Schools, Private Military

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Schools, Private Military. The disciplined environment of West Point has provided one model for civilian schools established to educate intellectually and morally responsible citizens.

The earliest military‐style academies in the United States offered practical and technical curricula quite unlike the classical education of contemporary universities. At Norwich University, opened as the private American Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy in New England in 1819, cadets studied engineering, navigation, and agriculture, along with composition and Latin. The Virginia Military Institute (VMI), which opened at Lexington in November 1839, took West Point's engineering curriculum as its model. In 1843, The Citadel Academy at Charleston began a similar course of practical studies for indigent South Carolina boys.

Graduation from these military‐style schools did not lead automatically to army commissions, but during the Civil War, citizen‐soldiers educated at these and other antebellum military academies served under arms, many as commissioned officers. A number of Northern academies, including Norwich, survived the war, but many Southern military schools—VMI excepted—did not. The Citadel remained closed through Reconstruction; the Georgia Military Institute never reopened; and the University of Alabama's antebellum corps of cadets languished and finally disbanded. The military department of the Howard English and Classical School in Alabama bucked the trend, reemerging postwar as the Marion Military Institute, a two‐year school still operating today.

The Morrill Land Grant Act of 1863 extended military‐style education to land‐grant colleges. By law, these schools had to provide male students with basic military instruction, but they remained essentially civilian institutions. A few land‐grant schools initially organized their entire student bodies into military‐style formations. Some, such as Clemson University, disbanded their corps of cadets years ago. Others—most notably Texas A&M and the Virginia Polytechnic and State University—still support a corps of cadets, but the military school environment they provide exists only as part of larger state universities. Today, only one school with a land‐grant heritage—North Georgia College, opened in 1873 as a mining and technical school in the University of Georgia system—still adopts a military‐style organization for the bulk of its student body.

At modern accredited four‐year military colleges, cadets no longer find themselves limited to technical or practical majors, and they must meet the same standards for graduation required at comparable civilian institutions. But they still adhere to a tightly structured lifestyle. Although hazing is banned, freshmen endure an emotionally, physically, and intellectually rigorous first year. An Honor Code remains at the heart of the cadet experience. Time has brought change: regulations on uniforms have relaxed at some schools; certain institutions now allow cadets to marry; others no longer require cadets to live in barracks; cadets may still be required to take ROTC courses, but they do not necessarily accept a commission to graduate. Most recently, female cadets have begun to appear in the ranks. North Georgia College admitted women to cadet companies in the early 1970s when ROTC programs accepted female cadets, and Norwich did the same when it merged in 1972 with the all‐female Vermont College. The Citadel and VMI were forced to open their ranks to women in the 1990s.

Two other types of private military schools exist. The Department of the Army supports an early commissioning program at six military‐style academies, which include junior colleges such as Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania. Since the 1880s, military‐style schools, some now modeled on the navy, Marine Corps, and air force, also have filled a small niche in secondary education.

The Vietnam War destroyed much of the attraction of military‐style schools. Of 169 secondary and college‐level schools open in 1945, only 50 remained in 1975. In the 1990s, however, a slight resurgence of interest in military‐style schools has been observed around the country. Today, many of the surviving institutions belong to the Association of Military Colleges and Schools in the United States.
[See also Academies, Service; Education, Military; Schools, Postgraduate Service; Women in the Military.]

Carol Reardon