Washington-Lee High School History: 1940 – 59
“Fighting for democracy is nothing new in our history. Decisive battles have been fought for it by the Father of Our Country, George Washington; by the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, and a mere 20 years ago by our own fathers and uncles. Our appreciation is symbolized by the impressive monuments erected to them in our own Capital City.” Published in the W-L Crossed Sabres shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
- The sports program was considered by many to be the best in the state.
- A new wing and a large library with arched windows and two reading rooms were built in 1942 with WPA funds. The rifle range was also constructed in the shop area. (The WPA plaque was preserved and is mounted outside of the current library. The rifle range was demolished in 1976; however as of 2017, W-L’s rifle team continues to compete with area schools.)
- On its 25th anniversary, W-L became a senior high school serving grades ten through twelve. Grades 7-9 had been phased out as Arlington built standalone junior high schools.
- Noted architect Rhees Burket designed a new science / home economics wing, small auditorium, and gymnasium; the new section opened in 1953. (Burket was also one of the architects who designed the original 1925 building.) This addition created an impressive 600 ft long corridor, spanning two buildings from N Quicny Street to N Stafford Street.
- Named Rudolph Campbell Gymnasium after a popular teacher who had recently died, it had a 3,000 seat capacity (or 2,500 spectators), making it the largest high school gym in the Washington, DC region. It was built on the site of a farmhouse owned by the Hazel family. The house was moved and still stands on N Nelson Street one block away. (John “Til” Hazel is a member of the class of ’47.)
- “A total of $1,127,197 was spent in building thirty classrooms,…, a small auditorium, and a gymnasium. The gymnasium is supposedly the largest in the area,…” (February 23, 1953 Crossed Sabres)
- The oldest portion of the school was simultaneously renovated with $189,408 in funding; the old gym was subdivided into music rooms (February 23, 1953 Crossed Sabres).
- W-L grew to 3,000 students (1955).
- First woman class president, Pat Murphy (1956).
- New attendance policies were introduced in 1956.
- W-L expanded its advanced course offerings with the newly created AP course of study (mid 50s). Students were eligible to bypass certain freshman college courses.
- W-L was ranked academically in the top 38 high schools in 1957.
- W-L became the first school in the nation to exempt seniors with A averages from final exams (1959). Seniors were allowed to wear bermuda shorts during finals.
- In 1947, Elizabeth Campbell became the first woman elected to a school board in Virginia. She led efforts to develop comparable facilities and programs for Arlington’s Black and White students during the era of segregation. Following the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954, as chairman she planned for the desegregation of the county’s schools. (In the DC region, by and large, non-European international students were considered “White” for the purpose of school attendance. In 1955 the adjacent Washington, DC and Maryland school districts also developed desegregation plans.)
- The Arlington Unitarian Church and Arlington’s Black churches spearheaded an effort to bring White and Black students together in church youth group activities to prepare for integration (1954).
- In 1956, Arlington’s elected school board was fired by the state for its plans to integrate Arlington’s schools that Fall. Black students who registered at W-L in anticipation of the school board’s integration plans could no longer attend. The state had adopted a policy of “Massive Resistance” to school integration.
- That same year a lawsuit was filed on behalf of 15 Black and White parents and 22 students. It was named for Clarissa S. Thompson who sought to attend W-L in 1955.
- Following rulings by Alexandria Federal District Judge Albert V. Bryan and the State Supreme Court of Appeals, Stratford Junior High School integrated peacefully and made headlines around the world (February 2, 1959). Virginia’s policy of “Massive Resistance” came to an end.
- W-L’s second principal, Claude Richmond, has been remembered for his role in ensuring a welcoming atmosphere for Stratford’s Black students in 1959. (Mr. Richmond left W-L to become principal at Stratford when it opened in 1951.)
- On 25 July 1959, Black parents finally obtained a court order forcing W-L, under the auspices of the school board, to desegregate.
- On 1 September 1959, the first four Black students entered W-L: Charles Augins, Warren Hunter, Joyce Strother, and Stephen Thompson.
- After a brief period of uncertainty, W-L became a model of tolerance for schools throughout the commonwealth. There was anxiety during this early period of integration, but friendships formed among Black and White students. These students bravely laid the foundation for the spirit of unity at the school in the following years. W-L became a model of tolerance for schools throughout Northern Virginia. (See the 1960-1979 timeline section for more milestones related to integration and civil rights.)
The Generals’ Aide handbook was prepared by the Student Council for students annually.
- The Turkey Hop: The evening following the W-L – G.W. game, students went to the Turkey Hop where the Football Queen was crowned. The Football Queen (aka Turkey Queen or Homecoming Queen) tradition began in 1944. In 1968 and 1969 when the game was played before Thanksgiving, a separate homecoming tradition developed.
- School Dances: “There was a 12- or 14-piece orchestra, and all the ladies wore long evening gowns while the boys wore suits and ties. Everyone was very conscious [sic].” Girard (Norman) Trahan, class of ’43, in an interview with the Northern Virginia Sun (vol. 57, no. 86).
- Annual Awards Assembly
- Senior Class Presidents: 1940-Paul Johnson, 1941-Dan Johnson, 1942-Claude Garfield, 1943-Larry Woodward, 1944-Hutchinson Stage, 1945-Bill Lolar, 1946-Walter Vass, 1947-Robert Shirer, 1948-Robert Calvert, 1949-Frank Dill, 1950-Bill Keese, 1951-Fred Mohr, 1952-Charles Montgomery, 1953-Charles Huppuch, 1954-Goodie Taylor, 1955-Warren Beatty, 1956-Pat Murphy, 1957-Al Richmond, 1958-Warren Hottel, 1959-Bob Keyes.
- SCA Presidents: 1940-Bob Clementson, 1941-Rodney Gaumnitz, 1942-Lee McDonald, 1943 Barnes Lawson, 1944-Billy Earl, 1945-John Loflin, 1946-Oliver Overseth, 1947-Howard Paul, 1948-Edward Holley, 1949-Arthur Wiley, 1950-Pat Funkhouser, 1951-Sam Eberdt, 1952-Jim Pyane, 1953-Tom Thayer, 1954-Ross Fletcher, 1955-Mike Durfee, 1956-George Finley, 1957-Suzie Wilson, 1958-Burt Thurber, 1959-Walt Pilcher
Gena Rowlands, class of ’47; John T. “Til” Hazel, class of ’47; Shirley Maclaine, class of ’52; Warren Beatty, class of ’55; Shelley Mann, class of ’55
The last three original faculty members at W-L were photographed for the 1950 Blue and Gray. They are Misses Loving, Bell, and Greenaway.
- W-L and Stratford Junior High had a preppy reputation.
- According to the Generals’ Aide in 1957, Rhythm and Blues, MAD magazines, and “Ivy League” clothes were the keys to fitting in at W-L.
- According to Stratford Junior High’s Stratford Signpost these were the fashions in ’52: neckties, loafers, and oxfords, and for girls, corduroy weskits and skirts.
- Students congregated at the Blue and Gray Store on the edge of campus.
- The “Little Store” which stood outside the school building was another popular gathering place.
- The Rosslyn and Lyon Village Hot Shoppes were popular with students in the evening hours.
- “The Rosslyn Hot Shoppes is where you had to go after dances.” Girard (Norman) Trahan, class of ’43, in an interview with the Northern Virginia Sun (vol. 57, no. 86).
- Gusti’s restaurant in DC.
- When Marios opened in 1953 it quickly became popular with W-L kids (and it still is as of 2017).
- Cherry Smash was a popular soda pop and it was bottled in Ballston.
- Benny Goodman music
- Riding around on scooters became a trend in 1951.
- “All kinds of stuff” went on in the darkness of the W-L caves at the Palisades.
- The Quality Shop in Clarendon and Casual Corner and Hecht’s in Parkington had the latest fashions in the 50s.
- Young women shopped at Lady Hamilton on Columbia Pike for formal dresses. (It closed in the early 2000s.)
- Shopping in Clarendon and downtown (F Street).
The Thanksgiving Day W-L – G.W. Game for the Old Oaken Bucket (1935-1970): This annual football tradition brought Northern Virginia’s toughest rivals onto the gridiron for one final, brutal contest. The winner would claim the Old Oaken Bucket. W-L won the final Old Oaken Bucket game in 1970. That year George Washington High School in Alexandria closed. In the 40s and 50s high school football was a major community event, and the stadium always filled. According to the 1937 yearbook, the ’36 game drew the largest crowd ever to witness a game in Northern Virginia. Before the game students often held a bonfire. The football queen candidates, and class and club floats participated in a parade. For the away games there was a car caravan to GW.
Wayne Ballard’s field goal lifted W-L to a 3-0 win over G.W. to secure the school’s first “undisputed” football state title (Thanksgiving Day 1956).
Arlington War Memorial Stadium. Largely complete by 1957, with the two end zone stands, the permanent concrete visitor seats and the home stands, the stadium held 10,000 spectators. It was the second largest high school stadium in the area; G.W.’s stadium in Alexandria could hold 17,000. The first game held in the new stadium was against Fairfax High School. $27,000 was raised by the Athletic Boosters, a student-led fundraising drive, the War Memorial Committee, and the County and School Boards. (September 17, 1957 Crossed Sabres)
Campbell Gymnasium was built in the 1952 addition and boasted two levels of bleachers. It could seat 2,500 spectators and was the largest high school gym in the region.
A rifle range was built.
Charlie Butt coached W-L crew for over 40 years. A regatta on the Upper Potomac and a special scholarship are named in his honor. W-L has the oldest surviving high school rowing program in the Washington DC area. (TC Williams in Alexandria claims the legacy of G.W.’s rowing program which began a year earlier.) The team has won national and international competitions throughout its 70 year history.
- Football: 1942, 43, 45, 46, 56
- Cross Country: 1952, 53, 54, 58
- Outdoor Track: 1953, 54, 55, 56, 58
- Indoor Track: 1954, 55, 56, 57, 58
- Basketball: 1941, 42, 56
- Wrestling: 1958, 59
- Baseball: 1946, 47, 52, 53, 54, 57
- Boys Tennis: 1951, 55, 56, 57, 58
- Football: 1956
- Cross Country: 1952, 53, 54, 58
- Indoor Track: 1943, 54, 55, 56, 57
- Baseball: 1949, 50
- Wrestling: 1959
- NOVA: 1949, 50, 51, 57, 58, 59
- Stotesbury: 1949, 50, 53, 54, 57, 58, 59
- National Schoolboy: 1949, 50, 53, 57, 58, 59
Activities and Organizations
- Inter-American Club (aka International Club) founded in 1941
- Penman literary magazine (1941)
- The early morning announcers
- Welcome to W-L Club
The above organizations continue to operate at W-L.