In the late 1800s, Mexico, Missouri, was well-known instate as the “the driving young metropolis of the Grand Prairie,” boasting an impressive business district and growing education system. The town offered public school, as well as a few private schools, and the highly respected “Vassar of the West” — Hardin College for Young Ladies. What the town needed now, said many, was a good academy for young men.
Mexico residents wanted a local academy that would offer a classical education with military training for boys — somewhere that would set a standard of academic excellence with emphasis on discipline.
The first seed was planted for such an institution when County Court Judge John A. Guthrie wrote a letter to Col. A. F. Fleet — a professor at William Jewell College, president of Baptist Female College and acting president of the University of Missouri — in regard to opening a school. Col. Fleet drafted a specific proposal for a private boys academy, and the proposal was presented at a public meeting on Friday, Nov. 22, 1889.
Col. Fleet’s proposal was: if the citizens of Mexico would donate a 20-acre site and raise $15,000 for a building, he would add $3,000 to organize a military school under his personal leadership.
According to the Intelligencer, a local news outlet in Mexico, “the benefits of such an institution were apparent to everyone present and but little discussion was necessary.” A committee was appointed to raise the requested funds, but many citizens subscribed large amounts even before the meeting adjourned, eager to support the undertaking. By the following Monday, they had already raised two-thirds of the required amount. By the next meeting, they had raised nearly $14,000. Success was assured.
But where did this money come from? The community.
Leading the list of subscribers with a $1,000 pledge — the only one of that size — was the former governor of Missouri and founder of Hardin College, Charles H. Hardin. Seven subscriptions of $500 each came from such civic leaders as C. F. Clark, Judge Guthrie, Green Clay and George B. Macfarlane. George Farris and Son gave $400; S. M. Locke and W. W. Fry, $300 each, and J. F. Llewellyn, $250. Making up the bulk of the fund were 44 subscriptions of $100 each from, among others, attorney George Robertson, Dr. T. P. Rothwell, George A. Morris, S. P. Emmons, Dr. Pinckney French, William Pollock, R. M. White of the Mexico Ledger and B. R. Cauthorn — a century later White would have a grandson on the school board of trustees and Cauthorn a great-grandson serving as president. Thirty individuals contributed $25 each, and one gave $2.50.
Construction was well underway by midsummer, with Mexico and nearby towns ecstatic to see what was being referred to as the “finest military school building in the West.”
The Academy opened in September 1890, with more than 60 young men enrolling from Missouri, Kentucky, Kansas, Texas and an Indian Territory. One young man even enrolled from Siam (now known as Thailand). Applications exceeded dormitory capacity, but Col. Fleet turned no one away, managing to find boarding places for all who wished to attend.
On June 5, 1891, Missouri Military Academy graduated its first seniors: Otto Basye of Bowling Green and Rhodes Clay of Mexico. The next year saw seven graduate, with eight in 1893 and 22 in 1894. Overtime, the Academy would only continue to grow.
Over those first few years, the Academy added another dorm that could accommodate an additional 90 cadets, a large drill hall, a dining hall with the capacity for 200, a gym and more. Course offerings were expanded, and the faculty grew. More acreage was purchased, and more than 500 trees were planted.
The Academy continued to grow. Local catalogues of the time reported “Missouri Military Academy owes its foundation to the liberality and public spirit of the citizens of Mexico, Missouri.”
In regard to its growth, Col. Fleet said, “To the patrons of the school…the pledge is made that no effort of expense shall be spared from year to year to make the Missouri Military Academy even more worthy of their confidence.”
Col. Fleet’s founding promise of continuous improvement remains true today. Now more than 130 years later, Missouri Military Academy has grown to 288 acres and remains one of the Midwest’s top college-preparatory, military boarding schools. Offering state-of-the-art academic and athletic equipment and resources, Missouri Military Academy also features extras such as an Olympic-sized swimming pool, horse stables, chapel, expansive obstacle courses with a rock and rappelling wall, a lake and much more.
Today, Missouri Military Academy continues to implement improvements, now following a strategic plan, which includes plans for improving the baseball field, equestrian stable and soccer field; transportation (with a new bus); funding unpredictable military competition costs for our Fusiliers, Raiders and rifle team; and more. Read MMA’s strategic plan here.