Thomas Jefferson School History

Thomas Jefferson School is an independent, non-sectarian boarding and day school for grades 7-12. It was founded in 1946 as a 9-12 boys’ boarding school by three men who met at Harvard and served in WWII. The founders recognized a need for a first-rate boarding school in the Midwest. They selected St. Louis not only for its central location, but also for its cultural resources. Over the years, the school has remained small but has evolved and grown to include girls (1971) and a middle school. Today’s students come from Missouri, 7 other states, and 11 foreign countries. Our distinguished alumni live and work all over the world. 

Significant Moments in TJ History

To be a TJ graduate means joining a remarkable group of individuals. From the beginning, TJ has maintained a commitment to diversity, justice, and international friendship.

1946 - TJ is founded by Robin McCoy, Graham Spring, and Charles E. Merrill, Jr.

1947 - Charles E. Merrill, Jr. brings a teenaged Jewish-Hungarian refugee, Bernat Rosner, to the school right after World War II. This is the beginning of TJ’s enduring connection to Eastern Europe. Mr. Rosner graduates and goes on to become General Counsel for Safeway Stores.

1950 - The school enrolls a Japanese student who is possibly the first to enter an American prep school after the war. This student, Jun Sakurai, goes on to become a famous physicist at UCLA.

1952 - Two years before the Brown v. Board of Education decision, TJ becomes the first St. Louis independent school to admit a black student, beginning its long history of graduating high-achieving African-Americans.

1971 – TJ admits girls for the first time.

1976 – TJ adds 8th grade.

1981 – TJ adds 7th grade.

1995 - The first-ever Capital Campaign begins in order to build an academic building and additional dormitory space.

1996 - The Eastern European Scholarship is initiated by Charles Merrill. It brings one student per year to TJ. A strong relationship with SPLOT, a Polish school, is currently the focus of this scholarship.

1997 - The OPUS scholarship opens the door for musically talented minority students. The first, Ketsia Theodor, was raised in Haiti.  Her parents eventually moved the family to St. Louis.  She goes on to graduate from Carleton College, attend law school, and become a lawyer.

1998 - The Vera Lane Memorial Kitchen and Dining Room is added to Main.

2000 - The Morgan Lecture Series is initiated upon the retirement of Lawrence A Morgan, our second Head of School.

2004 - The McCoy Scholarship for Hispanic students funds Soraya Villavicencio, whose family comes from Mexico. She attends Duke University, and eventually becomes a physician.

2006 - During the 60th Anniversary celebration, TJ embarks on its second Capital Campaign to renovate facilities and to increase endowment.

2010 - The William C. Rowe Native Species Tribute Garden is established to mark the retirement of our third Head of School.

2011 - Elizabeth L. Holekamp is appointed fourth Head of School, the first female Head.

2013 - Main building is dedicated to one of our founders, Charles E. Merrill, Jr.

Charles Merrill
TJS 60th Anniversary

Tony Carlos and Dong Lichauco
September 1946

TJ Founder Charles Merrill

Joe Theis
April 1948

TJ Founder Robin McCoy