"I have been thinking and thinking hard about (creating) a first-class university school..."
Dr. Park McCallie wrote these words to his older brother, Spencer, on May 17, 1905. It was the first of seven letters that the two brothers exchanged over the course of the next couple of months elaborating on their desire to return to their native city of Chattanooga and open a school.
Their dream was realized with the support and backing of their father, the Rev. T.H. McCallie. The Presbyterian minister offered his sons $2,000 and 40 acres of the family farm on the slopes of Missionary Ridge, as well as a vacant house on the property. "Our aim is not wealth, or even having the family together, as desirable as this is, but the glory of God in Christ," the minister wrote to his sons.
In early September 1905, Spencer McCallie told the newspaper, "We do not intend... to emphasize preparation for college to the exclusion of other things. Preparation for business life will be held equally prominent. Along with the intellectual training, careful attention will be paid to the physical and moral nature of the student."
Original plans were for four or five teachers to teach 16 boarding students and two dozen from the Chattanooga area, yet the school officially opened on September 21 with 48 boys enrolled, including a dozen boarders. Spencer and Park McCallie served as co-headmasters as well as teachers. They were joined by their brothers Ed and Thomas McCallie, and Ed's college roommate, Len White. In addition, the Rev. McCallie served as campus chaplain from 1905 until his death in 1912.
McCallie served grades 7-12 almost exclusively until the addition of a 6th-grade class in 1999.
Honor Code & Motto
The school's first senior class proposed that the school adopt an Honor Code, which was adopted in January 1906. The student body unanimously approved of the resolution and also adopted a pledge: "I have neither given nor received any aid on this examination (or quiz)." The resolution required a student-elected Senate appointed to govern the system.
Reflecting on the Honor Code, Dr. Spencer McCallie Jr., who served as headmaster from 1949 - 1974, said, "I think it is impossible to over-emphasize the importance of the Honor System at McCallie and to those boys who went through the school. Honor is not something you are born with. It's just not automatic. You learn honor. Honor can be taught. It (is) taught at McCallie under the Honor System. We work at it. We stress the importance of integrity, of having people have confidence in your word and believe in you... It's a way of life; it's a way of thinking; it's really what you are."
In 1919 the co-founders decided the school needed a motto and adopted the answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: "What is Man's chief end?" The answer, which appears in several locations throughout campus even today, including at the school's entrance, is: "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever."
The Military Program
In 1917, when the United States entered World War I, McCallie followed the trend of virtually every private school in the nation by instituting a military component. Students were required to wear uniforms, to learn marksmanship, and to march in formation in the afternoon. The intention was to abandon the military program once WWI ended, but by then it had become entrenched into the school culture, and it continued until 1970 when the board voted to eliminate it.
Changes Over the Years
In 1937, the McCallie family conveyed the school they owned to a board of trustees made up of alumni, and McCallie School was reorganized as a nonprofit educational corporation. The school has since expanded from its original 40 acres to more than 100 today, as the campus has expanded south along the Ridge.
In the mid-1960s, as the military program began to wane, McCallie broadened its offerings in the arts and maintained its traditional competitiveness in sports. The school now offers an amazing array of some 20 fine arts classes and programs and competes on a varsity level in 14 different sports.
The main Upper School academic building was completed in 1976, and McDonald Hall, the Middle School building, opened its doors in 1999. The award-winning and nationally-recognized Sports and Activities Center opened in 1993, and the school's dining hall was dedicated in 2004.
In the late 1970s and early '80s, the school began to expand and deepen its academic offerings. It was one of the first secondary schools in the South to offer computer programming classes for select students and established an array of Advanced Placement courses. Ten percent of the Class of 1980 was named a National Merit Semifinalist, a feat that would be repeated regularly in future years.
In 1989, McCallie was selected a National School of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education.
What began as an enrollment of 48 boys in 1905 now enrolls approximately 900. "During a century of educating boys, McCallie has changed dramatically in physical appearance and breadth of curriculum, but its values are those of the founders," writes Barry Parker '63 in McCallie: A Century of Inspiring Boys and Building Men. "Through 10 decades of technological advances and social transformation, honor, truth and duty remain the bywords of the school."