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The Inspired History of Maret

At the turn of the twentieth century, three immigrant sisters, Marthe, Louise, and Jeanne Maret, left their home in Geneva, Switzerland with a dream of creating a school that combined the best practices Europe had to offer with the fundamental principles of American democracy.
 
In 1911, that dream took root in the nation’s capital, when the sisters opened their doors to their first class of culturally diverse students. Their legacy resonates today as we continue to provide an education that is authentic to every child and prepares them well for life beyond Maret.
Louise Maret 1920s
Maret Sisters Set Sail

Inspiration Across the Ocean

1911–1923

Mlle Louise Maret with students at the Connecticut Avenue school building in 1920

The story begins with three adventurous sisters who could have strode from the pages of a nineteenth-century novel....Someone who came to know Marthe and Louise [Maret] well recalled that they had long aspired to create "a big, beautiful school for girls of many nations." Thus in 1911, relying on Jeanne [Maret's] high school salary as ballast, Marthe became the pioneer, starting the Maret School in their apartment on Rhode Island Avenue.

It is difficult to imagine a better place or moment for the adolescence of a school devoted to French language and culture than Washington, DC, in the 1920s....The national capital was growing, and with it, the demand for private day schools.

Maret 1923–1952
Brave Roots Gain Strength

“Il Faut Aller de l’Avant”

1923–1952

Lower school students at the Kalorama campus in 1941

In 1928 Maret had 112 students and 16 faculty members. Both Marthe and Louise [Maret] had been influenced by tradition in their Geneva schools, which decreed not to conformity, but discovering and bringing out the unique potential of the child.

By 1944 [the year both Marthe and Louise passed away], these two strong, talented and imaginative leaders had pursued their dream for 34 years. An admissions brochure of the time put their credo succinctly: "The Maret School does not believe in mass production in education."

By the following spring, Maret had 185 students from 21 nations, including a graduating class of 18 young women. The trustees wished to double the size of the School's student body. With this expansion in mind, they turned their gaze on one of the most historic parcels in Washington.

Maret 1952-1969
Maret Finds Its Home

Life at Woodley

1952–1969

Students on campus in 1956

"The MARET school / day school for boys and girls / Pre-kindergarten through High School / French Taught in All Grades / Reading taught phonetically / College preparatory / NOW ESTABLISHED IN NEW LOCATION AT THE WOODLEY ESTATE. 3000 Cathedral Ave." —Washington Post advertisement, 1952

Forty-two years after its founding in 1911 by three Maret sisters who had emigrated from Europe, Maret moved into its new home on the remaining seven acres of what was once the 250-acre Woodley Estate. Purchased in 1801 by the politically prominent lawyer Philip Barton Key, the estate represented the best and worst of our country’s fraught history. Over the ensuing years, Woodley would come to be the residence of many eminent statesmen. However, from its purchase by the Key family until Emancipation, enslaved people, such as Lucy Berry and her family, also lived there, enduring the hardships and injustices of this inhumane chapter in the history of Woodley and our nation.

In 1950, ownership of Woodley passed from former Secretary of State and Secretary of War Henry Stimson to The Maret School, with Margaret Williams as principal. By 1954, Maret started admitting boys to Upper School and graduated its first co-ed senior class (five girls to one boy).

With a new back field, the School established its first football team. Woodley's front lawn offered the venue for the Fête Champêtre, held each May. More than half the students came from other countries. A lower school building was constructed, and the Classe Enfantine were housed in "the Cottage," now the home of Maret's kindergarten. To celebrate the School's fiftieth anniversary in 1961, ground was broken for a new "activities building" with gymnasium, locker rooms, and new science labs and classrooms.

Maret 1969–1994
Strength and Innovation

An Era of Transformation

1969-1994

Upper schoolers on campus in the 1970s

Against the backdrop of the March on Washington, antiwar demonstrations, Woodstock, and revolution on American campuses, the elegant manners, formal attire, folk dances, and teas venerated by the Maret sisters seemed to be rituals from another planet. The School's identity crisis brought concerns about the academic and financial strength of the School.

To the rescue in 1974 came the contrarian, tough-minded Peter Sturtevant.... Sturtevant had a gift for crisis management and an instinct for what made an effective teacher. He wanted to "build an institution that provided teachers with ample freedom, shield and backing, and constructive understanding.

Sturtevant righted Maret's ship financially, rebuilt the faculty, oversaw the creation of a strong college counseling program, adopted the then-fledgling innovation of cross-curriculum teaching and devised other new programs.

By 1989, with 508 students, a modern gymnasium and other new arts and academic facilities, and mounting demand for admission, Maret School had found itself again.

Maret 1994–2011
Reaching New Heights

A Culture of Collaboration

1994-2011

Lower school students and teachers sign the original lower school building before it is demolished in 2004.

In 1994, Maret's trustees found a new head of school who would build on the financial and academic foundation that [Headmaster Sturtevant] had created. Marjo Talbott was strongly recommended for her assiduous intelligence magnetism, and natural capacity for leadership. She combined the skills of a modern education professional with a reverence for how much the School owed to the history and values of its founding sisters.

Talbott lead the School through the renovation of the Cottage and [the back] field, as well as a major building program that culminated with imposing new quarters for the lower and middle schools. Talbott made service to the local community a curriculum requirement. The School also became home o the summer Horizons program to enrich economically disadvantaged children. Under Talbott, Maret's endowment has grown significantly. Working with Talbott, Maret's board of trustees developed a strategic planning process that was considered state-of-the art.

As the School's hundredth anniversary approached, Maret had 635 students, 106 faculty members, and an average class size of 15 students. Reflecting the School's old international tradition, its student body came from fifty countries, with 38% students of color and one fifth receiving financial aid.

A century after its founding, Maret School's stock had soared so dramatically that there was no more sought-after independent school in Washington. The dream of these extraordinary three sisters had become a luminous reality.

Maret Today Closing Ceremony 2019
Maret Today

Embracing the Future

A special moment at Closing Ceremony, a longstanding Maret tradition, between a graduating senior and kindergartners

Maret's tremendous success since 2011 is a testament to the School's robust vision and the sustained commitment of the community. Building on this solid foundation, we continue to propel Maret along its trajectory as a truly outstanding independent school. We will continue to be sustainable, nimble, and relevant as we embrace our future in a fast-changing world.
Strategic Directions
Three principles shape our vision:

  • Guiding Principle 1 [LINK]
  • Guiding Principle 2 [LINK]
  • Guiding Principle 3 [LINK]

They highlight our belief that the Maret of the future needs to continue to be inclusive, sustainable, effective, agile, and grounded in our values and history. They are the guideposts that will support continued renewal, inform our path, and advance our Mission.

Many of the stories above are from MARET SCHOOL: THE FIRST HUNDRED YEARS, written by presidential scholar Michael Beschloss and designed by The Magazine Group to commemorate Maret's centennial in 2011. For copies, please contact the Development Office at 202-939-8809.


Maret's Centennial Celebration

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This video showcases the tremendous community involvement at Maret School during our historical Centennial celebration year in 2011. The festivities concluded in October 2011, but the joyful spirit of connection and pride in our school will be felt for years to come.

Woodley Society History Project

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As part of National History Day 2019, Maret students in the Woodley Society did a research project on the theme of "Tragedy and Triumph." Their guiding question was whether or not the DC Emancipation and Compensation Act of 1862 achieved its goals for the emancipation of the DC enslaved population. They tracked the changes in the District as a result of the Act, as well as the life of Lucy Berry, a formerly enslaved woman who was one of the last Woodley slaves prior to emancipation.

MARET LEADERSHIP: A TIMELINE

Mlle Marthe Maret
1911–1945

Mlle Louise Maret
1911–1945

Mlle Jeanne Maret
1911–1945

Alice Carson
Principal
1945-1950

Margaret Williams
Principal
1950–1969

William Lanxner
Headmaster
1969–1971

William Layton
Headmaster
1971–1972

John Francis
Headmaster
1972–1973

Peter A. Sturtevant
Headmaster
1974–1994

Marjo Talbott

Marjo Talbott
Head of School
1994–Present