The oldest school west of the Mississippi River, St. Louis University High began in 1818 as a Latin school for boys in a one-story house. Since then, it has experienced four name and five location changes, ever growing and adapting to meet the needs of intellectually gifted young men and their total formation.
- The school was founded on November 16, 1818. Called St. Louis Academy, it was the first community school west of the Mississippi.
- The first school was in a house on Market Street between 2nd & 3rd Streets. The second school, in 1820, was in a house on 2nd Street between Walnut and Market Streets. Both of these locations are now on the Arch grounds, about 300 feet or so west of the south leg of the Arch. The population of St. Louis in 1820 was 6,000.
- The third school location, in 1829, when the Jesuits took over, was at 9th and Washington. On opening day in 1829, there were 10 boarders and 30 day students. However, after only a few weeks, the number grew to 30 boarders and 120 day students. Tuition was $120 for boarders and $5/day for day students.
- Latin was first taught in 1830, and Greek introduced in 1831.
- Father Peter DeSmet, the famous Jesuit missionary, taught at St. Louis Academy in the early years.
- By 1832, there were only two states west of the Mississippi – Louisiana and Missouri. Texas and California were still part of the Republic of Mexico. There were now 29 boarders, 6 part-time boarders, and 117 day students.
- In 1832, the parents’ occupations were listed as:
- 24 carpenters
- 22 storekeepers
- 14 farmers
- 13 hunters
- 9 dressmakers
- 7 blacksmiths
- 7 day laborers
- 6 Indian traders
- 6 tavern keepers
- 4 leather dealers/shoemakers
- 4 innkeepers
- 4 bakers
- 3 confectioners
- 3 masons/bricklayers
- 2 soapmakers
- 2 butchers
- 1 “gentleman”
- 1 saddlemaker
- 1 laundry woman
- In 1832, St. Louis University was officially chartered by the Missouri legislature as a University. St. Louis Academy (now also known as St. Louis College) continued as a Department in the University under the College of Arts and Sciences.
- From 1829 through 1887, the undergraduate instruction was a “unit” of six years, with no distinction between secondary and collegiate instruction.
- In 1888, the high school curriculum became separate from the collegiate courses.
- In 1889, SLU, along with the high school students, moves to its 4th location at Grand and Pine.
- In 1903-04, the high school curriculum was lengthened to four years.
- In 1909, entrance to SLUH was predicated upon completing 8th grade.
- In the 1920’s , SLUH was “coed.” Over 260 nuns from various area hospitals took classes, and approximately 50-60 actually received a diploma from SLUH. Their grade cards are now a part of the fledgling Archives.
- On April 15, 1923, the cornerstone was laid for Backer Memorial on Oakland Avenue. Inside the cornerstone are: copies of the Sunday editions of three local newspapers (the Globe Democrat, Post Dispatch and Star); copies of two SLU publications (the Varsity Breeze and Fleur de Lis);, a medal of Pius XI; pictures of Mr. & Mrs. Backer; Mr. Backer’s diploma from SLU in 1859.
- The first faculty at Backer Memorial in September, 1924, comprised 14 priests, 6 scholastics and 16 lay teachers. Enrollment was around 500 students. Many classrooms were boarded up until later when enrollment increased.
- On September 29, 1927, a tornado damaged much of the school, including the glass roof over the then library (later a gym, later an assembly hall, later and currently offices). There were no serious injuries to students or faculty.
- In 1927-28, there were four “major” sports (football, basketball, baseball and track) and two “minor” sports (tennis and soccer).
- Prior to 1930, Oakland Avenue was used only for streetcars.
In 1930, SLUH and SLU became separate financial entities, at the insistence of Mrs. Backer.
- In October, 1936, Cardinal Pacelli (later Pius XII) visited SLUH to meet Mrs. Backer, who at the time had made the largest donation for Education in Archdiocesan history. However, she had died the previous month. Against the wishes of the Principal, Cardinal Pacelli gave the students the rest of the day off.
- Unfortunately, on September 21, 1936, Mrs. Backer passed away at the age of 81, before meeting with Cardinal Pacelli.
- In 1939, the “Prep News” becomes the first regular publication at SLUH on Oakland Ave.
- In 1945, the “Senior Follies” begins under Fr. John Doyle.
- In 1954, the “new gym” (now Si Commons) is built.
- In 1972, a new library is opened in its current location, named after long-time teacher (and alumnus and baseball coach) Dr. James Robinson.
- The first governor of Hawaii, William F. Quinn, was a graduate of SLUH in 1936.
- The basement rec room was dug in the late 1940’s, decades after the school was built. The first rifle range had the marksmen firing into the mud walls behind the targets. Later, the basement was expanded to the east and even more rooms were developed.
- The Mothers Club was founded in 1927; the Fathers Club in 1938.
- SLUH is the 2nd oldest Jesuit high school in the U.S., after Georgetown Prep, which dates to 1789.
Preserving Our past
Members of the Class of '63 leading the Archive Project seek your input and material as they help to preserve our proud past in anticipation of our Bicentennial—and for generations beyond.
We are seeking input from alumni and the wider SLUH community to help build our archive and develop a Bicentennial book celebrating keystone moments and historic milestones. Recollections are also welcome in such areas as academics, extracurriculars, Jesuits, faculty, coaches, mentors and distinguished classmates and accomplishments.