Garrison Forest School - History


In 1910, Mary Moncrieffe Livingston, a teacher from New York, moved to Maryland with a mission and a vision: to found a much-needed primary through twelfth grade school for the local community. The educational model she espoused remains a nationally recognized program nearly a century later. Garrison Forest then was an all-girls’ day school, Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade, with a residential program for older girls and a coed primary program. Today, the model remains nearly identical with the addition of a vibrant regional, national, and international residential program and two-year-olds as the youngest Garrison Forest students. The motto Miss Livingston chose for her burgeoning school, Esse Quam Videri—To Be Rather Than To Seem, perfectly captured her vision for a school steeped in academic rigor while infused with exceptional character building.

Since its founding, Garrison Forest has redefined itself in response to the challenges of the day. Miss Livingston grew her school in size and reputation, and in 1929, she passed the mantle to Co-headmistresses Jean G. Marshall and Nancy J. Offutt. Under their spirited and firmly grounded leadership, the school not only survived the Great Depression, it thrived, adding new students and attracting a top-caliber faculty. For 30 years, Miss Marshall and Miss Offutt guided Garrison Forest, building a national boarding reputation, excellent academic programs, and a highly competitive riding program.

In 1960, the School hired its first male headmaster, Archibald “Tad” Montgomery IV, who expanded the residential program, campus, and enduring tradition of community outreach. Lawrence “Larry” L. Hlavacek served as Headmaster from 1968 to 1978, shepherding the school through a difficult financial time, played out against the challenging cultural backdrop of the 1970s. As boarding school enrollments dipped nationwide and many girls’ schools shut their doors or merged with other institutions, Garrison Forest held steady by returning to its founding model of educating boys and girls at the preschool level by merging in 1975 with the nearby Valley School, a local, coed independent preschool and elementary school.

From 1978 to 1989, Agnes “Aggie” C. Underwood served as headmistress, leading the school to a higher level of academic excellence. Garrison Forest’s reputation and enrollment grew through achievements such as the increased number of Advanced Placement courses and faculty members with advanced degrees, enhanced student diversity, a depth of arts programming, and Mrs. Underwood’s leadership among national independent school organizations.

After interim head Alexander A. Uhle’s year-long appointment, Elsa “Midge” M. Bowman was named Headmistress. She continued Garrison Forest’s commitment to intellectual achievement and ushered the school onto the global stage with the advent of a formal international boarding program in the early 1990s. Today, 20 percent of the Upper School students hail from countries beyond the United States.

After joining GFS in 1994, current Head of School, G. Peter O’Neill, Jr. is enjoying the third-longest tenure as head of Garrison Forest School in its nearly 100-year history. A strong national advocate for single-sex education for girls, he has led the School’s largest campus expansion and the establishment of one of the nation’s leading experiential learning programs for girls: the Women In Science and Engineering (WISE) program, a one-of-a-kind academic partnership with Johns Hopkins University.

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