The Academy of the Holy Cross has a history that dates back to the days just after the Civil War. The Sisters of the Holy Cross originally came to the Washington area to serve as nurses, however their service as educators is no less auspicious. The Academy of the Holy Cross is among the first of the schools founded by the Sisters.
The Academy draws its heritage from the tree of Blessed Basile Anthoine Marie Moreau, CSC, founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross. As part of the Holy Cross family that stretches around the world, the Academy participates in many activities that unite all branches on the Holy Cross tree.
Sister Angelica received approval to build the new campus from the Mother House just before Christmas in 1908 with the proviso that she could expect no financial assistance. Plans were drawn and in May 1909, ground was broken for the new institution.
The Academy’s new Tudor Gothic brick structure was finished a year later and, in 1910, the students and sisters eagerly moved to what came to be called the Upton Street campus. After nearly three decades of service to the Academy, Sister Angelica retired in 1912, leaving the Academy with a bright vision for the future and a profound debt.
The 1920s brought about exciting events for the Ladies of the Academy. Enrollment was at a record high. The Academy operated its own farm. The graduating classes of 1921 and 1926 were both received by the First Ladies at the White House. The Alumnae Association established a scholarship fund through the generous support by the growing number of graduates of the Academy. Following the death of the beloved Sister M. Angelica, the Alumnae Association inaugurated “Rose Day” in her memory with the completion of the “Our Lady of the Roses” shrine of the Blessed Mother.
Although the Academy felt the effects of the Great Depression with a reduction in enrollment, the school continued to flourish throughout the 1930s. As the Academy and other schools operated by the sisters continued to thrive, the need for higher education of the sisters and the graduates of their schools became evident. In 1935 Dunbarton College of the Holy Cross began operation in the Academy’s building and moved into their own new building on the campus three years later.
As the United States entered World War II, the Academy continued to provide an exemplary education for young women. As many families came to Washington to work in the expanding departments of government, the number of students at the Academy once again increased. Space at Upton Street was also made available to young women who came to Washington as war workers. While students at the Academy continued their studies, they also assisted with the war effort. Students purchased war bonds and raised funds to purchase three Jeeps and five ambulances. They joined the Red Cross, volunteered at many hospitals in the area, and compiled hand-made and collected supplies for kits that were mailed to soldiers, displaced Europeans, and orphaned refugee children, all despite their own rationing.
Despite the uncertainty of war, the sisters had a vision for their beloved school. In 1943 they purchased nearly 150 acres of land in Kensington known as the Corby Estate. The property included the mansion, which initially served as the sisters’ residence and later was developed into the Strathmore Hall Center for Arts. In 1956 the Academy moved to its present 28-acre home. Grades were added one year at a time while the students at Upton Street graduated. The school flourished in its new location. Under the leadership of Sister M. Thomas Aquinas (O’Connor) a $200,000 “East Wing” addition was completed in 1966, adding art and music rooms and a gymnasium. The new gym was put to good use, including a 115-game basketball winning streak from 1976 to 1982.