Oak Ridge Institute, the first coeducational military high school in the nation, originated on April 7, 1850, when citizens of northwestern Guilford County met and appointed a board of trustees to erect a schoolhouse. Three years passed before the school opened on March 3, 1853, with a traditional curriculum and 63 male students from North Carolina and Virginia. Although the institute began as a school for locals, by 1856 only one-fourth of the academy’s 85 students were from the Oak Ridge area. The first principal was John M. Davis, a graduate of Emory and Henry College in Virginia.
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In 1861-1862, the entire student body and faculty enlisted in the Confederate army. The loss necessitated the school’s closing. Set to reopen in September 1865, the school’s main building burned the night before classes were to resume. The school was moved to nearby cabins and private homes, although attendance remained low.
The institute remained opened throughout the 1870s and, under the leadership of brothers J. Allen and Martin H. Holt, began to reach prewar levels of enrollment and productivity. School leaders constructed several new buildings in order to compensate for the rising number of students, and added a chapel in 1884. Five years later, the school received accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. With nearly 260 students, Oak Ridge was the largest private military school in the South by 1901.
Many senior students volunteered for service during World War I, and the United States Army began recruiting graduates for service as officers. In 1926, the Army organized a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at the school and has remained the only military branch officially associated with the school. Three years later, the trustees amended the charter, changing the name from Oak Ridge Institute to Oak Ridge Military Institute.
The name changed again to Oak Ridge Military Academy in 1971. That same year, the school became the first military academy in the United States to admit females. Women had attended the school’s secondary courses after 1929, but never in a military capacity. In 1983, the 101-acre campus became a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places, and eight years later the General Assembly slated the academy as the official state military school.
Oak Ridge Military Academy presently offers a traditional curriculum for students from grades 6 through 12. Since 1990, the school has boasted a 100% rating of graduates being accepted to the college or university of their choice.
William S. Powell, Higher Education in North Carolina (1964)
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)
Charles Lee Raper, The Church and Private Schools of North Carolina (1898)
Oak Ridge Military Academy website: http://www.oakridgemilitaryacademy.com
Entrance to Oak Ridge Military Institute