An Independent K-12 school on a beautiful wooded campus, 3 miles from Washington, D.C.

100-plus Years

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, at this point located at 6 Dupont Circle in DC. When the school opens, it is home to 48 students, ages 4 to 12.

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. Potomac is co-ed, but most boys leave after 3rd or 4th grade to attend other private schools in the area, such as St. Albans or Landon, due to parents’ preferences. Tuition is $80 for kindergarten and $150 for the other grades, with an additional $6 lunch fee per year.

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1906

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

1907

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.

1908

Lucy Madeira, who founded Miss Madeira’s School in 1906 (now simply referred to as The Madeira School, in McLean), becomes the first professional head of Potomac in 1908 and director of both schools.


1910

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

1916

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.

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1931

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.

1938

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.

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1940

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

1948

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

1947

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.

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1948

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

1949

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

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1950

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.

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1951

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


1959

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.

1961

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.

1965

The first coeducational class graduates from the ninth grade.


1967

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 graphic sources.

1968

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

1970

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.


1986

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.

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1987

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.


1990

In June, 41 students are the first to graduate from the Upper School. The building itself expanded in 1992.

1994

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.

1995

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

1997

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

1999

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

2000

The performing arts center opens.

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2004

Potomac celebrates its 100th Anniversary.

2006

Potomac's new Upper School opens.

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2009

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

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2010

Potomac dedicates new turf field.

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2012

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.

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2012

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

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2013

The addition and renovation of the Intermediate School is complete.

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POTOMAC TRADITIONS

Assembly, May Day, Kindergarten Circus, Book Fair, Red-Blue Day…These are magic words to our Potomac students and alumni. Such traditions strengthen our community and our core values, linking past to present and present to future.

Since 1904, our assemblies, dramatic and musical productions, athletic contests, and special events have helped develop the habits of heart and mind critical to academic excellence at The Potomac School.

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