Happy Birthday to Mr. Sidwell's School

Happy Birthday to Mr. Sidwell's School
Happy Birthday to Mr. Sidwell's School
By Loren Ito Hardenbergh

When the School was in its 25th year, Thomas Sidwell somewhat grandiosely stated: “It offers such opportunities as only an old established school can offer after years of striving.” By the time Sidwell Friends School celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1933, he was worrying about the School even making it through the Great Depression, much less imagining the day it would be 140 years old. So, how did the Sidwell Friends community celebrate its 50th and its other milestone birthdays since?

1933: 50th Anniversary

For its 50th anniversary, the School borrowed flags from embassies to represent the 24 nations its students had come from over the past half-century (see photo 2). One highlight of the 50th celebration endures to this day. The Alumni Association commissioned a portrait of Thomas Sidwell by Richard Meryman, the director of the Corcoran School of Art. The portrait has hung over at least three Upper School library fireplaces in the 90 years since its unveiling (see photo above).

1958: 75th Anniversary

At the School’s 75th anniversary, an open house was held to showcase student work, including a science fair, Glee Club performance, scenes from the Latin Club banquet, and art exhibits (see photo 3).

1963: 80th Anniversary

Perhaps the adults yearned for a more festive event for the 80th anniversary, as a formal dinner for over 1,000 guests was held at the Shoreham Hotel in Woodley Park (now the Omni Shoreham Hotel). The occasion also served as a kick-off to the campaign to raise funds for the new brick Upper School building, which replaced the Sidwells’ old wooden house that had been serving as the high school for decades (see photo 4).

1983: Centennial Anniversary

At 100 years old, Sidwell Friends had much to celebrate. A successful building campaign, spearheaded by Helen Colson ’53, led to construction of the Kogod Center for the Arts, the Wannan Gymnasium, and a new biology corridor for the Upper School, among other improvements.

Lower School students dressed in the fashions of 1883 and released balloons (see photo 5), while other students posed with their classes (see photos 7 and 8). Then, more than 2,000 members of the Sidwell Friends community joined
in a centennial weekend celebration. Hanna Holburn Gray ’46 gave a convocation speech, and the event featured both a choral performance arranged by Randolph Hostetler ’81 and a centennial song composed by Carol Peck. Capping off the weekend were two 10-foot cakes (see photo 9) and evening fireworks. Upper School students even rocked the dining room until 1 a.m.

A lasting legacy of the centennial is the first published history of the School, written by two alumni, Mary Anne (Ginger) Garner MacKaye ’51 and her husband, William R. MacKaye ’51, who died in August (see photo 6). Building off historical research done by Henry Dater and Rod Cox, the MacKayes interviewed dozens of community members and spent countless hours in the nascent School archives, organized by Carla Freeman ’67. With the support of Helen Colson ’53, Alan Dessoff ’53, and Betsy Paull ’68, Mr. Sidwell’s School: A Centennial History, 1883–1983 was ready in time for the big event.

2008: 125th Anniversary

By the time the School was ready to celebrate its 125th anniversary in 2008, enough had happened in the interim that a second Sidwell Friends history was commissioned. James Zug (husband of former dean of students and new trustee Rebecca Zug) combed through the growing archives and conducted lengthy interviews to create a coffee table history, The Long Conversation: 125 Years of Sidwell Friends School, 1883– 2008. An evening reception was held in a tent on the football field (see photos 10 and 11). In 10 years, when the School celebrates its 150th anniversary, graduating seniors will have only known the Upton building as their high school, and parents will talk about how back in the day they used to drive to Bethesda every day for Lower School drop-off and pick-up. While plans have not yet begun for the sesquicentennial, we know that when the time comes, there will be much to celebrate!


More Recent Articles...

Fresh Ink: Spring Books

A history of the Han Dynasty at war, a history of war via global finance, and a history of America through the eyes of a Black dynasty. Plus, the life of a landlord and two children’s books that point to the beauty in cross-cultural exchanges.

Reef Encounters

Ben Charo ’14 has dedicated his life to coral—with some help from Sidwell Friends.

The Calling

Mamadou Guèye on the value of oral history, multilingualism, Quaker pedagogy, diversity, and joy.

On the Books

A roundtable discussion about the new wave of  American censorship.


Sidwell Friends Alumni Magazine is published three times a year for the community. It features School news, stories, profiles, and alumni Class Notes.

Email magazine@sidwell.edu with story ideas or letters to the editor.