Jerry Summers: No Males At GPS?

Thursday, December 2, 2021 - by Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

The McCallie School remains exclusively a male college preparatory school in Chattanooga on the western side of Missionary Ridge and the Baylor School on the bank of the Tennessee River has become co-educational with the admission of young ladies in 1985.

The only all-female institution of learning in Chattanooga is the Girls Preparatory School (GPS) which was founded in 1906 initially by two public school teachers and has grades 6-12.  “Its mission is to inspire each girl to lead a life of integrity and purpose by engaging her mind, cultivating her strengths, and nurturing her self-confidence and respect of others.  To this day, GPS has remained a strong independent girls preparatory school.”

Tommie Payne Duffy and Eula Lea Jarnagin had originally asked the Chattanooga City School Board to provide a fourth year of public high school studies including modern language and a science laboratory so that girls, as well as boys, would apply for college.

When their request was denied, they made the decision to create an independent school to prepare girls to obtain a higher education. They persuaded their friend, Grace Eliza McCallie, to join them in their effort.

The birthplace of GPS was Grace McCallie’s former home at 106 Oak St. in Chattanooga.  The founders pooled their combined funds of $300 and opened a four-room schoolhouse on two floors equipped with second-hand desks, a library and cloak room.

The first day of classes was September 12, 1906, with an initial enrollment of 45 female students.

Baylor School has existed since September 13, 1893, as a college preparatory school for “the young men of the city.”  On September 21, 1905, the all-male McCallie School had opened after being founded by Grace McCallie’s brothers, James Park and Spencer J. McCallie on their family farm site.

Baylor and McCallie for many years maintained a military presence, including discipline and uniforms, but both abandoned those programs in 1971 and 1970.  GPS girls were often honored by being selected as a military sponsor at the two schools.

With its continued growth it was necessary in 1915 to move to a new location at 611 Palmetto St. and finally to its present home at 205 Island Ave. in North Chattanooga.  Grace McCallie died in 1918 and in 1945 the tenure of the original founders Duffy and Jarnagin ended. The school is now run by a Board of Trustees. That year a school-wide Honor Code system was adopted and remains a foundational part of the school for students.

The upward growth of all three schools has continued with necessary physical expansions supported by loyal alumni and friends.

The athletic competition between Baylor and McCallie is the most spirited of local, public, or private schools.

Fortunately, the enthusiasm of the female gender is supportive of both of the former all-male institutions.

GPS has established its own excellent athletic programs to supplement the academic standards established by the three original founders.  Students compete in 15 varsity sports sanctioned by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA).

With the abandonment of physical education classes in most schools, GPS in 1990 created a new program, SHAPE (Starting Habits to Attain Physical Excellence) which has received recognition as one of the top high school physical education programs in the Southeast.

 In the academic world advanced programs have prepared the students for admission to many colleges and universities.

Many old traditions have been maintained and new ones created as GPS enters its 115th year as a fulfillment of the ideas of the original founders as well as increased participation in local charities and community events.  It has become more inclusive and diversified as the school has moved into its second century of existence.

The absence of male influence (or distraction) has not in any way hindered the recognized excellence of the Girls Preparatory School!

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Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com)

GPS founders
GPS founders

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