by Ann Kessler
Four different schools have occupied at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and and Upton Street NW since 1906. The first was the Army and Navy Preparatory School. The second school was the Devitt School.
The Devitt School, 1928-1951
Dr. George R. Devitt was an entrepreneurial educator, like Professor Eli Swavely of the Army and Navy Preparatory School before him. After serving on the faculty of the old Western High School, Devitt established his own school, the Devitt Preparatory School, in Georgetown at 1414-1418 33rd St. NW. He started with 17 pupils in 1919. By 1928, Devitt School’s enrollment had increased to a remarkable 200 day and 80 evening students. Devitt was forced to find a larger facility and, like Swavely before him, he similarly chose Connecticut Avenueas an ideal location for a boys school.
In 1928, the Devitt School purchased Todd Hall at 2955 Upton Street NW for $100,000 from the Army and Navy Preparatory School. The Devitt School also leased the same space as the previous school at 4107 and 4109 Connecticut.
Like Prof. Swavely’s school, the Devitt School specialized in preparing young men for the service academies. The Board of Visitors and Governors of the school was led by the commanding officer of the D.C. National Guard, General Anton Stephan.
Athletics were emphasized in the Devitt School’s program and each student was encouraged to participate. Devitt boys could choose to play football, basketball, baseball, tennis, golf or track. Devitt’s practice was to hire the best available coaches to work with the students and make the teams as competitive as possible. Devitt School played in a prep school league and in various tournaments that sent the school teams travelling through Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Devitt’s local arch rival in sports was Bullis School. Alumni of both schools would gather at these matches and root for their respective teams.
The 1939-1940 catalog from Devitt School listed a faculty of eleven and a rigorous academic program that included a choice of Latin, French or Spanish, lab sciences and two years of mechanical drawing. A world class scientific laboratory had been installed at the school in 1931, illustrating the school’s commitment to science. Boys could choose course work for preparation for the military academies or preparation for College Entrance Boards. In the rigorous military school track, previous West Point and Naval Academy examinations were given as practice every week.
The buildings at 4107 and 4109 Connecticut continued to be used as the school dormitories. The housemother during the 1939-1940 school year was Mrs. Dwight C. Bracken, wife of the mathematics and history teacher. In addition, there were four resident instructors. The number of boarding students enrolled was limited by school policy. A significant number usually came from Latin America. The cost of tuition was $800 a year for boarding students and $350 a year for day students in 1939-1940.
For a brief time, from 1929 to 1931, the Capitol Hill pages attended Devitt School. The Capitol pages had to travel to Devitt after their day of work in the House or Senate or Supreme Court was done. Somehow these logistics didn’t seem to work for either the pages or Devitt, and this program was soon terminated.
Prominent patrons of the Devitt School in 1939-1940 included Marriner Stoddard Eccles, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board; Senator Rose McConnell Long (widow of Huey Long and mother of Russell Long) and Senator Henrik Shipstead; General Mason Matthew Patrick, commander of the Air Corps and Forest Hills resident; Russell Randolph Waesche, Commandant of the Coast Guard; and several other captains, majors, colonels and rear admirals. Devitt also had several outstanding men in its ranks of thousands of alumni. Among the more renowned graduates listed in a 1952 article were Rep. James P. S. Devereux, hero of Wake Island; Mickey Harris, a low hurdles champion; and Ray Krouse of the New York Giants football team. Also, both Paul Landon Banfield, the founder of Landon School, and William F. Bullis, the founder of Bullis School, were on the faculty at Devitt before they established their more successful schools.
George R. Devitt retired from the school he had founded around 1940. He died at his retirement home in Florida in 1944 at the age of 83.
At the end of World War II enrollment in the Devitt School fell. In 1951, when there were just 50 boys enrolled, Dwight C. Bracken, then the principal, announced Devitt’s merger with The Longfellow School for Boys in Bethesda. Longfellow itself closed when its property at 5100 Edgemoor Road was sold to Sidwell Friends in 1962.
Todd Hall, the former Army and Navy Preparatory School and former Devitt School building at 2995 Upton Street NW, continues to be used for educational purposes. Today it is home to the Edmund Burke School and has been renamed “Mooskin-Roth Hall.”
Did you graduate from Devitt School? Or have memories of this and the other schools at the site? We’d appreciate your comments.
“Bullis Prep Plays Devitt: Game is Tomorrow at Silver Spring; Rivalry is Intense,” Washington Post, Nov. 17, 1938, p. 20.
“Devitt Laboratory Nearing Completion,” Washington Post, Jan. 20, 1929 p. ES 1.
“Devitt Meets Gonzaga for Title: Prep School Elevens Battle at Griffith Stadium Today,” Washington Post, Dec. 8, 1928, p. 13.
“Devitt School,” Washington Post, March 17, 1940, p. OT7.
“Devitt School Buys Todd Hall Building,” Washington Post, July 15, 1928, p. R. 1.
Devitt School Catalog, 1939-1940. Available at Washingtoniana Division, D.C. Public Library
“Devitt Schools Will be Part of Longfellow,” Washington Post, May 13, 1951, p. M14.
“Former Devitt Prep School Sold,” Washington Post, Sept. 13, 1958.
“George R. Devitt, 83, Dies; Founded Boys’ School,” Evening Star, Jan. 15, 1944, p. 8.
Gonzalez, Darryl J. The Children Who Ran Congress; A History of Congressional Pages. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2010, p. 71.
“Honored by Students,” Washington Daily News, Dec. 21, 1939.
“Magician to Perform at Fair,” Washington Post, May 14, 1952, p. 42.
“New Home is Ready for Devitt School,” Washington Post, Aug. 19, 1928, p. ES2.
“Park Staffs Plan Move of Offices,” Washington Post, May 5, 1951, p. B6.
“Sidwell School Plans Purchase of Longfellow,” Evening Star, Aug. 22, 1962, p. 5
“Todd Hall is Sold in $100,000 Deal,” Evening Star, July 11, 1928, p.2.