The Story of Wentworth
(Written for its 50th anniversary - 100 years ago!!!)
Wentworth Military Academy, the oldest military school in the Middle West and one of the leading boy=92s schools in the United States, marks this year the fiftieth anniversary of existence and also the fiftieth year of Col. Sandford Sellers as the head of the institution.
Wentworth was founded in the fall of 1880 by Stephen G. Wentworth as a memorial for a deceased son. Mr. Wentworth was descended from an old English family, which settled in New England before the Revolutionary War. He came to Lexington as a boy and was one of the town=92s prosperous and influential citizens, being president of the old Morrison-Wentworth bank.
Two young men, recent graduates of Centre College, Kentucky, were named as associate principals. They were Sandford Sellers and B. L. Hobson. Thus Col. Sellers began his life=92s work as head of Wentworth and for a half century has guided the destiny of the school.
The beginning of the now famous institution for boys was very humble. Classes were held in an old church building at the corner of 18th and Main Streets, where the Bour Apartments now stand. The first students were from Lexington, and throughout the entire history of the school, Lexington has always sent her finest boys to Wentworth, and many of the most prominent business men of the city are former cadets. In 1881 several boarding students enrolled, and a dwelling across from the present Lexington High school was used as a dormitory.
That very second year military training was inaugurated and the name of the institution was changed from Wentworth Male Academy to Wentworth Military Academy.
The first company of cadets was a volunteer organization of about forty boys, trained by Eph King, a student, who was a member of the National Guard. Those early cadets wore uniforms similar to those used in the Civil War, long coats and flat-topped caps. Muzzle loading muskets, made in Austria, were purchased in New York for drilling. In 1882, military training was given added importance by Col. J. D. Ward, a grandson of Patrick Henry, who came to Wentworth as commandant from Virginia Military Institute. From that time, Wentworth has ranked as one of the leading military schools of the country, and it was the first in the Missouri Valley to install that type of training.
The institution grew rapidly in numbers and reputation. The government made Wentworth a post of the National Guard in 1889 and began the yearly, official inspections. In 1895-96, the Marmaduke Military School of Sweet Springs, Missouri, was bought and consolidated with Wentworth. In that year, Capt. L. P. Hunt was detailed by the U. S. Army as the Professor of Military Science and Tactics. Since then, the government has always provided officers for instruction, arms, supplies, ammunition, and other equipment necessary for infantry drill.
The cadets of those early days were the typical red-blooded boys of the West. Many recently settled states sent their sons to Wentworth for education. It was not unusual to see a youth in full cowboy regalia enrolling in the school, and Col. Sellers said they had their share of pep and mischief. But their very vigor and enthusiasm helped place the institution in the front rank in military work and athletics. Wentworth, from the beginning, has maintained the highest standards of training, and has continually, except for four years during the World War, when all instructors left to enter the service, has been rated an =93Honor School=94 by the Government. That is the highest rating given to a school by the War Department.
The school also progressed in scholastic efficiency. Classroom work was placed first. Competent, well-trained instructors were always secured from the leading universities. The student body grew from a mere handful to a battalion of several hundred, coming from many states and foreign countries. Wentworth soon moved from the old church building to its present location on Washington Avenue, where equipment now includes a campus of 53 acres, ten buildings, and several drill and athletic fields.
When the Spanish =96 American War broke out, Wentworth was the leading institution of its kind in the Middle West and furnished many officers for the service.
In the years following, several outstanding men left their definite impress upon the school=92s history. Col. E. A. Hickman, himself a Wentworth graduate, became commandant and head of the military work. His wise and aggressive leadership greatly increased Wentworth=92s prestige and added to the enrollment.
Then in 1903, Col. W. M. Hoge resigned as Inspector of Accredited Schools for the University of Missouri and was appointed Associate Superintendent and Principal of the Academy. For twelve years he held this position and his great contribution was better organization and efficiency in the scholastic department.
During the unsettled time of the World War and for some years afterwards, Maj. R. K. Lathan guided well the school=92s career. The World War was a flush time of excitement. Nearly eight hundred former cadets joined the colors, most of them as officers. A number of them gave their all upon the battlefields of France, as the Alumni Memorial on the Campus so eloquently testifies. Because of Wentworth=92s great reputation as a splendid military school, hundreds of young men stormed the doors seeking admittance. By renting quarters out in town, nearly five hundred boys were crowded into the battalion.
After the World War, Major Sandford Sellers Jr., and Major J. M. Sellers, sons of Col. Sellers, returned to Wentworth from France, after having rendered distinguished service. They have borne a large share of the administration duties of the Academy during the past ten years. They stressed quality rather than quantity, relieved the crowded condition of the school, more carefully selected the students, and made many improvements. The department for small boys was done away with. Additions were made in all equipment-notably in the library, laboratories, dining room, hospital, and kitchen and classrooms. The campus itself was beautified. And in the fall of 1928, the Alumni showed their affection for the old school by building and donating a modern athletic stadium seating 5,000.
In 1923, junior college work was offered. Two full years of college instruction in almost any course are now available. This proved to be a popular move, and the college department has grown until it accounts for half of the present student body. The numbers of professors is now twelve. Under the direction of Major E. H. Criswell dean, the college work as well as the high school has gained the highest scholastic recognition-full accrediting by the North Central Association and the Association of American Universities.
Thus Wentworth comes to the end of a half century of history vigorous and strong. It is recognized as one of the very best military schools in the United States. It draws boys of good character from the best homes of our country. Emphasis is placed upon quality and efficiency rather than numbers. Col. Sandford Sellers, whose life work has been the building of Wentworth, still guides the school, though he has shifted some of the burden to the shoulders of the able staff of nearly fifty, which he has assembled around him. The school continues to win even greater honors in recent years and stands pre-eminent in the three fields-scholastic, military, and athletic. The motto has always been =93 a sound mind in a sound body=94.
The future for the next half century glows with promise. The school has stood the test of time. It has become famous as a builder of manhood and character. Wentworth was one of the very few schools in this year of business depression to show an actual increase in enrollment.
At present, a boy at Wentworth receives an all-round training. His life is busy and varied. In addition to studies, military work, and athletics, he has many other activities such as band, orchestra, debate, dramatics, social life, glee club, etc. There is no idle time left for the average boy at Wentworth.
Wentworth stands at the beginning of the second fifty years with every assurance of continued service and prosperity. Col. Sellers, Major Sandy Sellers, and Major J. M. Sellers head the school. Major E. H. Criswill, dean, is in charge of scholastic work. Capt. C. N. Jackson, U. S. Army is Commandant and Professor of Military Science and Tactics. Major L. B. Wikoff directs the enrollments. Capt. W. V. Cox is coach and director of athletics. Judge Richard Field is President of the Board of Trustees.
On this fiftieth anniversary, thousands of former cadets, friends, and patrons of Wentworth will extend congratulations, and wish for the great old institution another half century of progress and prosperity.
Bob Ball, LHS and WMA graduate, sent along this charming anecdote:
(Substituting Central or whatever, as necessary, of course.)
The girls would then sing back,
Wentworth, Wentworth, bless your heart,...
The rest is history.
And as a final tribute to WMA's "olden" days, below is a glimpse of how it looked then.
Your faithful scribe,