William Greenleaf Eliot, a prominent Unitarian minister in St. Louis and educational pioneer who co-founded Washington University in St. Louis in 1853, established a school for girls in 1859: Mary Institute was named for his daughter, Mary Rhodes Eliot, who had died at age 17.
From the start, the School prospered. In 1928, an alumna donated 22 acres, Washington University added 18 more, and Mary Institute soon had a new campus in the country at Ladue and Warson Roads.
Shortly before Mary Institute’s founding, Washington University established an “academic sub-department” for boys. In 1879, it was named “Smith Academy” and began operating in downtown St. Louis with an enrollment that eventually grew to 385. By the second decade of the 1900s, Smith’s fortunes had declined due to growing competition and the diminished importance of the school’s intended role as a feeder for Washington University. Recognizing Smith’s situation, a group of local community leaders met to discuss the “country day school” movement of relocating schools away from congested cities to foster high academic standards and discipline in a healthier rural setting. These discussions led to the opening of St. Louis Country Day School in 1917, a few months after Smith Academy closed its doors. Country Day, teaching grades 5-12, occupied a 55-acre campus in north St. Louis County, near the municipal airport, until late 1957, when airport expansion prompted relocation to a large parcel of land adjacent to Mary Institute.
Program coordination between the two schools evolved over the years, and in 1992, a full-scale merger was approved, creating a single school – Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School (MICDS) – with one board, administration, faculty, student body and common curriculum.
Today, MICDS is considered one of the nation’s pre-eminent independent schools and it is continuing to shape a new generation of stellar graduates and world leaders.
William Greenleaf Eliot, minister and recent graduate of Harvard Divinity School, arrives in St. Louis (pop. 7,000) to found a Unitarian congregation. It is his first trip west of the Appalachian Mountains.
Concerned with the lack of educational institutions in St. Louis, state Senator Wayman Crow prepares a charter for “Eliot Seminary.”
At Eliot’s request, the incorporators of Eliot Seminary change the name to Washington Institute (later Washington University).
Mary Rhodes Eliot. 16, first-born daughter of William Greenleaf Eliot, dies after a sudden illness. In his grief, Eliot pens a collection of sermons, The Discipline of Sorrow.
Eliot and other trustees establish an “Academic Department” to prepare younger boys for eventual enrollment at Washington University. In 1879, it is given the name “Smith Academy” after one of its principal benefactors.
Eliot and others on the Board of Trustees prompt Washington University to found a “Female Department” to prepare local girls for university. In honor of Eliot’s critical early leadership, the University insists that it be named for his daughter.
September 20: Mary Institute opens on Lucas Place with six teachers. Curriculum includes English, physiology/natural history, vocal/instrumental music, drawing, calisthenics and French. Optional courses include higher mathematics and natural sciences at nearby Washington University.
Margaret Dawes Eliot, mother of William Greenleaf Eliot, donates $1,000 to the new school bearing her granddaughter’s name. She stipulates that “the scholars” henceforth be given an annual holiday “on or near the 11th of May for a May Festival.” Known since as “Grandmother’s Day,” it continues to be enjoyed by MICDS students and is the School’s longest-standing tradition.
Calvin Pennell, nephew and former ward of educator and statesman Horace Mann, is named Principal. Pennell infuses the School with groundbreaking “whole child” educational theories developed by his uncle.
First Mary Institute commencement exercises. Seven students graduate.
Eliot is named the third Chancellor of Washington University, a post he holds until his death in 1887. In his 50 years in Missouri, Eliot is instrumental in founding several notable institutions, including the St. Louis Art Museum, Western Sanitary Commission and the Colored Orphans and Civil War Soldiers’ Orphans Homes.
Mary Institute moves to new Locust Street facility; 300 students are enrolled.
Harvard graduate Edmund Sears is named Mary Institute’s fourth Principal. Under his quiet, gentlemanly leadership, the School moves away from an exclusive focus on scholarship and embraces virtues of a “full, well rounded life” for young women, including “entertainments, exhibitions, festivities, recreations and pastimes.” Sears also introduces the first Domestic Science program offered in St. Louis.
Enrollment exceeds capacity on Locust Street. Mary Institute moves to a state-of-the-art building on Lake Avenue (current home of New City School).
First May Queen crowned at a Maypole dance held in the School gymnasium. Over the years, annual fêtes are held at various locations around the city, including the Washington University Chancellor’s Garden and Forest Park’s Municipal Opera Stage.
THE COUNTRY DAY SCHOOL MOVEMENT:
At the turn of the 20th century, urban overcrowding, pollution, crime and vice are facts of life. Families across the United States begin favoring educational options for their children that remove them from such seemingly unhealthy environments during the academic day.
St. Louis civic leaders invite Charles Bovey, trustee of the Blake School in Minneapolis, to visit and share information about the country day school approach to education.
Spring: Smith Academy closes after 61 years because of declining enrollment, disciplinary problems and parent dissatisfaction with its “classical” curriculum.
May 11: Several prominent St. Louis families – some formerly involved with Smith Academy, some not – file incorporation papers establishing St. Louis Country Day School. George Herbert Walker is named vice-chairman of the Board. Decades later, Walker’s grandson and great-grandson will be elected the 41st and 43rd Presidents of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush and George W. Bush.
Summer: Country Day trustees lease the Julius Walsh estate on Brown Road in north St. Louis County. The rural site is easily accessed by a streetcar line from the city. The Walsh mansion becomes classrooms; the stables and carriage house are transformed into a gymnasium and locker room; and a horse track serves athletic needs. The School purchases the property in 1918.
September 29: Country Day opens with 45 students. Enrollment grows to 52 this first year, including 30 previous Smith Academy students. Two former Smith instructors are among the five faculty members present on the first day.
From 1917 until the mid-1930s, daily streetcar service ferries Country Day boys from their city neighborhoods to the north county campus. Affectionately known as “The Special,” the trolley is chartered for exclusive use by the School. School “masters” are assigned the unenviable roles of supervisors, as hijinks and horseplay (and last-minute cramming) characterize each 50-minute trip to and from campus.
Country Day chooses red and white as its school colors. Boys are divided into “Red” and “White” teams for athletic competitions, a tradition that continues for the Lower and Middle Schools into the 1960s.
Moved by the devastations of World War I, Mary I girls stage concerts and pantomimes to benefit European relief efforts. Country Day boys sell Liberty Bonds and plant “thrift gardens” on campus. They also purchase a combat “comfort-kit” for friend Dell Richards, their Country Day “Special” streetcar conductor who has enlisted in the Army.
Mary Institute fields its first competitive varsity basketball team in a match against Lenox Hall.
“Codasco” plays its first varsity football game against Milwaukee Country Day in what will become an enduring rivalry that continues until 1984.
June: Country Day hosts its first commencement exercises. Seven students graduate.
Country Day is granted a Cum Laude Society charter; Mary Institute earns the same distinction in 1941.
Kindergarten classes are offered at Mary Institute; the first 13-year attendees graduate in 1939.
Country Day’s Musical-Dramatics Club formally adopts the name “Troubadours.” One year later, the “Masque” debuts, specializing in musical comedies and revues; younger boys play all female roles until 1952 when Mary Institute girls take over those responsibilities.
Mary Institute alumna Sarah Glasgow Wilson (1876) donates $500,000 and 22 acres of land at the corner of Warson and Ladue Roads to build a country day school campus. Adjusted for inflation, Wilson’s gift would top $9 million today.
The ABC League is founded for boys’ interscholastic sports. Its first event is a track meet involving Country Day, Western Military Academy, John Burroughs and Principia.
A small plane makes an emergency landing on Country Day’s Lower School football field. Delighted boys swarm around the craft, excitedly questioning the pilot — but it is, perhaps, a harbinger of things to come, as the St. Louis airport, originally a mile to the southwest, inches eve r closer to the Brown Road campus.
The fourth and final Mary Institute campus opens; replete with tennis courts and hockey fields, it reflects the School’s long-standing commitment to healthy minds and bodies.
Mary I and Country Day begin competing in annual field hockey matches pitting senior girls against senior boys.
The Great Depression affects the two schools in significantly different ways. Country Day is forced to reduce and sometimes delay faculty salaries, while Mary Institute (now also in the country, with longer school days and additional programmatic offerings) successfully increases tuition, despite reduced enrollment.
Irma Rombauer (1901) publishes The Joy of Cooking. Illustrated and later edited by daughter Marion (1921), the book has been in continuous publication ever since and remains a staple in the American cook’s kitchen.
Harriett Bland Green (1933) wins Gold during the Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany, for the 4×100 meter women’s relay.
Mary Institute’s May Day celebration receives a permanent home on Warson Road. An amphitheater is constructed with funds donated by one-time Alumnae Association President Margaret Culver Rodemyer (1914).
Washington University appoints a separate Board of Directors for Mary Institute after 82 years of governance by the University.
Both St. Louis Country Day School and Mary Institute are profoundly affected by America’s entry into World War II. Daily campus life, articles in student newspapers and courses of study all reflect the reality that the world is at war.
Country Day establishes a student infantry unit and requires military training of all Upper School boys; fathers contribute wooden rifles for use in drills. At the same time, Mary Institute’s curriculum is modified to emphasize “activities which contribute directly to our war needs.”
Mary Institute collects 850 books, 1,485 records and 6,007 magazines for soldiers stationed locally at Jefferson Barracks. Students are also presented with a War Department certificate of commendation for fundraising campaigns that result in the purchase of a jeep.
More than 250 of Country Day’s 500 alumni are serving in the armed forces, including many recent graduates who have deferred college plans. By 1945, 27 will have lost their lives in service to their country.
Mary Institute alumna and Hollywood box office queen Betty Grable (1934) poses for an iconic “bathing beauty” photograph that becomes the favorite of American GIs serving abroad in World War II. Life Magazine later calls it one of “100 Photos That Changed the World.”
Wartime fabric rationing results in seniors at Mary Institute no longer purchasing two separate dresses – one for May Day and another for Commencement – and the tradition of graduates wearing the same one to both events is born.
MGM’s musical masterpiece, Meet Me in St. Louis, premieres at Loew’s State Theater. It is based on Mary Institute alumna Sally Smith Bension’s (1915) semi-autobiographical novel of the same title.
Country Day Headmaster Robert Cunningham’s on-campus home is destroyed by fire after a gas line explodes in the basement. The Headmaster and his wife are out of town, but three School employees are seriously injured, including Dave Wamer, Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds, who later dies from his injuries.
Of the 64 students entering Country Day in September, eight are recipients of newly established War Memorial Scholarships named in honor of fallen CDS alumni. Enrollment reaches 275 boys.
Headmaster Robert Cunningham institutes many lasting changes at Country Day, including establishing an advisory system, publishing faculty and student handbooks, increasing salaries and improving buildings and grounds.
Mary Institute separates from Washington University and receives the Warson Road campus, the existing physical plant and $25,000. Separation means programmatic freedom but also more financial responsibility, leading to the School’s first independent fund drive. Devoted parents, friends and alumnae help reach a goal of $250,000 in just four months.
Mary Institute’s first permanent female Principal, Grace Heron (1901), retires. Ronald Beasley, Cambridge graduate and history department head at Groton, is named “Headmaster.”
Mr. Beasley hosts the first annual “Festival of Lessons and Carols” at Mary Institute. A Christmas celebration with Anglican roots, it continues at the School for more than 50 years.
The Signet Society, a student service organization recognizing outstanding 11th and 12th grade students, is founded at Country Day.
Increases in air traffic at nearby Lambert-St. Louis Airport create noise and safety problems for Country Day. The School quietly searches for new locations and settles on 55 acres on Warson Road, adjacent to Mary Institute.
1952 Country Day alumnus Shepherd Mead (1932) publishes How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which is later adapted into a Ton- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical.
Students choose a name for Country Day’s athletic teams: the “Rams.” Formerly, teams had been known simply as the “Codascos.”
Cornerstone for the new Country Day campus is laid.
Soon to be neighbors, Country Day and Mary Institute consider programmatic coordination but initially decline to share any facilities.
Country Day institutes a new dress code: jackets and ties. The tradition remains in effect, with many modifications, for more than three decades.
Dubbed “Operation Hallelujah,” County Day relocates to Warson Road through a massive effort involving student and faculty volunteers. The move, undertaken over the holiday break, takes four days and costs a mere $150.
Mary Institute again reaches capacity and embarks on its “Centennial Development Program” which raises more than $1 million. Expansion includes updated science laboratories, gymnasium space and a new Headmaster’s residence.
Mary Institute celebrates its centennial with a luncheon and lecture by poet and Nobel Laureate T.S. Eliot, grandson of founder William Greenleaf Eliot. Eliot reads from his masterwork, Four Quartets.
Mary Institute begins a partnership with American Field Service (AFS). Over the years, the School will send dozens of girls to study abroad for a summer, with international students coming to Mary I for an entire year.
Three veteran Country Day teachers –Gordon Browne, Robert Hobbs and Walter McCreery—retire after a combined total of 110 years of service to the School.
Nadia Danett is hired as the first full-time female teacher at Country Day in over 40 years.
Mary Institute establishes a summer-long international study program, one providing girls with educational trips to either France or Mexico, including homestays and courses at local universities.
Fred Cox Derrickson (1965), an astronomy enthusiast, drowns in a swimming accident. His Country Day classmates raise money to construct an on-campus observatory in his honor; it remains in use into the 1980s.
A Danforth Foundation grant supplies Mary Institute with a state-of-the-art computer, a telephone-like apparatus that communicates with a mainframe off-site. Shortly thereafter, Mary I becomes one of the first schools in St. Louis to offer programming courses.
Legendary football coach and athletic director Robert “Pop” Hughes retires from Country Day after 41 years. Hughes is replaced by an up-and-coming coach and history teacher, Ron Holtman, who himself serves the School as varsity coach until 2004. All told, in a period of eight decades, the football team is led by just two coaches.
Ninety-six Country Day students sit for Advanced Placement examinations, the largest number of any Missouri school that year.
Country Day celebrates its 50th anniversary and inducts 20 honorees into its new football Hall of Fame.
Serving in Vietnam, James Schenler Wood (1961) is the last Country Day alumnus to lost his life in military service. A total of 34 members of the CDS community are fallen heroes.
Country Day’s first African American graduate receives his diploma.
Beaumont Natatorium and McCullough Library/Learning Center open at Country Day. The School wins its first of many state water polo championships in 1974 and its first state swimming title in 1983.
Mary Institute honors its departing Headmaster by naming its lower school after him. That fall, the Ronald S. Beasley School begins offering admission to boys as well as girls.
Dress code standards at both Schools are relaxed; Country Day coats and ties reflect more originality, and Mary I girls are permitted to wear pants for the first time (but only in winter).
Country Day and Mary I offer six “coordinate”classes for 11th and 12th grade students. By 1984, many coeducational extracurricular opportunities exist, and students can choose from more than 30 different MI/CDS shared curricular offerings.
Country Day captures its first state championship in football.
Edes Gilbert comes to Mary Institute to head the Lower and Middle Schools and is named Headmistress the following year. Gilbert’s administration brings significant, timely changes, including increased cultural, racial and socio-economic diversity. Gilbert also eliminates the A, A1, B, B1 sectioning process that had previously placed girls into tracks based on their presumed academic abilities.
Mary Institue’s first African American graduate receives her diploma.
Country Day athletic teams win 12 state sports championships, including four in tennis and three each in football and water polo.
Country Day enters the computer age when a parent donates a WANG 2200 to the School. Boys demand that the School begin to offer a computer course similar to courses already available at Mary Institute.
Three Country Day alumni serve simultaneously in the United States Senate. Californian Pete Wilson (1951) joins Thomas Eagleton (1946) and John Danforth (1954), both of whom represent Missouri.
The County Day “Mock Trial” team wins its first state championship.
March: Country Day’s Board of Trustees establishes a committee to study the feasibility of coeducation.
Following a two-year period of “alliance,” St. Louis Country Day School and Mary Institute merge. Country Day’s Headmaster, John R. Johnson, becomes “President” of the new school.
Matt Gossage is named the first Head of School at MICDS, a position he holds for 12 years.
MICSD girls earn their first state sports championship, in tennis.
The children and alumna Lilly Busch Hermann (1941) arrange for the renovation of the May Field and it is rechristened “Lilly’s Field” in her memory.
Lisa Lyle, formerly of the Blake School in Minnesota and the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, is named MICDS Head of School.
MICDS embarks on a five-year strategic plan that revolves around three major areas of growth and innovation: Great Teaching & Learning; Leadership and Community Engagement for the 21st Century; and Sustainability.
May 11: MICDS celebrates the 150th anniversary of William Greenleaf Eliot’s founding of Mary Institute.
In honor of its 150th year, MICDS buries a time capsule.
MICDS receives $21.5 Million, the largest gift in the School’s history, from the McDonnell Family and JSM Charitable Trust.
Hermann Family Squash Courts open in the McDonnell Athletic Center
A foreign exchange program begins with the Shanghai Foreign Language School.
MICDS hosts the final assembly in Danforth Chapel on the Upper School campus.
MIDCS launches its $90 million Bold Action campaign.
A new Alma Mater is debuted during the final all-School assembly.
Grand opening of the McDonnell Hall and Brauer Hall STEM building.
The 2015-2022 Strategic Plan is launched.
McDonnell Hall and Brauer Hall earns LEED Platinum certification
Construction of the Steward Family Aquatic Center, O’Hara Field and the Holekamp Track and Field Stadium begins.
The Boys Varsity Baseball Team wins their first state title in School history.
MICDS finishes the Bold Action Campaign, raising a total of over $100 Million, the largest campaign in the School’s history.