The origins of Marymount High School Los Angeles, established in 1923, began more than a century and a half ago in Beziers, France when in 1849 the Institute of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary was founded. During their earliest years, the RSHM Sisters devoted themselves to a variety of ministries, which ranged from working with the poor to the formal education of young women. Innovative from the outset, this international religious order recognized from their inception the significant leadership role that women play in the world around them.
In 1877 several members of the RSHM set forth from France for the United States. Within a few years, the order sent Mother Joseph Butler to work with these sisters and it was under her leadership that the first Marymount in the U.S. was established in Tarrytown, New York. In 1922 Bishop John J. Cantwell, Bishop of Los Angeles and San Diego, hearing of these developments, wrote to Mother Butler and asked her to open a foundation in Los Angeles. On September 23, 1923 five pioneering sisters opened Marymount-in-the-West, in a mansion located at 814 28th Street, an area adjacent to USC, with six students. Shortly six more joined them. Each day the students arrived at school dressed in blue dresses with white trim, berets and white gloves. By the second year the number of students had increased to forty-two. Additional space was needed for the growing school and a search was started in 1928 for a new location.
In 1929 they found their present location between UCLA and the Bel-Air Country Club. The property was originally part of the Spanish land grant Rancho San Jose de Buenos Ayres. The beautiful Spanish Colonial Revival building designed by architect Ross Montgomery was completed in time for the opening of the academic year in September 1931. Two years after opening, a junior college was added to the existent Junior School and High School. In 1936, Archbishop Cantwell presided over the dedication of the new building named in his honor, Cantwell Hall.
World War II affected life at Marymount and the students did their part in assisting in the war effort. They created the Marymount in Action Corps (MACS) and sold war bonds, grew vegetables in the Victory Garden (now Butler Hall) and adopted several military units, sending them letters and food. Bobby socks replaced hose because of the shortage of silk and nylon, dances were plagued by the dearth of escorts with young men serving in the Armed Forces, and gas and tire rationing hampered driving.
After the war the physical plant was again expanded. Butler Hall was officially dedicated in 1947 and became the college dormitory as well as providing additional classrooms. The same year the Junior School moved to a new location in Brentwood. Students in the 50's came to school in navy blue jumpers, white blouses and navy blue blazers. The 60's brought changes to the country and to Marymount. With the Junior College moving to a new site in Palos Verdes and, with dormitories no longer needed, the High School now had full use of the campus. The sisters’ habits were replaced by simple ankle length dresses and bonnets with short black veils. By 1968 this newer habit had given way to street length attire.
The 70’s at Marymount reflected the rapidly evolving status of women and the expectations awakened in them by the feminist revolution. Under the leadership of Sr. Colette McManus, RSHM, the school responded to the need to enhance the curriculum and academic counseling. The second floor rooms in the Administration Building were converted to faculty offices and the bedrooms in Butler Hall were converted to classrooms. Etiquette and ballroom dancing were replaced in the curriculum by new and different options, and seniors were allowed a “free-dress” day as the uniform also changed with the times.
Further expansion in the physical plant marked the 80's. The Terry Leavey Lemons Pavilion was dedicated in 1980 bringing to reality the dream of a modern sports complex. The Marian Hall Library was completed in 1987. Loafers replaced saddle shoes, and gone forever were the navy blue jumpers. In their place students wore khaki twill or blue tweed skirts with navy or burgundy sweaters and vests. Navy blazers were now required only for special events. Song contests and campaigning for prom queen disappeared as Mock Trial and soccer made their debut. However, traditions like capping and pinning, ringing and the graduation procession down Senior Lawn lived on.
The 90’s were a time of significant change and rapid progress. After eighteen years at the helm Sr. Colette bid farewell. Leadership passed to the first lay head, Ann Gillick, in 1991. In 1996 the current Head of School, Dr. Mary Ellen Gozdecki, was appointed. Dr. Gozdecki is a visionary who understands the wisdom of blending the richness of the past, while confronting the challenges of the present and planning for the strategic opportunities of the future. Under her direction Marymount students continue to reflect intellectual vigor, creative expression, a strong sense of spiritual values, and a commitment to social justice.
As Marymount enters the new millennium, the school’s distinctive energy is sustained and evidenced by its commitment to excellence in program. Drawn from communities throughout Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Westchester, Mar Vista, South Bay, Santa Monica, and the Westside, Marymount students reflect the socioeconomic and cultural diversity of our dynamic city. Marymount recognizes and empowers students in their ability to be life-long learners, leaders and advocates as it continues to “prepare young women to make a better world!”