School History

St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy was created when two of the nation’s most prestigious military boarding schools joined forces.

In 1884, The Rev. Sidney Smythe founded St. John’s Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin. Writings from his time described him as a firm, compassionate man whose life was devoted to young people. He exercised his dynamic personality for 39 years inspiring, guiding and instilling a strong sense of pride that is still prevalent on our campus today. The Beacon, a campus landmark, was erected in 1923 after Rev. Smythe’s death. Built from field stones collected by cadets, it is adorned with his four sayings: “Don’t be a mollycoddle,” “Play the game,” “The game’s not over ‘til the whistle blows,” and “Carry on.” 

Colonel Harlan Page Davidson fulfilled his lifelong dream of establishing a school for young men when he founded Northwestern Military & Naval Academy in Highland Park, Illinois, in 1888. After two devastating campus fires, Colonel Davidson rebuilt his school in stone on the shores of Lake Geneva in southern Wisconsin. His son, Colonel Royal Page Davidson, became the school’s superintendent in 1911.

In 1995, St. John’s Military Academy and Northwestern Military & Naval Academy merged to become St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy in Delafield. Continuing in the traditions of both schools, today’s academy educates students through emphasis in Academics, Spiritual and Character Development, Leadership Skills, and Athletics/Wellness.

In order to evolve the Academy’s mission, in summer 2018, St. John’s Northwestern Leadership Academies was formed and opened its academic programs to within a coeducational model.

In 2019, St. John’s Northwestern announced the addition of a new, non-military yet leadership-focused, academic year academy named St. John’s Northwestern Leadership Academy.

During the summer of 2020, St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy rebranded to St. John’s Northwestern Academies as the new parent company containing St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy, St. John’s Northwestern Leadership Academy, and St. John’s Northwestern Summer Academy.

Rev. Sidney Smythe and cadets on a European tour in 1914.
The Beacon, a campus landmark, was erected in 1923 after Rev. Smythe’s death.
This monument stone commemorating the merger of the two academies stands in Linn, WI.
In the summer of 2018, St. John’s Northwestern switched to a coeducational model.
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