History | St. Agnes Academy-St. Dominic School


Pillars of Memphis Since 1851

St. Agnes Academy-St. Dominic School, the oldest continuously operating school in West Tennessee, has remained grounded in Dominican values while soaring in its pursuit of excellence for 170 years.


The Early Years

At midnight on January 1, 1851, six Dominican Sisters from Kentucky arrived in Memphis having been invited to Tennessee to start a school for girls. A month later on February 4, the Sisters opened the doors to the St. Agnes Female Academy, welcoming 15-day students and 20 boarding students. When the school year ended on July 7, 1851, the enrollment had increased to more than 50, and an addition to the school had been completed.

St. Agnes was situated in what were then the suburbs of Memphis at Vance and Orleans, about a mile and a quarter from Court Square, the center of the city. Operating the school was not easy going as the Sisters endured many setbacks. In the fall of 1867 and again in the fall of 1873, Memphis was enveloped by the yellow fever epidemic, and many Dominican Sisters died caring for sick in Memphis. On May 16, 1878, after yellow fever had faded, the Academy caught fire and was reduced to ashes. Another fire in 1900 caused lesser damage. Despite these setbacks, the school never closed its doors but continued to flourish.

In 1911, two wings were added to the building to accommodate the growing enrollment. The community purchased the Porter property on the right side of St. Agnes, and on October 5, 1918, the faculty of St. Agnes established the Memphis Conservatory of Music where students could acquire a B.A. degree in music. The Conservatory became the formal music education center of Memphis for beginning, advanced, and professional students.

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A New Chapter

After 100 years of life at Vance and Orleans, it became evident that the Academy would soon have to find different quarters since business had taken over the area surrounding the campus. St. Agnes Academy began a new phase of existence in 1951 at the present site on Walnut Grove Road. The ground was broken in 1956 for an elementary school for boys on the property with St. Agnes. The founding fathers of St. Dominic School for Boys were John Ford Canale, Austin Hall, William Fay, and L.K. Thompson. St. Dominic was opened for classes in 1957 with the understanding that the Dominican Sisters of Saint Catharine, Kentucky would operate it in conjunction with St. Agnes Academy

The campus has been expanded over the years. Additions to the original buildings have included The Buckman Building which serves as the campus center for science and mathematics; Siena Hall which houses the 300-seat Hook Theatre, two art studios, a music studio, Davis Gymnasium, dining hall and St. Catherine Chapel; The Veritas Research Center housing a Library and Learning Commons, Tech Center, classrooms and theater-style Distance Learning Center, providing spaces for study and research for all students; and the R.D. Johnny Davis Early Childhood Center providing classroom space for our Littlest Stars and Suns.

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Empowering Generations

A Board of Trustees, consisting of parents, local leaders, and representatives of the Dominican Sisters of Peace, currently operates the School. Since its inception, the spirit of the Dominican Sisters has formed and guided the students, faculty, staff, and Board of Trustees and continues to do so. Now, over 170 years after its founding, the school offers the most technologically advanced curricula in the region, rigorous academics, highly competitive athletics, and an impressive fine arts program while maintaining a humble nurturing environment rooted in the Dominican Pillars of Study, Prayer, Community, and Service.

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