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Founding of Potomac School

100 + Years

In 1904, Three women with an interest in early childhood education;Edith Draper Blair, Hetty Fairfax Harrison, and Ellen Warder Thoron are the founders of The Potomac School, located at 6 Dupont Circle in DC. When the school opens, it is home to 48 students, ages 4 to 12.

1906 class photo
Potomac School History
Potomac School History

19 04

The educational philosophy follows John Dewey’s teaching model, focused on children's ability to learn through play and their natural interest in everything around them. Tuition is $80 for kindergarten and $150 for the other grades, with an additional $6 lunch fee per year.


Only two years after its founding, the school relocates to 18th and M Streets NW, where a fifth year is added for girls.


On March 19, the school is incorporated in the District as The Potomac School under a Board of Trustees. This self-perpetuating body consisted of mothers of children enrolled at the school or who had recently graduated.

19 10

Kate May Estey, who had previously served as a teacher at Potomac, becomes headmistress until 1920.

Kate Estey


California Street


19 16

Potomac moves to 2144 California Street in Northwest DC, having expanded through the eighth grade, though grades four through eight are for girls only. Tuition is now $225 annually. Art and science rooms and a gymnasium are added.


Grade 9 (and grade 10, in 1932) is added for girls. Both grades are dropped in 1934, with the school once again serving boys through grade four and girls through grade eight.


Carol Preston becomes headmistress and serves in the role until 1961. She establishes an educational philosophy, including an emphasis on art and music that endures today.

War Years

With the influx of families into Washington during the Second World War, the school begins bursting at the seams.


Upper School students select the motto “Labor Omnia Vincet” (labor conquers all). The Board of Trustees approves.


War Years
1949 class trip


On March 12, 1947, the school buys its first official bus, with a capacity of 30 children. By the 1970s, 22 buses and vans served the school.


The School purchases 55 acres from Ward Kirby in McLean, Virginia for $42,506.


Miss Seth-Smith, assistant head of school, takes senior Girl Scouts to England in the summer of 1949 to provide post-war community service.


Construction of the main school building on the McLean campus begins in stages. Emphasis is on affordability, simplicity and natural light. Every classroom opens to the outdoors.

19 51

The new campus opens “shared by a farmer and his cows."



Boys are accepted into 4th grade and able to continue through 9th, and enrollment approaches 500. The Lower School building was ready for use, its former location becoming the Middle School.


The school purchases nine acres from the Presbytery of Washington City (eventually known as the Gum Tree Field). Miss Preston and Miss Seth-Smith retire.

19 65

The first coeducational class graduates from the ninth grade.


At this point, only six out of 510 students are African American. The Board’s “Shorb Report” on diversification is presented and becomes the foundation of diversification efforts for years to come. The report defined diversification as representation from all racial, ethnic, economic, and geographic populations..


The school purchases the Kellogg property to use as the headmaster’s residence.



Una Rawnsley Hanbury—an artist whose own grandchildren attended Potomac (and whose daughter taught at the school)— produced and donated the circle of three llamas, now positioned by the Lower School.


19 86

The addition of an Upper School begins with $7 million worth of campus improvements, including a new building for the Upper School (grades 9-12), a gymnasium, and a track. This same year, the school adapted the Panther as its mascot, along with the paw print logo.


Potomac's Upper School opens with 87 students enrolled in the 9th and 10th grades, and 11th and 12th grades opened within the next two years. Around this time, Potomac officially became divided into four categories: the Lower School, the Middle School, the Intermediate School, and the Upper School.


The nonwhite student body reaches 14 percent. A 72-page report seeks to analyze and improve upon diversity efforts at Potomac and included data from students, parents, faculty, and more.


Potomac is fully enrolled with 875 boys and girls, pre-kindergarten through grade twelve.


Potomac launches a school-wide $8 million capital campaign for construction of a performing arts center and reconfiguration of the road system.


Pre-kindergarten, which had formed in 1976, was discontinued.


20 00

The performing arts center opens.


Potomac celebrates its 100th anniversary.



20 06

Potomac's new Upper School opens.





20 09

The new Lower School opens its doors in September 2009. The Potomac llamas carefully watch the front of the school..

20 10

Potomac dedicates new turf field.

2012 b


The Flag Circle Building opens in August 2012. The building houses a light-filled dining room for Lower and Middle School, as well as administrative offices such as Admission, Development, Reception, Transportation and Finance.




The Athletic Department adds two tennis courts for a total of eight courts.





The Intermediate School renovation is complete.

20 19

The Spangler Center for Athletics and Community is completed.