History Stories


6 Historical Figures Who Were Kicked Out of School

From Edgar Allan Poe to Salvador Dalí, learn more about six historical figures who were expelled from school.

1. Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe -

Credit: Culture Club/Getty Images

In 1830, future literary legend Edgar Allan Poe resigned a post in the U.S. Army and enrolled at the United States Military Academy at West Point. The aspiring poet had previously left the University of Virginia after drinking and gambling his way into a mountain of debt, and it appears that his tenure at the Point was equally unsettled. Poe endured the school’s strict military discipline and thrived in his studies, but following a falling out with his foster father, John Allan, he resolved to intentionally get himself kicked out. A popular legend states that he won a court martial by showing up to a drill naked save for a cartridge belt, but in actuality, he simply stopped attending classes, roll call and chapel in favor of passing the time at Benny Havens’, a local watering hole. In total, Poe collected more than 200 offenses and demerits en route to being dismissed from West Point in January 1831. Before leaving, the 22-year-old convinced several of his classmates to donate money to fund the printing costs for his third book of poems. He later dedicated the volume to “the U.S. Corps of Cadets.”

2. William Randolph Hearst

Before he established a news media empire, William Randolph Hearst was one of Harvard University’s most notoriously unruly students. The young mogul-in-waiting struggled to keep up with the school’s rigorous academic program, preferring instead to spend his days working at the “Harvard Lampoon” humor magazine, keeping a pet alligator named “Champagne Charlie” and carousing with friends. Still, it may have been Hearst’s penchant for pranks that finally got him the boot. He famously left a donkey in a teacher’s classroom with a note around its neck that read, “Now there are two of you,” and once assaulted the performers at a Boston theater with custard pies. The final straw came in 1885, when Hearst—already on academic probation—mailed his professors specially made chamber pots with their names and photograph engraved on the inside. Hearst left Harvard in disgrace, but by 1887, he’d convinced his father to put him in charge of the family-owned San Francisco Examiner newspaper, kicking off a media career that would make him one of the world’s richest men.

Image placeholder title

3. Benito Mussolini

Benito Mussolini

Credit: Roger Viollet/Getty Images

During his school days in the 1880s and 90s, Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini had a notorious reputation for bullying, stealing and general defiance toward his teachers. “More than once I came back home with my head bleeding from a blow with a stone,” he later wrote of his many fights, “but I knew how to defend myself.” When he was nine, Mussolini’s parents sent him to a strict Catholic boarding school in the hope that the priests could smooth off his rough edges. The boy who would become “Il Duce” didn’t take to church discipline, however, and in 1893 he was expelled after he stabbed a fellow student in the hand with a penknife and threw an inkpot at a priest who tried to discipline him. Mussolini was sent to another boarding school, where he was nearly expelled a second time for yet another stabbing incident. Despite his seeming antipathy toward schooling, Mussolini later got a teaching certification and intermittently worked as an educator. Perhaps not surprisingly, the future dictator was known for his sternness, and was nicknamed “the tyrant” by his students.

4. Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando

Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

One of actor Marlon Brando’s most famous film roles came in 1953’s “The Wild One,” where he played the leader of a rebel motorcycle gang. The biker character may not have been much of a stretch for Brando, an unabashed troublemaker and prankster who supposedly once rode a motorcycle through the halls of his high school in Libertyville, Illinois. “I was a bad student, chronic truant and all-around incorrigible,” Brando later wrote of his high school days. “I was forever being sent to the principal’s office to be disciplined.” Thanks to poor grades and a litany of bad behavior ranging from throwing firecrackers to writing a class essay on a roll of toilet paper, Brando was eventually expelled from Libertyville High in 1941. He then transferred to Shattuck Military Academy in Minnesota, where he continued to exhibit a healthy resentment toward authority. In 1943, Brando was put on probation and confined to campus for talking back to an officer during a drill. When he ignored the order and headed out for a day on the town, he was charged with being AWOL and formally dismissed. Having been expelled from two different schools, Brando moved to New York and dove into acting. He made his Broadway debut only one year later.

5. Percy Bysshe Shelley

Writer Percy Bysshe Shelley is best known as the author of beloved poems such as “Ozymandias” and “Queen Mab,” but he was also a notorious freethinker and rabble-rouser. In 1811, during his first year as a student at Oxford University, an 18-year-old Shelley joined with his friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg in anonymously writing a pamphlet called “The Necessity of Atheism.” The short text laid out the duo’s arguments against the existence of God, and was signed, “Thro’ deficiency of proof, an atheist.” Hoping to spark a theological debate, Shelley advertised the pamphlet extensively and used aliases to send copies to various clergyman and university professors. At the time, atheism was still considered an illicit topic, and before long, Shelley and Hogg were found out and dragged before Oxford’s academic authorities for questioning. When they refused to neither confirm nor deny authorship of the controversial pamphlet, both were expelled. The scandal created a rift between Shelley and his father, who denounced the leaflet as being “criminal” and “improper.” Only a few months later, Shelley cut ties with his family, eloped with a 16-year-old girl and set off to begin his literary career in earnest.

Image placeholder title

6. Salvador Dalí

Salvador Dali

Credit: Gianni Ferrari/Cover/Getty Images

In 1922, future Surrealist icon Salvador Dalí entered the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando in Madrid. Dalí had only applied to the school after being encouraged by his father, and from the beginning, he was none too impressed with its faculty. “I immediately understood that those old professors covered with honors and decorations could teach me nothing,” he later wrote. While he won acclaim for his bold painting style, Dalí was suspended from the Academy in 1923 for leading a student protest against the faculty selection process. He returned to San Fernando the following year, only to be expelled for good in 1926 after he proclaimed that none of his professors were skilled enough to evaluate his work. Following his dismissal, Dalí entered the Paris art world, adopted his signature upturned moustache and began collaborating with members of the Surrealist movement. By 1931, he had worked on two films and completed “The Persistence of Memory,” his most well known painting.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.