisel, who has been researching and documenting the collection since 1978, volunteered dozens of hours sorting and identifying each piece.
According to Maisel, the oldest piece in the collection is a butternut colored “tailed jacket”, with red trim and a set of McDonogh Institute buttons. “I haven’t found any account for this particular color and style of jacket yet, but I’m not surprised because uniforms weren’t standardized until sometime in the spring of 1874, when Col. Allan put in an order to a supplier for ‘dark blue cloth’.”
Maisel was, however, able to document another early jacket style in the collection based on an account in the July 21, 1883 edition of The Week [the McDonogh School newspaper] that states, "...the jackets have six brass buttons in front, and two on each sleeve, and red braid around the collar, the outside pocket, and the sleeves."
He said, “I’ve found some great primary source materials in the Archives over the years, that have helped me to piece together the history of these uniforms.”
Other notable styles he has been able to document include, the West Point pattern jacket (1904-1949), the Eisenhower jacket (1949-1956), and the dress coat (1956-1971). Thanks to Maisel, McDonogh School Archives & Special Collections now has an example of almost every style and change made during the first 100 years of the school, including regulation overcoats, shirts, ties, belt buckles, caps, and other accoutrements.
Now that the uniforms have been sorted, identified and properly housed, they can be cataloged into the Archives’ (hopefully soon to be purchased) database using the “controlled vocabulary” Maisel and Archivist, Chris Ameduri created especially for this collection. Eventually, researchers will be able to go to the Archives’ webpage and access this collection online, including images. “As an alum and historian, I am excited that McDonogh students and alumni, as well as other researchers, will have physical, as well as virtual access to this unique piece of McDonogh history,” Maisel says. “In the meantime, go visit McDonogh Archives & Special Collections and take a look at them for yourself.”