In 1818, the bishop of St. Louis, Bishop DuBourg, opened a Latin school for boys known as the St. Louis Academy. Classes began on November 16, 1818, in a one-story house that was owned by Madame Alvarez and located on the northwest corner of Third and Market Streets. Two years later, the Academy, now known as St. Louis College, moved to its own building in the "Cathedral block" on the west side of Second Street, between Walnut and Market Streets. Lack of proper financial support and other difficulties forced the college to close at the end of the 1826-27 session. Rev. Charles F. VanQuickenbone, S.J. reopened the college in 1828-29, with classes being held at the Jesuit Seminary in Florissant, Missouri. The next year the school moved into a newly erected building on Washington Avenue and Ninth Street. Chouteau, Mullanphy and Clark were among the 16 family names listed on the first student roster. When classes began at the new facility on Washington Avenue, there were 11 boarders and 31 day-students in attendance. The boarders were charged $120 annually, while the day-students were charged $5, not for tuition but for "fuel and servants."
In December 1832 the Institution was chartered as a university, and in 1834 it graduated it first Bachelor of Arts. From 1829 to 1887 undergraduate instruction in the classical course was carried on as a unit of six years' duration with no hard and fast line drawn between secondary instruction and collegiate instruction. During this period St. Louis University High School was functioning as a school of secondary education within the Department of Arts and Sciences. In 1888-89 the Collegiate and Academic Departments of St. Louis University moved to its new campus on Grand Avenue and West Pine Boulevard. Gradually, SLUH adjusted itself to the recently established concept of high school in the United States. Beginning with the session in 1903-04, instruction in the Academy was lengthened to a four-year period, and in 1908-09 it was still further standardized by the adoption of the eighth-grade entrance requirement. It was also during this session that the University established a system of closely affiliated classical high schools with identical curricula designed not only to realize the best type of secondary education of the day, but also to meet the recognized college entrance examinations. These schools were St. Louis Academy, Loyola Hall and Gonzaga Hall (which closed at the end of the 1916-17 session).
By 1922-23 the combined enrollment of the St. Louis Academy and Loyola Hall had grown to more than 700 students, and more space was needed. In 1924, the Academy and Loyola Hall merged into SLUH and moved into their facility, Backer Memorial, on Oakland Avenue just west of Kingshighway Boulevard. The funds to build the new school were donated by Mrs. Anna F. Backer as a memorial to her deceased husband, George H. Backer, an 1869 graduate of St. Louis University (both pictured on left).
In 1946, just after World War II, two new improvements were added to the campus. The first was excavation of a basement recreation room under most of the entire building. The second included an extension of the Jesuit Community Wing to provide new and larger space for a Jesuit chapel and dining room. Ten years later, in January 1956, a new gymnasium was dedicated, and the former gym was converted to a multi-purpose auditorium. In February of 1961, a tract of three acres immediately west of the campus was purchased from St. Louis University. Construction of a new library began in the spring of 1971. In April of 1979, ground was broken for campus expansion, which consisted of a multi-purpose upper field area and the transformation of the lower field into a lighted football-soccer-track stadium. In 1993, another campus expansion netted an additional 12 acres for parking and a recreational field. The Master Campus Plan of 1993 was completed in September 1996 with the addition of a Performing Arts Center, complete renovation of all the existing academic classrooms, the transformation of the first two floors of Jesuit residence into classrooms, and the third floor into general administration offices and conference rooms.
In 1998, under the leadership of President Paul G. Sheridan, S.J., SLUH began conceptualizing its next stage of development, known as VISION 2000. In 2000 the school launched the campaign's first and most important phase of implementing academic enhancements. By 2004 the average class size had dropped from 30 to 21 students; 18 new teaching positions were added; and the number of classrooms increased from 38 to 52. The curriculum also received a boost, with more than 85 elective course offerings and Advanced Placement courses in 19 disciplines available for students. In addition to investing significantly in the community and building partnerships with such notable institutions as the St. Louis Science Center, Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Forest Park Forever, SLUH maintained a competitive campus and facilities. Specifically, the school upgraded the playing surface in its football stadium and added a new on-campus baseball stadium and track/soccer complex. In addition, a new student parking lot, a spacious recreation field and a state-of-the-art field house were added to the campus.
VISION 2000 was the largest campaign in the school's history, exceeding its $32 million objective. Nearly half of the campaign proceeds – $15 million – was dedicated to the endowment primarily for scholarship and financial aid purposes.
SLUH remains one of the top college prep schools in the area with a student body of about 1,000 young men who reflect the economic and geographic diversity of the entire St. Louis metropolitan area.
Did You Know?
The Billiken is a symbol of good luck that became a national craze in the early 1900s.