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History of USM

Our History

USM continues to reflect the proud tradition of excellence set forth by our predecessor schools while striving to meet and exceed the challenges of education in the 21st century.
1800s - The Early Days
The German-English Academy (GEA) was founded in 1851, opening with two teachers and fifty students. In the same year, Milwaukee Female Seminary (predecessor to Milwaukee Downer Seminary) was formally chartered as Milwaukee Normal Institute and High School. GEA was a leader in local and national offerings, establishing the first kindergarten program in Milwaukee in 1873 and, in 1891, introducing America's first gymnasium in its new school building.
1900s - Growth and Development of Predecessor Schools
In 1917, the German English Academy changed its name to Milwaukee University School (MUS). Also in 1917, Milwaukee Country Day (MCD) opened in Whitefish Bay, with an initial enrollment of 55 students. As Milwaukee Downer Seminary (MDS), MUS, and MCD continued to grow, new facilities were a part of their plans. In 1959, MDS and MUS each purchased land on Fairy Chasm Road in River Hills, and MDS sold its Hartford Avenue campus. The MDS Fairy Chasm Road campus then opened in 1961.
The Merger and Beyond

A merger committee was formed in 1963, and by fall, completed negotiations were announced to the public. MUS, MDS and MCD would merge and open as University School of Milwaukee for the 1964-1965 school year. The new school would be housed on two campuses, the North Campus (Fairy Chasm Road, River Hills) and the South Campus (Santa Monica Blvd, Whitefish Bay). The North Campus would welcome boys and girls in grades 1-6 and girls in grades 9-12. Nursery school to five-year-old kindergarten, boys and girls in grades 7 and 8, and boys in grades 9-12 would be taught on the South Campus. Students chose "Wildcats" as the new school's nickname. In 1970, the girls' Upper School moved to the South Campus, making the Upper School coeducational.
Building for the Future
In 1975, in order to keep pace with emerging technologies, USM tied in with a computer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee via phone, as four small computers were purchased for the Upper School campus. In 1981, the School made additional plans for incorporating new technology by starting a fund to computerize the School and extend computer education.
In a change to campus life, USM graduated its last boarding student in 1976, and in 1983, began a capital fund-raising effort to finance consolidation of the Lower, Middle, and Upper Schools on one campus. The unified campus (on Fairy Chasm Road) opened in 1985 with 770 students.
Continually offering new opportunities, USM introduced foreign language to students in the Lower School in 1984, with Spanish offered three times per week beginning in kindergarten. A tradition of exploring American history began in 1987 when the eighth grade took its first trip to Washington, D.C. USM incorporated another way to learn beyond the classroom in 1991, when the School established an outdoor nature classroom, which comprises five acres of the School's campus. Options for learning about the world further expanded as USM began phasing in a new computer network to provide school-wide access to the internet in 1996.
At the start of the next decade, the School experienced a change in leadership. In July of 2000, Ward J. Ghory, Ed.D. became head of school, and in November a strategic plan was adopted. Over the next six years, the goals of the plan came to fruition. During that time, the Phase I of the Next Generation Campaign funded a new Upper School Science Center and other facility improvements, and grew the Endowment for financial aid, faculty support, and other programs. Phase II, completed in 2010, funded the construction of a new Lower School Addition and Middle School renovations. In all, the Next Generation Campaign raised more than $36.8 million, ensuring USM provides 21st-century facilities for a 21st-century education.

In July 2011, Laura Fuller returned to Wisconsin to become the seventh Head of School since the merger.