Washington-Lee High School History: 1924 – 39
W-L’s growing academic and athletic reputation soon outpaced the more established public schools across the river like DC’s Western High School, a hitherto popular, tuition-free destination for Arlington students. Five years after opening, the school board authorized a major addition to accommodate the growing student body. A large number of W-L students came from other states, and there were students from other countries. Superintendent Fletcher Kemp was recognized for the educational reforms he brought to Arlington and W-L. (History of W-L, 1924-1939 includes an excellent account of these early years. For further information, consult School Buildings in Arlington: 1922-1979 by Seymour B. Stiss, the 1950 Blue and Gray, and W-L’s Generals’ Aide handbooks. School board minutes are archived at the Virginia Room in Arlington’s Central Library.)
- The cornerstone, which contained a list of the faculty members, was laid in the fall of 1924. Classes were held at the Ballston and Cherrydale schools while the high school was under construction.
- The new school was built on the site of a nineteenth century silkworm farm; the site was also known as the Douglas property. Spout Run flowed behind the school property in a forested area (now I-66).
- The new building opened as Washington-Lee High School on October 6, 1925. The architect was the DC-based firm, Upman and Adams.
- The school contained 18 classrooms, 2 laboratories, a gymnasium, a cafeteria, an auditorium, a library, and a separate shop building.
- Mr. Vanderslice was the first principal and Mrs. Geneva Thomas the assistant principal.
- As a junior-senior high school, W-L technically had the first junior high school program in the state of Virginia. The school had grades 7-9 (the junior high), and grades 10-12 (the senior high). By 1930, W-L was only one of two junior-senior high schools in the state.
- First W-L school bus (1925)
- Arlington School Board Minutes, December 7, 1926: The School Board rejected the request of the Ku Klux Klan to hold a public religious meeting in the school’s auditorium.
- Accredited in the 1926-27 school year
- 33 seniors made up the first senior class in 1927.
- The first high school in the state to have free text books
- The first yearbook was the Virginian in 1927. The following year, the name was changed to the Blue and Gray.
- W-L’s PTA was organized on November 13, 1930 (Mr. Frederic P. Dewey, President, Mr. Harold M. Brown, first vice president, Mrs. Clarence Simmons, second vice president). A song to the tune of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was written by senior Emilie Payne in honor of the PTA’s mission to serve W-L.
- The class of 1931 was the first class to complete the full six-year junior-senior high school course of study at W-L.
- The School flag was designed by Betsy Cannon in May 1931. The design consisted of the Washington family coat of arms, the Lee family coat of arms, and the colors blue, for Washington, and gray, for Lee. (Blue and gray are the school’s colors.)
- First addition and improvements to the school completed in 1932
- W-L received a charter from the National Honor Society in 1937.
- 41 classrooms, new offices, and another gym were added. The number of students had risen to 2,089. In 1938 with WPA funds, another addition was completed.
- A WPA plaque is located in W-L’s present library.
- Swanson Junior High School was constructed in Westover to relieve crowding at W-L (1939). As of 2017, Swanson continues to educate future W-L students.
- Thomas Jefferson Junior High School (since demolished) was constructed a year earlier as the first standalone junior high in Arlington. The cornerstone was set with George Washington’s trowel.
- There were approximately 600 students when the school opened in 1925.
- In 1926 Bailey Byars was the first W-L graduate. He actually received his diploma from George Mason High School in South Arlington as W-L was not yet accredited. As of 2017, George Mason is the Mount Vernon Community School in the City of Alexandria.
- 19 members of the class of 1928 had transferred from other schools during their high school years—some from as far away as Ohio and Alabama (1928 Blue and Gray). One member of the class of 1931 previously attended high school in the Philippines (1931 Blue and Gray).
- The first senior class to wear cap and gown and have a senior prom (June 1929)
- Parkes Fielding, class of 1927, was the first W-L graduate to return to teach at W-L in 1932.
- According to the 1932 Blue and Gray, W-L alumni were attending Columbia, the University of Virginia, Duke University, Virginia Polytechnic (Va Tech), William and Mary, Georgetown, the University of North Carolina, among others.
- First W-L graduate to achieve fame in the entertainment world, Forrest Tucker, class of 1938
- Senior Class Presidents: 1927-Parkes Fielding, 1928-Ernst Wilt, 1929-Glenn Hall, 1930-Paul Heins, 1931-Allan Willis, 1932-Samuel Seymour, 1933-Robert Simpson, 1934-John Kaminsky, 1935- Franklyn Payne, 1936-Joe Carr, 1937-Guy Bloomington, 1938-Jack Hightower, 1939 Bob Howell.
- SCA Presidents: 1932-Charles Crouch, 1933-Frank Ball, 1934-Jack Beaman, 1935-Courtney Hood, 1936- Hilda Powers, 1937-Paul Brown, 1938-Pauline Maris, 1939-Burton Bates.
Forrest Tucker ’38, George McQuinn ’29
Student Traditions, Pastimes
- Class dinners
- Senior play
- Students often shopped and saw movies in nearby Clarendon, Arlington’s downtown neighborhood.
- Playing hooky to watch the movies downtown at Loewe’s Capitol Theater.
Mrs. Bell recalled her days teaching afternoons in the Ballston School, which served as one of two temporary high school sites during the construction of the new building: “It was a severe winter and ice and snow were not conducive to easy going. However, I did have the rare experience of being able to use the sleet and rain which came through the roof of the attic, putting my flowers on the desk and having them cared for by the gentle sleet of Heaven! Those were pioneer days in reality.”
The first teachers for the new school were appointed by the school board: S. P. Vanderslice, Mrs. Frances C. Bell, Clifton L. Moore, S. B. Tue, Edgar Douglas, Mabel Allen, Sally Loving. There were 22 teachers when the school opened in October, 1925.
In the 1930s, Ms. Lena M. Wolfe taught History and Civics. She would become the longtime principal of Swanson Junior High School in 1939.
Generations of W-L students were taught by Mr. Thomas M. Christie and Miss Mabel Allen, the two longest serving members of the W-L faculty.
Activities and Organizations
- The W-L Cadet Corps, the first JROTC in Northern Virginia, was organized in 1927. Edwin Sherwood was the first captain and commanding officer. The Girls’ Cadet-Auxiliary formed in 1930.
- In February 1927, the first school play was “The Charm School,” directed by Mr. Gordon Johnston.
- The orchestra was directed by Miss Madeline Whitlock in 1927.
- Cadet band established in 1928
- In 1928 Mrs. Frances C. Bell sponsored the Spanish Club.
- In 1929 Miss Mary Aldhizer sponsored the French Club.
- (1931) First senior class play
- (1931) First cheerleeding squad
- (1932) The school paper Crossed Sabres debuted.
- The school chapter of the National Honor Society was established in May 1937. Miss Sally Loving was the Sponsor.
- Bible Club founded in 1939.
W-L offered a growing selection of both varsity and intramural sports for girls and boys in the school’s early years.
- (1925) Football team organized under Mr. C. A. Goff, coach
- (1925) Boys basketball team organized under Mr. Gordon Simmonds, coach
- (1926) Girls basketball team organized under coaches Miss Dorothy Graves and Miss Nina Trevette
- (1927) First football district title; W-L competed in the Third District
- (1927) First basketball district title
- Track team organized in 1928
- (1929) First W-L State football champions; tied 12-12 with Big Stone Gap and both schools shared the title
- The 1930 team shut out every opponent except Fredericksburg.
- The newly created rifle team was affiliated with Cadet Corps (1931).
- Boxing team (1930s)
- The first W-L grad to play professional baseball was George McQuinn (class of 1929). He “was a member of the 1944 pennant-winning St. Louis Browns and later helped the New York Yankees win the World Series in 1947 and 1949.”
- The first W-L graduates to play in college bowl games: “Harry J. Chase, class of 1931, played for Columbia University in the Rose bowl of 1933; and J. Elwood Clements, class of 1932, played in the Orange Bowl for Catholic University in 1936.”
- In 1934 with WPA funds a concrete stadium was built. (The WPA stadium was demolished and replaced in the 90s.)
- Alexandria’s new George Washington High School (G.W.) became W-L’s main rival. The rivalry football game for the Old Oaken Bucket was played annually on Thanksgiving day.
- Football: 1927, 28, 37*
- Basketball: 1927, 28, 34, 37
- Baseball: 1928, 31
- Football: 1929
*According to History of W-L, 1924-1939 the late 20s through the 30s were some of the most successful years in W-L sports history. Unfortunately, the list of district and state titles for these early years is incomplete, but it has been based on a list used over the past few decades for the school’s sports championship banners. Other sports/dates have recently been added to the list as research progresses. (For example, The 1937 football team won the district according to the Crossed Sabres, but the date is not listed on its championship banner. The ’27 and ’28 district champion teams are mentioned in the 1930 Blue and Gray.)