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Mount Vernon Seminary for Girls Washington, D. C.

  • Year Built: 1917 onward

Mount Vernon Seminary for Girls, founded in 1875, was the first non-sectarian female boarding school established in Washington, D.C.   Its founder, Elizabeth Somers opened the school in her own home at 204 F Street, NW, teaching eight day students and two boarders using a progressive curriculum.

On October 3, 1917, in the midst of World War I (Somers was 80), the Mount Vernon Seminary for Girls’ new Nebraska Avenue campus officially opened with one hundred students. Elizabeth Somers named her small school Mount Vernon Seminary for Girls in memory of her late brother, Dr. Thomas Eddy, who had died suddenly in 1874.  Dr. Eddy was a widely respected Methodist pastor and in the early 1870s led the efforts in building the Mount Vernon Place Methodist Church in Baltimore, Maryland.

Somers died in 1924. The chapel on campus was erected in her honor.

In 1927, the Junior College of the Mount Vernon Seminary for Girls was established at the Nebraska Avenue campus. At the time of its implementation, the concept of a Junior College was revolutionary. The purpose of the Junior College, as described in 1936-1937, was to ―develop individuality and leadership, and to stimulate in the student a real intellectual interest…that will adequately meet the standard of work required in the first two years of university life.

The Mount Vernon Seminary for Girls was taken over by the U.S. Navy for ―special training, the nature of which was secret. This acquisition was authorized under the terms of the Second War Power Act of March 27, 1942.  The federal government offered the school $800,000 for the site, which was then estimated to be worth about five-million dollars. The federal government eventually paid Mount Vernon Seminary, Inc. approximately $1.1 million for the seminary campus in 1944.

By December 1942, the Seminary had reserved the second floor of Garfinckel’s Department Store, at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and 49th Street, NW as well as other nearby buildings in the area of Spring Valley, for temporary use.

David Brooks, staff at the Mount Vernon Seminary since 1921, helped Mr. Lloyd (headmaster) sneak into the Somers Memorial Chapel (Building 6) one evening and remove all of the altar materials, including the Somers Bible, the altar cross and candlesticks, and a number of hymnals and prayer books, in addition to blackboards, stoves, chemistry equipment, and ―all the things we felt the Navy could do quite well without, and we knew we couldn’t.

The institution relocated to Foxall Road in 1946, became a junior college in 1969, and  was accredited as a four-year college in 1976.  The college became part of George Washington University in 1999.

Information from the Mount Vernon Seminary National Register Nomination, prepared by Emma Young/ Architectural Historian; later edits by Elizabeth Hannold, GSA, Center for Historic Buildings.



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