John McDonogh, the 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 solely endow the farm school for poor boys of good character that John McDonogh envisioned 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 when twenty-one poor boys from Baltimore City arrived on campus. From the beginning, the boys followed a semi-military system, which provided structure, offered leadership opportunities, and ensured order.
Major milestones in McDonogh’s history reflect societal and institutional change. The first pay 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, coeducational, college preparatory day school which offers a five-day boarding option for Upper School students. The original philosophy of the founder - to develop moral character, a sense of responsibility, and a capacity for leadership - still guides the school today. McDonogh strives to help students become people of good character while also preparing them academically for college and beyond.