** school uniform : United States military schools

School Uniform: United States Military School

Figure 1.--This St. Louis, Missouri boy attended a military academy (institute), Judgeing from the photograph and uniform, the portrait was taken in the 1870s. Uniforms at the schools followed the changes in U.S. military uniforms. Notice the W. I. on his cap. That means that the name of the school was the W??? Institute.

America has a rather limited history of boarding schools, but for some reason quite a number of the military schools that did exist were military schools. I'm not sure why this was, but by the mid-19th Century several such schools were in operation. There are some tragic stories of the boys even being deployed in Civil War battles. Most of the American military were boarding schools. There were, however, also some day schools. Unlike many of the European military schools, American boys were generally sent to military schools for the beneficial impact of discipline and not in preparation for a career in the military. Often it was unruly boys who might be sent to a military school. Many parents decided on military schools as a way of instilling discipline in their children. Most military schools are secondary schools, but there are some elementary military schools as well. Almost all military schools are private fee paying schools. Military schools continue to flourish in America. One urban school district (Chicago) has even established a public (state) boarding school.


The chronology of the main military academies training officers for the American military is well known. The Continental Congress only months after declaring independence established a committee of five members to plan for a national military school (1776). John Adams and John Knox were strong advocated. Nothing came of the Committee's work. It was several years after Independence that the national military academy was established at West Point (1802). The naval academy was established at Annapolis several years later. We know less about private military academies that were founded in the early 19th centuries that were more centered on general education than to train military officers. We know several were founded, because some existed at the time of the Civil War. We have some limited on these schools at the time of the Civil War (1861-65). Military schools flourished in America after the Civil War. Attitudes toward these schools is changing. This is in part because the children themselves are more commonly consulted than was the case in the past. There are far fewer cases today of sending a boy off to a military boarding school than was previously the case. Thus the specter of being sent to these schools has generally declined in the eyes of many boys. Many military schools in the United States declined in the aftermath of the Vietnam War (1965-75). The military became very unpopular in America in the 1960s and 70s. Military schools throughout the United states had difficulty maintaining enrollments. This gradually changed. Parents became increasingly concerned over discipline and military schools in the 1980s began to benefit from this changing public attitude. Military schools like to tell parents that they are not educating children for war, but rather educating for life.

Service Academies

Unique American Trend

Many American schools were founded in the 19th centuries and quite a number of the boarding schools were military schools. Here we are not referring to the military academies. Rather we are talking about schools for school age boys. Most were for secondary age-boys, but there were schools for younger boys as well. Many well-to-do American parents who had no intention of directing their boys into military careers, seem to have thought that military schools offered badly needed discipline as well as helped to direct a boy's friends to those of a similar social strata and shared values. This is interesting, because there was no similar trend in Europe. Private schools in Europe were not generally organized along military lines. Britain had a few charity schools that were. And Austria and Germany had cadet schools, but these were training schools for future military officers. American military schools were not primarily set up to train military officers. In fact, while America had more military schools than all of Europe combined, it only had a very small military and no conscription law. Europe in the early-20th century was involved in a massive arms race in which the United States did not participate. (One of the reasons that many Europeans immigrated to America was the conscription system in the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires.) As a result, when World War I began, the United States had virtually no army. When the United States finally declared war on Germany, it would be at war before a sizeable army was built, trained, and committed to battle.

Individual Schools

I'm not sure what America's first military school was or when it was founded. It is clear, however, that many American American military schools were founded in the 19th century with a variety of origins. We have little information on these schools, but have begun to collect some information. Some examples explaining the development of these schools include:
Brooks Military Academy: The Brooks Military Academy was a boys' college preparatory school located in Cleveland Ohio. It was a relatively short lived school, operating 1874-91. The school had different names, including Brooks School, Brooks Academy, and Brooks Academy & Military Institute. The school was founded by wealthy Clevelanders in honor of Reverend Frederick Brooks, the respected rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Reverend Brooks had wanted to open a prep school for boys. The school accepted boys and youths from 7-20 years of age. The first headmaster was John S. White, a Harvard graduate. We note a cadet at the school, Frank Stearns in the late 1880s.
Howe: Howe Military School was founded in 1884. The school was made possible by a bequest of John Badlam Howe, the most prominent citizen of Howe (Lima). On his death in 1883, Mr. Howe left the sum of $10,000 to be used for the founding of a school to train young men for the Episcopal priesthood. The Howe Grammar School opened its doors in September, 1884, with two students, both from Fort Wayne. In 1895 Howe became a military school, although it did not adopt the name Howe Military School until 1940. In 1889, upon the request of Mrs. Howe, all property and money held by the diocese were transferred to the Howe Board of Trustees, appointed by Mrs. Howe. Thus Howe was no longer an Episcopal School; it was a church related school. The military program was instituted in 1895 and, since 1920, Howe has had a High School ROTC Unit sponsored by the Department of the Army. The school has been designated an "Honor Unit with Distinction" by the Department of the Army, which gives us "special" nomination privileges for the country's Military Academies.
Missouri Military Academy: Missouri Military Academy, one of America's leading boys, boarding schools, has served students from all the United States and many other nations since 1889. MMA is progressive and dynamic, rich in its traditions and strong in its values.
(La) Salle Institute: We note that the La Salle Institute was active in the early 20th century. We know nothing about the school except that it was located in Troy, New York.

Figure 2.--These American boys photographed about 1930 attend a elementary-level military school.

Academic Level

Most military schools are secondary schools, but there are a few some elementary military schools as well. Generally, American mothers were not was willing to send their children to boarding school like British mothers. This was especially true of elementary-school age children. The image of strict discipline also caused mothers to reject such schools for the younger children. Almost all American military schools are private fee paying schools.


There were various kinds of military schools, at least schools where the boys wore military uniforms. The standard military school was a private school. Commonly the schools were private facilities and the children came from affluent families. Most of the American military schools were boarding schools. Commonly they were set in bucolic rural settings away from the larger cities. There were, however, also some day schools. One urban school district (Chicago) has even established a public (state) boarding school. most were styled on the U.S. army, but there was at least one naval school located in Hammond Indiana. We also notice other types of schools where the students war military uniforms. These children were not from affluent families and he schools were Federal or state institutions. This was the case at Federal Indian Schools. We also notice the Soldiers' Orphan Schools the state of Pennsylvania set up after the Civil War. A good example is the Chester Springs Soldiers' Orphan School. These schools accepted girls as well as boys. Only the boys wore military uniform. I'm not sure that they would be called military schools.


Unlike many of the European military schools, American boys were generally sent to military schools for the beneficial impact of discipline and not in preparation for a career in the military. Often it was unruly boys who might be sent to a military school. Many parents decided on military schools as a way of instilling discipline in their children. Many American boys assumed going to boarding school mean that there parents just didn't want them around.


Most of the U.S. military schools were organized on army lines. Thus the uniforms were styled like U.S. army uniforms. Styles have generally changed over time as U.S. Army uniforms have changed. Some of the uniforms were styled like actual military uniforms. Others were styled like West Point cadet uniforms, The uniforms mostly entailed long pants uniforms, but some late 19th or early 20th century uniforms included knee pants. A naval military school had white short pants, I believe as a seasonal uniform. Most of these schools were secondary schools--rather strict preparatory schools in the American sence. Other schools were primary (elementary) schools for younger boys. This also affected uniform styles.

Unidentified Images

We have found several images that look like military schools, but we can not identify them. Some we just do not know the name of the school. In other cases they do not look like standard military school uniforms. Some may be differently styled uniforms or even sports or some other special kinds of uniforms. It is usually possible to make reasonable guesses about the chronological periods, but identifying the schools is very difficult. There are quite a large number of military schools in America with very similar uniforms..

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  • Apertures Press New Zealand e-Books: Appertures Press has published three different EBooks about New Zealnd schools.
  • British Preparatory Schools: A photographic book depicting life at British preparatory schools during the 1980s. Most of the schools are English or Scottish, but schools in Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, and Ulster are also included. The pictures show the uniforms worn at many different schools.
  • British Prep School eBooks: Apperture Press has published six eBooks about different vaspects of British public schools. Volume I is a general assessnent. The other volumes deal with more specific aspects of the schools ahd school life.