Madeira School

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The Madeira School
Madeira School logo.jpg
8328 Georgetown Pike
McLean, Virginia, 22102
United States
Coordinates 38°57′55″N 77°14′6″W / 38.96528°N 77.23500°W / 38.96528; -77.23500Coordinates: 38°57′55″N 77°14′6″W / 38.96528°N 77.23500°W / 38.96528; -77.23500
Type Private Boarding and Day school
Established 1906
Head Pilar Cabeza de Vaca
Faculty 50
Enrollment 300
Average class size 10
Student to teacher ratio 6:1
Campus Suburban - 376 acres (1.52 km2)
Color(s) Red & White         
Mascot Snail

The Madeira School is a private, non-denominational college-preparatory boarding school for girls located in McLean, Virginia, United States. Originally located on 19th Street near Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C., it was founded by Lucy Madeira Wing (1873-1961) in 1906 and moved to the Northern Virginia suburb of McLean in 1931.[1]


Madeira School girls, 1912

Brief history[edit]

The Madeira School has had a proud though sometimes troubled history. In 1918 Madeira was quarantined during the 1918 flu pandemic and, like many schools, closed for a month. The students raised money for hospitals and the Armenian Fund. In 1929 the school was incorporated and plans for the Greenway campus began and in 1931 the new campus opened. In 1966 the first two African American women students were admitted to the school and the same year the co-curriculum program began. In 1967 Langston Hughes gave a lecture and held informal discussion with the students. This initiated the Skallerup lecture series. In 1975 the new science building was completed and Nobel Prize winner James D. Watson spoke at the dedication. In 1980 the then Head Mistress Jean Harris was arrested for the murder of Dr. Herman Tarnower. Harris' testimony regarding her motive and state of mind at the time brought to light a tradition of hazing at the academy,[2] which reportedly led to injuries and hospitalization of at least one student.[3]

Student body[edit]

The Madeira School teaches grades 9–12. Each grade has approximately 75 students. The average class size is approximately 12 students. 54% of the students board on campus. International students are also represented on campus and make up 13% of the campus population. Financial aid is offered to students who meet the guidelines and 21% of student receive Madeira financial assistance.[4]

Co-curriculum program[edit]

The Madeira School requires students to participate in a unique internship program, called the Co-Curriculum Program. Instead of attending classes for 5 weeks out of the school year, the students do the following: Freshmen attend classes on study skills and participate in Outdoor Adventure programs like canoeing, kayaking, and rappelling. Sophomores choose a community service placement, often at a soup kitchen, childcare facility, or hospital. Juniors work as aides to Congressmen and Senators on Capitol Hill. Seniors pursue an internship in the field of their choice.

Motto, colors, and mascot[edit]

The Madeira School's motto is festina lente ("make haste slowly," attributed originally to Augustus Caesar). Its informal motto, a favorite saying of Miss Madeira, is "Function in disaster, finish in style."

  • Madeira's colors are red and white.
  • Madeira's mascot is the snail.

Notable alumnae[edit]

Campus and facilities[edit]

The Madeira School's campus is on 376 acres (1.52 km2) overlooking the Potomac River (McLean, Virginia) and consists of 34 separate buildings.

Huffington Library[edit]

Madeira's Huffington Library collection consists of approximately 23,500 items that includes videos, DVDs, CDs, audiocassettes, microforms, vertical file material and circulating audio-visual equipment.

In addition to being one of the school's most popular meeting places on campus, the library is also home to one of the school's computer labs, classrooms, and seminar rooms. There are PCs for student access, as well as a wireless network in the building allowing students with laptops to use the School's network from tables and study carrels throughout the facility.

Hurd Sports Center and Gaines Hall[edit]

The Hurd Sports Center was opened in September 1992. This facility includes a gym (side-by-side volleyball courts and a basketball court), weight room, pilates gym, competitive swimming pool, dance studio, locker rooms, athletic training room, and offices for the teaching and coaching staff. Outdoor facilities include three full-size playing fields, eight tennis courts, and cross country trails.

Madeira's equestrian facilities include Gaines Hall, a 100' by 200' indoor ring, two outdoor rings with sand footing, bridle trails, and a variety of cross-country obstacles. The stable can house 47 horses. Students may bring and board their own horses or ride one of Madeira's horses.


Madeira's performance facilities are housed in a complex called the Chapel/Auditorium. Working spaces include a 590-seat proscenium arch theater with a covered orchestra pit, an art gallery, a scene shop, a prop shop, a costume loft, a dance studio with a wooden sprung floor, choral and chamber orchestra rehearsal spaces, two classrooms, and three piano practice rooms.

Academic facilities[edit]

Academic facilities include the Science Building, Main, Schoolhouse, the new Schoolhouse II, and the new Student Center (including dining hall, school store, offices, and meeting rooms). Attached to the Student Center is the art building.

Dormitories and faculty housing[edit]

Madeira has six dormitories (named North, South, East, West, Main, and New) and an infirmary. There are several facilities for faculty housing including "The Land" and "The Beeches."

Public access[edit]

The Madeira school has had a many disputes over the use of its land. In 1966 Fairfax County proposed the turning of 208 of Madeira's privately owned 376 acres (1.52 km2) into public park land.[3] In 1991 Madeira gave a trail easement along Georgetown Pike, as well as $89,000 for that trail construction to complete the Potomac Heritage Route without visitors entering the main area of the campus.[6] However, this trail was never completed by the park officials. In 2008, the Fairfax County government attempted to obtain from Madeira an easement near the Potomac River to permit the completion of a 100-mile (160 km) loop of walking trails as a condition of approval for the school's proposed expansion plans. This one-mile (1.6 km)-long trail section through Madeira's property would connect the county's Scott's Run Park to Great Falls National Park. The Madeira School declined this easement, citing concerns about safety and environmental impacts.[7][8]

Administration, faculty, and staff[edit]

The Madeira School is controlled by a board of directors, and the school is administered by a Head of School. The school celebrated the installation of new Head of School, Pilar Cabeza de Vaca, on Saturday, September 25, 2010. Ms. Cabeza de Vaca has previously led schools in Paris, France and Quito, Ecuador.

There are approximately 170 members of Madeira's administration, faculty, and staff. The student-to-teacher ratio is approximately 6:1.

Former heads of school[edit]

  • (1906-1957) Lucy Madeira Wing
  • (1957-1962) Allegra Maynard
  • (1962-1964) Marian W. Smith
  • (1964-1965) Allegra Maynard
  • (1965-1977) M. Barbara Keyser
  • (1977-1980) Jean Struven Harris
  • (1980-1981) Kathleen Galvin Johnson '53
  • (1981-1988) Charles McKinley Saltzman II
  • (1988-2010) Elisabeth Griffith
  • (2010–Present) Pilar Cabeza de Vaca


  1. ^ "The Madeira School". Retrieved 2010-08-10. 
  2. ^ Feron, James (1981-01-30). "Mrs. Harris Gives Jury Her Version Of What Led To Death Of Tarnower". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ a b "Notable Dates in Madeira’s History". The Madeira School. Retrieved 2010-08-10. [dead link]
  4. ^ "Facts & Figures". The Madeira School. Retrieved 2010-08-10. [dead link]
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Madeira Interacts with Local Government". The Madeira School. 2008-09-24. Retrieved 2010-08-10. 
  7. ^ "Letters to the Editor, The Madeira School's Prudence". Washington Post. 2008-09-12. Retrieved 2010-08-10. 
  8. ^ Gardner, A. (2008-09-09). "Elite Setting's Property Debate: Fairfax County, Madeira School Clash Over Trail". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-09-09. 

External links[edit]