Foxcroft Flashback: Alumnae Dazzle Hundreds with Military Drill Session

Sometimes the passage of many decades can leave a person out of step. Not at Foxcroft, though.

Military drill was once part of the program at Foxcroft and, though the young girls of yesterday are now middle-aged women, a dedicated group of alumnae brought back the tradition Saturday (April 26) as part of the School’s Centennial Celebration. The performance was a highlight of an action-packed weekend that included art and history exhibits, presentations and panel discussions, an alumnae Fox/Hound field hockey game (Hounds won 3-0), and more.

Of all the activities, though, the drill demonstration was perhaps the most unique. Performing on FoxHound Field in front of a four-star general, the United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps and several hundred spectators, a group of 31 women executed a military drill session, complete with rifles, introduced to them by the School’s founder Charlotte Haxall Noland more than 50 years ago.
Gen. Crosbie E. Saint, Ret., husband of Foxcroft’s Director of Technology Merrilyn Saint, sat in review of the performance and saluted the women as they walked by the reviewing stand. “They were wonderful,” he said.

Organized by Alumnae Association President Sheldon Gerry Withers ’61 at the suggestion of Centennial Committee co-chair Beatty Page Cramer ’66, the group spent more than an hour and a half Saturday morning going over and over the precise movements of the Drill. Many had previously prepared by watching a YouTube video Sheldon made of herself doing the routine (with her Swiffer instead of a rifle).

“The hardest part was that none of us had performed Drill for more than 50 years,” Sheldon said. “And also the rifles we used were much heavier than the ones we used when we were in school. Those were wooden rifles weighing about four pounds, but the ones we used today were heavier weighing about nine and a half pounds.”

The rifles were borrowed from a ROTC program in Herndon and lifting them from shoulder to shoulder required some strength and patience. Also, in the beginning of the practice sessions some of the women would turn the wrong way on about face (always to your right) and were bumping into the person next to them. But the women were quick to relearn the marching rhythm and after several routines had the drill down pat.

“It’s like learning to ride a bicycle,” Sheldon said. “You never forget it. It took us a while to get the kinks out but it comes back to you quickly.”

For 26 years, from 1942-68, Foxcroft was a military school, an idea that sprung from a visit Miss Charlotte took to West Point when World War II broke out. She organized the girls into platoons, put them in tan and green uniforms and had them marching in formation twice a week (with extra sessions on the weekend to “march off” demerits).

You could get demerits for many infractions, such as not having a tidy room, not polishing the brass on your rifle, not having a pressed uniform, or not making your bed properly.

“Each platoon competed against each other,” Sheldon said. “And the winning platoon was the one with the fewest demerits. If there was a girl in our platoon who was getting a lot of demerits, I would go to her and tell her, ‘you’re not just hurting yourself, you’re hurting everyone in the platoon.’ That makes you think about respect for others.”

The girls were taught drill by a Marine lieutenant from Washington once a week.

“You can imagine back in the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s there wasn’t a male anywhere around here. So a good looking Marine shows up and we’d do anything for him,” Sheldon said. “But they were wonderful and fantastic to us. As a reward, we were taken to the Marine Sunset Parade in Washington.”

When Sheldon was approached to put together a drill platoon for the Centennial she jumped at the chance.

“I loved drill,” Sheldon said. “I sent an e-mail to all the women who knew how to drill and I got so many replies I had a waiting list.”

One of the women eager to join the festivities was Rhea Topping ’67, who played snare drum in the color guard during her Foxcroft years.

“She was in Argentina when she got the e-mail,” said her friend, Neville Holter ’65. “She immediately began beating rhythms on anything she could find.”

On Saturday, she didn’t miss a beat and the Foxcroft Drill Corps was right in step.
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An all-girls boarding and day school in Northern Virginia, Foxcroft prepares young women in grades 9-12 for success in college and in life. Our outstanding academic program offers challenging courses, including Advanced Placement classes and an innovative STEM program. Our premiere equestrian program is nationally recognized, and our athletic teams have won conference and state championships. Experience the best in girls' boarding schools: visit Foxcroft.