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 “school farm” 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 with the arrival of twenty-one poor boys from Baltimore City. From the beginning, the boys followed a semi-military system, which provided leadership opportunities and ensured order.
Major milestones in McDonogh’s history signaled 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, college preparatory, co-educational day and boarding school. The original philosophy of the founder-to develop moral character, a sense of responsibility, and a capacity for leadership-still guides the school. McDonogh strives to help students become responsible and concerned citizens while preparing them academically for college.