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1950s Life at Stone Ridge

Excerpt from House on the Hill by Mary Schaller ’61 Page 47-51

Reverend Mother Barry’s dream came true on April 24, 1949, when Archbishop Patrick O’Boyle blessed the new wing. The students moved into it immediately. At last, the 7,675 books from 1719’s library were unpacked and placed on the newly painted shelves under the watchful eyes of George Washington and his family. The students now had a half-regulation-size basketball court with two baskets in the new ground floor gymnasium, instead of an outside cement courtyard with only one basket. Two study halls for the Senior and Junior schools allowed the girls more room for their own desks as well as a peaceful haven in which to study. The new refectory and kitchen were large enough to provide the hot dinners that the students had enjoyed during their days at 1719. No more sandwiches on the side porch.  In June, the eleven members of the Class of 1949 graduated during ceremonies held on the Hamilton House’s front lawn.

During the summer, Mother Elizabeth White RSCJ was transferred, and Mother Mary Elizabeth Tobin RSCJ took up the reins of the school as the new Mistress General. Mother Tobin is fondly remembered by the alumnae as someone who possessed a unique sense of style and the rare ability to make all feel “at home.” Also, Reverend Mother Agnes Barry was named the Superior Vicar of the newly formed Washington Vicariate. Reverend Mother Barry would hold this position until 1966.

The student body grew. For the first time in September 1949, the Junior School was sub-divided into the Lower School for the kindergarten through fourth grade and the Middle School for the fifth through eight grades. The Middle School occupied the top floors of the new wing. The Upper school enjoyed the middle floors while the Lower School was on the ground floors. Mater’s painting from 1719 smiled down on the girls from the wall of the Upper School corridor.

More extracurricular subjects were added to the school day, including sewing, painting and dancing. In November 1949, the Alumnae Association hosted a supper dance for the juniors and seniors at the Sulgrave Club. The profits were donated to the school’s scholarship fund. This event was the precursor of the future Tres Bien Ball. 

By 1950, life at Stone Ridge had settled into a regular pattern of study and traditions. Primes were held every Monday inside the gymnasium. Upper School students, wearing the coveted sashes of blue and green ribbons, governed the student body, and organized conges. There were four to six conges a year, many of them surprises to the student body. The traditional game of cache-cache ranged far and wide over the huge campus. Lily Processions took place in early December in honor of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, while the May Crowning and Processions wound down the front lawn every May. The seniors worked hard on their spirituality to earn admittance to the Children of Mary Sodality before they graduated. The Enfant de Marie medal was proudly worn by the successful few. 

Gouter was served every afternoon following the dismissal bell. First Friday Mass and processions filled the new Chapel each month, and the hot lunch menus became somewhat predictable with mutterings of “mystery meat and resurrection pudding” among the jaded Upper Schoolers. Ma Mere du Plessis continued to teach French to the next generation of Lower School pupils. The Middle School learned to play field hockey during their physical education classes, while the Upper School enjoyed the new biology lab and reading Thomas Hardy’s interminable “Return of the Native” [otherwise known as “Forty Pages Describing a Moor”].

In 1951, a softball team was added to the roster of basketball and field hockey teams. A new campus organization for the Upper School, the Christophers, was formed. Named for St. Christopher who had carried the Infant Jesus across a raging river, the purpose of Christophers was to “go and teach all” through works of Christian charity in the community at large. Their motto, “Faith In Action,” was put into practice through the numerous clubs that made up the Christophers including a Social Club, the Liturgical Choir, St, Vincent’s Orphanage, the Christ Child farm, the Home for Incurables, the Catholic Cooperative Advisory Council, aka the CCAC and reporters of the school’s activities for the diocesan newspaper, the Catholic Standard.

On April 8, 1953, the Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Commission changed Stone Ridge’s address from “8101 Rockville Pike” to “9101 Rockville Pike.” The thrifty nuns continued to use their stationery with the old address until the stock ran out in the following year. 

During the first full month of the 1953-1954 school year, the first issue of the RIDGEAN, the student newspaper appeared in October. It was published every other month by the Second Academic Class and was an instant success with the Upper School.

In November 1953, the State of Maryland purchased one third of an acre of the school property for widening Rockville Pike. An eight-foot strip along the front, bordering the Pike was needed. The nuns mourned the loss of several trees when the culvert was dug at the corner of Cedar Lane and the Pike to drain the rain run-off from Stone Ridge as well as the Naval Hospital.

Also in November 1953, the Fathers Club senior dance merged with the Alumnae Association’s supper dance into the Alumnae Ball in aid of the scholarship fund. With the sponsorship of these two groups, the Ball grew in importance and appeal. It was almost like a debut. The seniors wore white gowns, white gloves and were escorted by their fathers when each senior was formally introduced to the Alumnae Association at midnight.

In June 1955, identical twin girls were among the graduating seniors. They were Anne and Bea Dyer. In the decades to come, one of them would make a huge mark at Stone Ridge.

By September 1955, the student body had grown, particularly the First Academic [Freshmen] class. While there were only eight members of the Third Academic Class, the incoming freshmen numbered a whopping thirty girls. Over half them were new to Stone Ridge and to Sacred Heart traditions.

Another new tradition appeared this year: each class in the Upper School chose their distinctive class colors and optional class mascots. Ceramics and a Drama Club joined the improved Glee Club and Debating Club.

Amid the Cycle tests and Spring College Entrance Examination Boards [aka CEEB’s], the Upper School let off steam by attending a number of tea dances and “hops” with the Middies from Annapolis during their Spring leave, and mixers with the boys from Georgetown Prep down the Pike. More of the seniors had started to drive their own cars to school, which required a larger student parking lot on the hill above the hockey field. Many of the girls’ cars had pet names and personalities. An unofficial organization identified in the 1955 yearbook as the “Crinkle Fender Club” gained membership as the novice student drivers negotiated their roundtrips to Stone Ridge. The Christophers added another club to their list, the Driving Council, in the effort to promote better driving habits and etiquette.

Venerable Ma Mere du Plessis celebrated her fiftieth jubilee as a religious of the Sacred Heart on February 11, 1956. The school marked this special milestone with Feast Wishes in February and an extra special conge in May. Ma Mere had spent thirty-three years of her religious life in the Washington area, teaching elementary French to several generations of students and was beloved by her pupils past and present.

“I remember Ma Mere,” said Nancy Scanlon Meyer ’61. “You could always claim that you had been stopped by Ma Mere if you were late to class. She was very old then and a little senile, and she’d go up and down the halls and stop you to talk in French. And we were supposed to always curtsy to her and show respect, even if we couldn’t understand what she said. They should have told us about her background. All we knew was that she was very old and a little dotty.” [Interview 11/30/10].

More clubs and extracurricular activities were added to the Upper School’s growing list: Knitting joined the Sewing Club, while Photography, Classical Music, Library and Mathematics appealed to a broader range of the students’ interests. The card game of Bridge was the new fad in 1956 and the game swept through the halls of Stone Ridge like a tornado. It seemed as if everyone kept a deck of cards in their Study Hall desks.

Perhaps the biggest change in the school year 1956-1957 was the establishment of a small weekday boarding school at Stone Ridge. For a variety of personal reasons, six members of the Upper School took up residence in the Cottage that year under the watchful eyes of one of the younger nuns. For the next sixteen years, the Stone Ridge boarders waxed and waned in their own little world out of sight and mind of the more numerous day students.