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Preserving the Legacy of the Mount Vernon Seminary and College

Students in the Women’s Leadership Program explore archival materials after the annual talk on the history of Mt. Vernon.

When Elizabeth J. Somers arrived in Washington, D.C. in 1863, no school existed to educate girls above the elementary grades. Somers soon got to work, first tutoring students in her home and then organizing a prestigious seminary. A line of extraordinary women continued her efforts, shepherding the school through two world wars, four campuses, and the addition of a college. Changing attitudes about same-sex education brought the end of the seminary in 1969 and of the college as an independent entity in 1999, but the spirit of its leaders lives on in GW’s Elizabeth J. Somers Women’s Leadership Program (WLP). 


Based on GW’s Mount Vernon Campus, the WLP is a selective, year-long living and learning program for first-year women. The challenging academic curriculum trains tomorrow’s powerful women while honoring its past through collaboration with the GW Libraries. More than 150 years of materials documenting the deep history of the former Mount Vernon Seminary and College reside in the University Archives at Gelman Library and include the personal papers of notable women like Marjorie Merriweather Post and Eleanor Lansing Dulles.

More than 150 years of materials documenting the deep history of the former Mount Vernon Seminary and College reside in the University Archives.

Robin Delaloye, MA ‘06, director of communications and outreach for GW Libraries and Academic Innovation, brings this fascinating history to life for each WLP class during orientation. Using photographs, publications, and student scrapbooks, she tells the story of the institution and introduces students to primary sources available for their own research.

“Robin’s talk communicates the history of the Mount Vernon Campus, and it establishes a through line of the importance of education and women’s history in that endeavor, as well as the potential for archival research,” says Mary Buckley, director of the WLP. “We value the opportunity to introduce our students to our namesake’s significant work in women’s education.” 

The Libraries are proud to care for the legacy of Elizabeth J. Somers and the Mount Vernon Seminary and College and to share it with new generations of students.

“The rich history of Mount Vernon makes the WLP all the more special,” wrote WLP student Shannon Fitzpatrick ’20, “and having the chance to hear about it created a common appreciation for the program for all of us.” 

To support the Mount Vernon Archives, please contact Tracy Sullivan, executive director of development at GW Libraries and Academic Innovation.

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