National Park Seminary: A School for Girls

The book I’m sharing today is enough to make me clean house a bit more often.  That’s because I found this one among my husband’s books which are usually in a bit of disarray.  The root of the problem is that we are both book lovers, and we have outgrown the two floor-to-ceiling shelves that cover two entire walls in his office.  We’ve decided to add more shelving, and so we are sorting through books, and that when I turned up A School For Girls.

The National Park Seminary was a private two year program for young women of means.  When this book was published in 1924, the school was being called a junior college, but in reality it was more of a finishing school.  There were several courses that girls could take, all of which were heavy on the arts and on homemaking skills.  There was also a four year high school program.

National Park Seminary, commonly referred to as The Glen School, started life as a hotel.  When the hotel failed in 1894, the property was purchased and converted into the school.   The facility was spread over ninety acres and consisted of around thirty buildings, many of which were connected by covered walkways.

In 1924 the school seemed to be on firm footing, but the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the resulting Great Depression  took a heavy toll on the school.  It barely remained open, and in 1942 the school was closed when the US Army bought the property.  It was established as part of Walter Reed Army Hospital as a rehabilitation  facility for disabled soldiers returning from WWII.

My husband does not remember where he got the book, but he does know why he bought it.  He was stationed at Walter Reed in the early 1970s.  The research facility in which he worked was located near the old school, and he and his co-workers would regularly go to the cafeteria there.   By that time the facility was severely underfunded by the army, but Tim still remembers the buildings as being quite grand.

The army eventually closed the Forest Glen facility, and it fell into disrepair.  Today it is being restored, and the old school and hospital is now being converted to condos and apartments.  A Google images search shows both the decay and the newly restored buildings, and is quite amazing to look at.

The book seems to a catalog of sort for prospective students.  It outlines the courses, lays out the rules, and brags about the facility and the clientele.  As expected, the school was quite expensive, with a basic charge of $1375 ($19,100 today), but with many additional charges, including up to $100 ($1400 today) per course.  Girls had to have five references in order to be considered for admission.  Any girl who turned out to be a “difficult case” was “…promptly returned to her home.”

The book is full of photographs of the school and of the girls.  After a while the photos, which are obviously staged, start to look alike, and I’m guessing that the same girls were used over and over.

I’m sure that by now you have noticed that all the young women are wearing very similar dress.  While not a true uniform, each girls was instructed to have:

Four dresses cut after the style of the two-piece sailor dresses.

There was a Dress Circular that was supplied to the mothers of applicants that laid out in detail the particulars of dress that was accepted at the school.  In addition to the four middy dresses, my book gives a few general dress requirements:

Three simple dresses to be worn at evening dinner and Sundays at home.

One evening dress for formal parties.

One topcoat or a tailored coat suit for trips to Washington.

All jewelry is forbidden…

Unfortunately, the book does not go into detail about athletic wear, but the pictures pretty much tell the story.

This shows Indian club exercise in the gym.

Several sports teams were pictured, all wearing the identical middy and bloomer combination that we see in use in the gym.

But for riding, the proper attire was a riding jacket and jodhpurs.

Note the covered walkway.

And the middy dress worked well for tennis.

Finally, I want to share one of the courses that was offered in the home economics department – Laundry.  At first I wondered why a girl who could afford to go to an expensive finishing school would need to know how to do the laundry.  Silly me!

An interesting course that ought to be taken by any girl who would intelligently supervise such work in her own home.  Many an expensive article has been ruined because the necessary caution or advice could not be offered by the inexperienced housewife.



Filed under Proper Clothing, Vintage Photographs

25 responses to “National Park Seminary: A School for Girls

  1. Lynn

    Very interesting story. 🙂


  2. I love this- wish I could time travel back and enroll! Thanks so much.


  3. Fascinating! I’m surprised at the cost of attending and wonder how it compares to other more famous schools such as Miss Porter’s. Another great post.


  4. Thank You! I had a Great Aunt who attended there-we are native Washingtonians and i have always wondered where the school was-it was more of a finishing school…and she was a bit too much to be that “confined”..that is why ehe would not discuss the scool with me-i loved her…a puzzle solved!Thank You ,again!


  5. Are those footless tights that the girls are wearing with their gym outfits? Or are they stockings with feet then covered up by socks? Whatever the combination, it looks like a lot of clothes to wear for the gym!


  6. So interesting! I wish I could still enroll in such useful classes!


  7. I found this so interesting! I bet lifelong friendships were forged at the school. I would have loved to attend, as I always longed for a sister!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Helen Stiskal

    We had a tour by a historical society a few years ago. It was fascinating to see the buildings and hear the stories. The various clubs at the school had quaint little buildings in various styles. They are slowly being sold and restored as homes. The main building is condos.


  9. I love see those pics and hearing about the school. I used to work near Walter Reed, and the area is completely developed now. As for the tuition, even in today’s dollars, that school was a bargain compared to today’s Eastern schools!


  10. Pingback: 1920s Middy and Skirt in Lavender | The Vintage Traveler

  11. Ray Stokely

    Join the Facebook Group, and post photos that you did not post in this article, Thanks.


  12. Frances Leyenberger

    My mom attended National Park seminary in 1937-41, just before the Army took possession. The culinary skills she learned there had us eating like kings my entire childhood!


  13. Cindy Weeldreyer

    After graduating from Sophie B. Wright High School in New Orleans, my maternal grandmother, Catherine Caldwell Springer and her younger sister, Mary Alice Caldwell, (aka “Tootsie”) attended NPS from 1925-27.

    Throughout my childhood in the 1960s, many of my bedtime stories were detailed accounts of the two years she and her sister attended there during the Roaring Twenties. The stories where enhanced by her photo album that chronicled her experiences there and the many black & white photos in the school’s yearbook. She talked proudly of having Minerva Kraft as one of her best friends. She fondly recounted how she loved horseback riding in Rock Creek Park, dressing up for dinners, participating in her sorority’s many activities and responsibilities, and how she and her classmates were bussed to West Point for formal dances.

    In 1992, while attending a conference in Washington, some colleagues and I rented a car and visited what was left of her beloved school. How grateful I am to the Save Our Seminary group for preserving what’s left of the buildings.

    After Grandma Kap died at the age of 91 in 1997, my mother boxed up the NPS memorabilia with Gran’s many other personal effects. I’m not sure where that box ended up and oh how I’d *love* to see them again…

    Cindy Wood-Weeldreyer
    Cottage Grove, OR


  14. Joan Cutchins

    My mother graduated in 1924 and I have the formal graduation picture of the entire class. Her name was Lucille Isaac and she was from Charleston, WV.I would give anything to have my mother’s yearbook but it has disappeared. I know she told me every girl belonged to a sorority. No one was left out. There was a female talk show host/comedienne in the 70s (?) who I think was a graduate. Last name Graham (I can’t remember),


  15. I love that place. Live right down the road. I walk there all the time and just discovered the Glen. I wish they did not destroy the place. Most is still there, but it is threatened by the expansion of the highway, again. The Highway destroyed the place in the 60’s. Now again. Please submit to the State of Maryland that they do not destroy the Glen area during expansion.


  16. If you find the photos, please let me know. They are valuable sources of pictures.


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