History of USM

University School of Milwaukee 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 fundraising effort to finance consolidation of the Lower School, Middle School, and Upper School 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.

The Next Generation
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 of that year a strategic plan was adopted. Over the next five years, the goals of the plan came to fruition. During that time, 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. A new strategic plan was developed in 2006, which led to Phase II of the Next Generation Campaign, completed in 2010. This campaign 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, and provided USM with the ability to offer 21st-century facilities for a 21st-century education.

Present Day
In July 2011, current head of school Laura J. Fuller became the eighth head since the merger. Since her arrival, USM has continued to advance and grow in all three divisions, with an enrollment of 1,091 at the start of the 2019-20 school year.

In October of 2013, USM introduced its current strategic plan, which addresses the importance of continuing to provide the excellent academic experience that USM is known for, while embedding a culture of leadership for faculty and students and maintaining a financially sustainable structure that provides USM with the ability to "think big." This plan more formally introduces the concepts of global education and engagement, professional leadership, and innovation, and focuses on the importance of providing USM students with an experiential learning component that ensures the vital hands-on experiences necessary for a true and demonstrated understanding of concepts, skills, and ideas.

During the 2014-15 school year, our School community gathered together to celebrate 50 years of USM. Today, USM continues to provide an excellent educational experience to a diverse student body, preparing them for a lifetime of success. Everyone in our School community – students, alumni, parents, grandparents, parents of alumni, and current and former faculty and staff – plays an important role in the continued success of University School of Milwaukee.

In May of 2017, USM broke ground on the Our Common Bond comprehensive capital campaign. The campaign, totaling $27 million in capital, endowment, and annual fund support, will provide students with a new Upper School innovation center, performing arts additions and theatre expansion, and a new Upper School Commons. Learn more about the Our Common Bond campaign here.
Prekindergarten (age 3) - Grade 12 • Independent • Coeducational
© 2019 University School of Milwaukee
2100 W. Fairy Chasm Road, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53217 • 414.352.6000