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  • Writer's pictureRich Honiball

Today in Brand History: The United States Naval Academy

(Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

In 1845, the Naval School was established at the former Fort Severn in Annapolis, MD. What would eventually become the USNA started with a class of 50 midshipmen & 7 professors. The curriculum included mathematics, navigation, gunnery and steam, chemistry, English, philosophy, and French. It was preceded by the "Nautical School", conceived by Commodore Arthur Sinclair while in command of the Norfolk Navy Yard. In 1821, the frigate Guerriere had roughly 50 midshipmen attached to the ship with a curriculum that included Naval Tactics, Astronomy, Geography, French, History, Grammar, and International Relations. In 1825, President John Quincy Adams urged Congress to establish a Naval Academy "for the formation of scientific and accomplished officers." By 1842, the American Brig Somers served as a school ship for teenage apprentices, hopefully to be inspired to make the Navy a career. However, discipline deteriorated, and it was determined by a court of inquiry that three of its crew were guilty of a "determined attempt to commit a mutiny." They were hanged and the incident cast doubt over sending midshipmen directly aboard ship to learn by doing, which led to the launch of the Naval School.

In 1850, the school became the United States Naval Academy. A new curriculum went into effect requiring midshipmen to study for four years and train aboard ships each summer. By the start of the Civil War, Southern sympathy ran high in MD and 24% of USNA students resigned to join the South. The outbreak of hostilities forced a rapid departure;

upper classes were ordered to sea and the rest of the academy were transported to Fort Adams in Newport by the USS Constitution in 1861. The Annapolis campus served as a US Army Hospital until the end of the war, when midshipmen and faculty returned in 1865.

Goats were not uncommon as pets on Navy ships; a source of milk, cheese & butter (and trash disposals). According to legend, one ship's pet died at sea and rather arrange a burial, the officers saved its skin. At the first Navy v Army game in 1890, an ensign “inspired” the crowd by running around wearing it and Navy won. In 1893, a goat named El Cid, a gift from the USS New York, attended the game: Navy won 6–3 over Army, so he was adopted as part of the team.

John Conyers of SC was the first African American admitted to the Academy in 1872 but after severe personal and physical attacks, he resigned in 1873. In 1877, Kiro Kunitomo, a Japanese citizen, graduated from the academy and in 1879, Robert F Lopez was the first Hispanic-American to graduate from the academy. In 1945, Wesley Brown became the sixth African American to be admitted and first to graduate. An accomplished athlete, he competed in cross-country with fellow Academy classmate Jimmy Carter.

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The Naval Academy first accepted women on July 6th, 1976, when Congress authorized admission of women to all the service academies. Fifty-five women from that first class graduated, including Elizabeth Anne Rowe, credited as the first woman member of the class to graduate. Four years later, Kristine Holderied became the first female midshipman to graduate at the top of her class. In 2006, Michelle Howard, class of 1982, became the first female graduate of the Academy selected for admiral, and the first admiral to be selected from her class.

Congress authorized the Academy to begin awarding Bachelor of Science degrees in 1933 and the curriculum has continued to evolve to include multiple disciplines. The United States Naval Academy today is one of the nations top schools and top graduates include a President of the United States, a Beyer Scholar, two Nobel Prize Winners, three Churchill Scholars, five Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, five State Governors, nine Commandants of the Marine Corps, twenty one Ambassadors, twenty six members of Congress, thirty four Marshall Scholars, twenty nine CNO's, thirty nine Fitzgerald Scholars, forty two White House Fellows, fifty four Astronauts, fifty four Rhodes Scholars, seventy three Medal of Honor Recipients, two Heisman Trophy winners...a more than a couple of really good friends.

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