Soldan currently offers its students several athletic and academic opportunities, including cross country, football, soccer, tennis, softball and volleyball. Its dropout rate is lower than the state average, and it is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. It has several notable alumni and former students, including politicians, authors, academics, and athletes.
By the end of the 1890s, the population of the city had increased to more than 575,000, but since 1855, the St. Louis Public Schools had operated only one high school. To meet the need for greater space for high school students, the school district built two new high schools in 1904. Three years later, the district began building a fourth high school, which would become Soldan. Known during its construction as Union Avenue High School and renamed Soldan High School upon opening, the school was named for Frank Louis Soldan, the superintendent of St. Louis schools from 1895 until his death in 1908. Land acquisition costs for the building were $10,000, and construction cost $630,000.
William B. Ittner's design for the school received praise from the United States Bureau of Education for its attention to detail and to the needs of students It was designed to stylistically complement the nearby Clark School, which was designed in Gothic Revival style, with fittings and brickwork to suggest a Tudor period Gothic structure built in approximately 1620. With a capacity of 1,600 students, the building originally occupied an area of 288 by 256 feet and had three stories. The original design of the building had 41 classrooms, with 23 designed for 48 students and 18 for 35 students. The building's 18 science demonstration rooms and laboratories accommodated physiology, physiography, chemistry, botany, and physics, and in the basement, the building was designed with shops for woodworking, machining, and domestic science. The building also had four art rooms with skylights for studio work and three mechanical drafting rooms. The auditorium was the largest in the school system up to that time, with a seating capacity of 1,750, while the music room was built with a capacity of more than 300 students. To provide for ample physical education opportunities, the school was built with two gymnasiums. The school originally had two separate cafeterias for male and female students, although the practice of gender segregation at lunch was ended in the late 1940s.
During the 1930s and 1940s, the school became widely known as the city's "predominantly Jewish" school, with students from several notable or wealthy families in the Central West End. Although the school remained open on Jewish holidays, it often had significantly lower attendance. During its early years, Soldan graduated several notable individuals, including William McChesney Martin, Jr., the longest-serving Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve, and Clark Clifford, a presidential adviser and United States Secretary of Defense. In 1922, Clifford and Martin were tennis doubles partners on the school's team. It also was during the 1920s that Tennessee Williams attended the school; in the 1940s, Soldan received notability as the school attended by some of the characters in Williams' The Glass Menagerie. In 1948, the school received students after the closure of nearby rival Blewett High School, which was located one block from Soldan. After the merger, the school was briefly known as Soldan-Blewett; it returned to its original name in 1955.
After the Brown v Board of Education decision in 1954, white parents and students of Soldan were among the most welcoming in the city toward integration. On the first day of integration, the school saw no protests, although national media personalities such as NBC evening news anchor John Cameron Swayze covered the event. Neither black nor white students reported significant incidents of racial tensions or problems, although black students often chose to eat in separate areas of the building from whites in the cafeteria. Despite the relatively uneventful process, Soldan experienced a rapid change in the demographics of its student population. During the 1940s, more than 90 percent of Soldan students were Jewish whites; by the early 1960s, the majority were African American. By 1965, only one white student attended Soldan, and many of the school's African American students had moved into the area from poorer neighborhoods such as Mill Creek Valley after urban renewal projects had displaced them.