News Detail

The First 125: Reflecting on Calvert School's History Ahead of Anniversary

When Head Master Andrew Holmgren addresses a crowd of Calvert donors, friends, parents, and community members on April 20, in the grand, gilded halls of the Baltimore Museum of Art, he compares Calvert’s 125-year journey to something our Lower Schoolers hear almost every day – a fairy tale.

“Once upon a time,” he begins. “Above the Croft and Conlyn Apothecary at 110 West Madison Street, a school was born...”
Long before it acquired its beautiful campus, extensive curriculum, and even its name, the future Calvert School began as informal classes with teacher Fraulein Schurmann at the home of Isaac and Elizabeth Dixon in 1896. They lived on Park Avenue in what is now Baltimore’s Mt. Vernon neighborhood, where Fraulein Schurmann instructed the four Dixon children under the emerging concept of German Kindergarten.
In 1897, the School grew to enroll 15 children and set up shop above Croft and Conlyn’s drug store, where two of its founders -- Elizabeth Dixon and Mary Williams – dubbed it the “Boys’ and Girls’ Primary School” as a placeholder. For about two years, the “temporary” name stuck, only to be replaced in 1899 with the arrival of a 24-year-old teacher from the Browning School, Virgil Mores Hillyer.
Hillyer, Calvert’s first Head Master, updated and improved all aspects of the School, now called Calvert Primary School, and introduced many of the School’s most enduring priorities and principles. Among these were the School’s focus on early education, or “the first learning” that Hillyer often called the most important of all.
During his time as Head Master, from 1899 until his death from appendicitis in 1931, Hillyer strongly believed in the power of childhood and the “game spirit of all work,” and he imbued the School with hints of whimsy whenever possible.
To this day, the Lower School on the corner of Canterbury and Tuscany roads – where the School moved in 1924 – is shaped like an ‘E’ for education. Inside, the carved auditorium pews still depict fairytale imagery, and if they look carefully, today’s students can still find that whimsy reflected in their lockers and classrooms.
“Hillyer threw elaborate parties for the kids on weekends, made silhouettes, including the famous silhouette in our school logo, played the violin in the hallway, and created the whimsical designs found throughout the School,” Mr. Holmgren shared with donors at the April 20 event. “He understood the importance of childhood in learning.”
Under Hillyer, the School implemented its first assemblies and formed the Home Instruction Department, which sent lessons home to students who were quarantining due to a series of epidemics. From its beginnings in 1906, the HID would grow to educate elementary students across all parts of the globe, furthering Calvert’s teachings and adding to Hillyer’s reputation as an innovative educator. In the years that followed, he would also pen a number of instructional books aimed at appealing to young learners, including A Child’s History of the World (1924), before his death in late 1931.
In early 1932, the Calvert Board of Trustees penned a resolution that celebrated Hillyer and his contributions to the School, marveling at how a young, relatively inexperienced school teacher managed to grow the School to more than 300 students and “thousands of others in their homes in all parts of the world…”
“While credit for this strange and yet extremely important result is shared by the original founders of the School, and by the staff of faithful teachers and administrators,” the Board wrote. “In large measure, it is due to one person, the young man chosen so well in 1899 and given an opportunity to demonstrate his genius in elementary education.”
As the School community mourned, it also unknowingly marched toward the Great Depression, Head Master Donald W. Goodrich faced nearly unprecedented financial challenges. For much of his tenure, enrollment was markedly down; however, Goodrich is best remembered for his advancements to the School’s transportation and tutoring offerings, as well as the School’s first organized athletics.
In 1940, Goodrich resigned, opening the door for Gilman School teacher Edward W. Brown, the School’s third Head Master. Under Brown, and thanks in part to World War II, the Home Instruction Division thrived, and the Head Master flipped the School curriculum on its head, stating that HID requests should fuel the day school’s curriculum. 
At this time, the School also separated its students into single-gender classrooms in an attempt to minimize behavioral issues and addressed perceived strengths and weaknesses in each group.
From there, the School continued to grow, gaining the planetarium, the library, and the large Luetkemeyer Wing of the Lower School. At the same time, the School welcomed Head Masters William W. Kirk and Merill S. Hall as the School sought to expand even further.
“Toward the end of the 1990s, the School faced an inflection point of sorts. Too many students were leaving Calvert early for the local high schools. A decision needed to be made if the School was going to move forward,” Mr. Holmgren shared. “The choice: reduce the number of grades and become an elementary school only or expand and add a full middle school to the program. It was not an easy call.”
Guided by Board of Trustees Chairman Jack Luetkemeyer ’53, the School forged ahead and opened the Middle School in 2003, making space for more than 200 additional students and developing Calvert’s 10-year journey.
When the Middle School opened, Calvert alumnus Andy Martire ’83 was there to push forward, becoming the School’s sixth Head Master, and before long, current Head Master Andrew Holmgren came to campus in 2013.
For nine years, Mr. Holmgren has stood resolute at Calvert’s helm, steering the School through continued expansion, unparalleled successes, and unforeseen challenges. Since its inception, the Middle School has blossomed into a premier institution for Baltimore’s Fifth through Eighth Graders, offering an engaging curriculum, a full lineup of interscholastic sports, weekly clubs, annual theatre productions, and near-endless leadership opportunities through the Institute for Leadership & Purpose, which formed in 2018 – and the School has no intention of stopping there.
In March 2021, the School entered the public phase of its most ambitious capital campaign to date, the Calvert 125 Campaign. Named for the School’s landmark anniversary year, this initiative raised more than $16 million in less than two years in support of four priorities:
  • Championing a community of leaders through Calvert’s Institute For Leadership & Purpose
  • Transforming campus with the addition of the School’s first dedicated sports facility, the Luetkemeyer Athletic Center
  • Expanding access to education through robust financial aid offerings
  • Ensuring student success through continued support of the Calvert Fund, the School’s lifeblood and largest source of unrestricted operating dollars.
As a direct result of the campaign’s success, the School is currently building the Luetkemeyer Athletic Center, a 27,000 square-foot facility containing an indoor artificial turf field, a student and faculty fitness center, and 10 on-campus squash courts that will satisfy the demands of Calvert’s most popular sport. The athletic center, named for leadership donor Jack Luetkemeyer ’53, will officially open in Fall 2022.
Meanwhile, the School community is also looking ahead to Calvert’s 125th school year, which begins in September, and the many meaningful community events that will celebrate such a historic anniversary. In recognition of the Calvert 125 Campaign’s success, this event series began on April 20, 2022, when more than 150 Calvert alumni, donors, administrators, and community members gathered at the Baltimore Museum of Art to reflect on Calvert’s achievements and launch the anniversary year ahead.
Members of the community who donated $5,000 or more in the last year were thanked for their generosity at a seated dinner with handwritten notes from current Eighth Graders. The event featured a curated exhibition of items from Calvert’s archives, ranging from class photos and memorabilia to class notes and athletic uniforms, and guests were invited to trace the School’s history from item to item ahead of dinner. In her introductory remarks, Development Committee Chair Betsey Hobelmann ’87 thanked donors for their continued support and announced the School’s recent grant of $500,000 from the France-Merrick Foundation to establish a scholarship fund for Baltimore City students.
“Although we recently closed out a campaign, led by Ben ’52 and Wendy Griswold and supported by everyone in this room, we know there is more work to be done to ensure that any deserving student can afford the 10-year Calvert journey, especially those who live in our great city,” Hobelmann said.
As guests finished their dinner and Calvert-themed desserts began to arrive at each table, Mr. Holmgren regaled the crowd with an intimate, up-close look at Calvert’s first 125 years before transitioning to speaking about the School’s promising future. In these remarks, he thanked all attendees for their continued support of Calvert School, which will enter the next school year with booming enrollment and a robust community of parents, alumni, students, and teachers.
“For more than 125 years, Calvert School has grown and developed in the same ways as its beloved students, becoming bolder, stronger, and more confident with each passing lesson and era,” he shared. “Today, as we celebrate the School’s first 125 years, we reflect upon the many pioneers, changemakers, and educational pillars that have secured Calvert’s place as a premier institution – and we look ahead to the generations of students, teachers, leaders, and families who will define the next 125.”
Calvert School is a coed independent lower and middle school.