In celebrating the 125th anniversary of the founding of Memphis University School, we designate September 13 as Founders Day to commemorate the opening day of the original school in 1893 and to honor the two teachers whose vision brought it to life, James White Sheffey Rhea and Edwin Sidney Werts.
Rhea, a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College, and Werts, a graduate of the University of Virginia, were experienced young teachers who had become friends and colleagues as instructors at the Knoxville Classical School. Keen to open a prep school of their own, they were advised by an exceptional educational mentor, President of the University of Tennessee Dr. Charles W. Dabney, to consider Memphis as the location.
An advertisement that appeared May 14, 1893, in theMemphis Appeal-Avalancheannounced their school would open in September with the goal being “to prepare boys and young men for Yale, Harvard, Princeton, University of Virginia, and other colleges and universities.”
Although their chances for success may have seemed dim when only seven pupils enrolled, Rhea and Werts remained undaunted. In six short years the number of students had grown to almost 90, and the school had opened its own new building at the corner of Manassas and Monroe.
The original MUS was forced to close in 1936 because of declining enrollment and the financial struggles of the Depression. But as prosperity rose again after World War II, alumni and church and civic leaders saw the need for recreating the college-preparatory curriculum characteristic of Werts’ and Rhea’s original school.
After a 19-year interlude, a newly constituted MUS opened in 1955, this time in East Memphis, on 90+ acres at the corner of Park Avenue and Ridgeway Road. And here we stand today, offering an outstanding education based on the founding principles of truth, honor, and academic excellence for some 630 boys in grades 7-12. Go, Owls!
Pictured above, a spread from the 1912 yearbook featuring founders Rhea and Werts, center, surrounded by other early faculty members.