History & Traditions

In 1889, Mary Caswell, a young teacher from Maine, newly widowed and accompanied by her young daughter and niece, traveled across the country to relocate to California and start a new life. Within two months of her arrival, Mrs. Caswell founded what would become Marlborough School, the oldest independent girls' school in Southern California.

Over the century that followed, the School has grown and changed in important ways. The student body is representative of the talent and diversity of today's greater Los Angeles metropolis, academic and athletic programs have significantly expanded, and college placement records are highly competitive and distinguished.


For more information on Marlborough's milestones, follow the School's history through the timeline below:

1889 – Marlborough School, originally called St. Margaret's School for Girls, is founded by Mary Caswell.

Armed with vision, determination, courage, and foresight, Mary Caswell travels across the country to relocate to southern California and start a new life. Within two months of her arrival she starts the St. Margaret's School for Girls.  

1890 – Marlborough moves to a new location at the corner of 23rd and Scarff Streets.

St. Margaret’s School for Girls flourishes in Pasadena, but Mrs. Caswell recognizes Los Angeles as a burgeoning city and in 1890 moves the school to a new location—the relatively new but empty Marlborough Hotel at the corner of 23rd and Scarff Streets, near the newly established University of Southern California. Adopting the name of its new location, Marlborough School comes into being. Enrollment increases from the very start, and within a few short years, the site reaches capacity. With the city expanding north and westward, Mrs. Caswell purchases land in the newly opened La Brea tract, and in 1916, for a cost of $70,000, Marlborough School opens at its new site on the corner of Third Street and a “surveyed driveway to be known as Marlborough Avenue."

1924 – Miss Ada Blake becomes the second Principal of Marlborough School.

By the early 1920s and with her health declining, Mrs. Caswell realizes that she needs to prepare for the day when she can no longer lead the School. In 1922, she invites Miss Ada Blake, then head of Louisville Collegiate School in Kentucky, to interview for the position of assistant principal. After journeying across the continent for a one-day interview, Miss Blake is immediately hired for the position, and upon Mrs. Caswell’s death in February 1924, Miss Blake becomes the second Principal of Marlborough School, a position she held for almost two decades. During Miss Blake's tenure, the curriculum expands significantly and Marlborough begins its evolution into a highly regarded college preparatory school, as each year more and more Marlborough students seek and are admitted to east coast women’s colleges. The Student Council is organized in 1924, uniforms become mandatory in 1926, and the School’s first student newspaper is launched, along with many dramatic, literary, and community service-related clubs.

1942 – Miss Ada Blake is succeeded as Principal by Georgia Caswell Overton, daughter of Mary Caswell.

In 1942, Miss Blake is succeeded by Mary Caswell’s daughter, Georgia Caswell Overton, who serves as Principal of Marlborough School for six years. Under her leadership, the boarding division is discontinued, the Honor System is formalized, and, in 1944, the School welcomes the arrival of legendary English teacher Cecil Carnes.

1948 – Mrs. Helen Mitchell becomes Principal, focuses on preparing Marlborough graduates for college.

When Mrs. Overton retires in 1948, she is succeeded by Mrs. Helen Mitchell as Principal. Preparing Marlborough graduates for college is a high priority for Mrs. Mitchell, so curricular changes—such as a mandatory four years of English and History, and special honors seminars for seniors—coupled with personal outreach to both east and west coast colleges, results in Marlborough graduates’ placements in the nation’s most distinguished colleges and universities.

1958 – Helen and Kenneth Mitchell purchase Marlborough School.

With the intention of one day building new School facilities, Mrs. Mitchell and her husband purchase Marlborough from the Overtons. Over the next decade, city building inspections became frequent, and new electrical equipment was way overdue. "The day I knew we had to have a new building was the day I blew a fuse three times in one morning!" said Mrs. Mitchell. In 1960, the Marlborough School Foundation was formed, and the Mitchells generously sold the School to the Foundation, assuring the development of new buildings and ensuring Marlborough's survival well beyond her years as its leader.

1962 - Marlborough ushers in a new era as a non-profit foundation with its own Board of Trustees.

The 1960s were transforming times for Marlborough School. With Principal Virginia Jennings (1962-1965) and Headmaster Philip Perkins (1965-1970) leading the School, the newly created Board of Trustees launches the School’s first $4 million fund-raising campaign, “Marlborough of the Future,” to invest in new buildings, campus expansion, and endowment funds. Noted architects William Pereira and Associates create the most modern educational designs while preserving the School’s architectural tradition.

1968 – The “new” School is completed, and two years later, Robert Chumbook (1970-1990) becomes Headmaster.

During Mr. Chumbook's tenure, Marlborough expands and enhances campus facilities as well as academic and non-academic offerings and opportunities. With vision and foresight, the School begins purchasing additional properties adjacent to the campus, and the trustees earmark endowment funds specifically for faculty salaries and student financial assistance.

1989 - Barbara Wagner joins Marlborough School.

With a Bachelor of Music degree from Michigan State University and a Master of Music Education degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder--where she also served as an Instructor--Barbara Wagner teaches music in a public school in Michigan for three years, and following completion of a graduate degree program at the University of Colorado and a year as an instructor at the University of Colorado , she joins the staff at Graland Country Day School in Denver, where she serves successively as music instructor, Chair of the Fine Arts Department, Head of the Middle School, Assistant Head, and Interim Head of School.

A native of Michigan, Ms. Wagner comes to Marlborough School in the fall of 1989 as the Director of Upper School, and in 1990 she accepts the position of Head of School. In that role, she expands the academic and extra-curricular vision of the School, as well as its campus, overseeing the construction of Booth Field and Munger Hall, as well as the commencement of the Arden Project.


2014 – Marlborough Celebrates 125 Years

Marlborough celebrates its quasquicentennial with historical remembrances in the curriculum and in publications, as well as with a "Birthday Bash" celebration on campus.

2015 – The Arden Project breaks ground as the final phase of a campus expansion envisioned in the 1960s.

With the Arden Project, adjacent houses owned by the School are razed and the campus expanded to include a new garden, a full-size, multipurpose field, expanded tennis courts, the Caryll Mudd Sprague aquatics center, the Seaver Pool, a fitness and wellness facility, and additional surface parking. This project completes the current Master Plan for the School and doubles the size of the original campus. For more information, photos, and video, please visit arden.marlborough.org.

2015 – Dr. Priscilla G. Sands becomes Head of School

Dr. Sands joins Marlborough from the Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, where she has served as President since 2011. Dr. Sands began her independent school career teaching drama and English at her alma mater, the prestigious Agnes Irwin School in Philadelphia, where she rose quickly through the ranks, overseeing the community service program, serving as Director of Admissions and Financial Aid, and eventually being named Assistant Head of School. In 1996, Sands was tapped to lead another highly respected girls’ school in Philadelphia, Springside School, and in 2011, when Springside merged with the all-boys Chestnut Hill Academy, the new Board appointed Sands President of the combined institution, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.

 For more about Dr. Sands, please see our news story about her.

A Legacy of Tradition

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For more than 125 years and through nine successive heads of school, Marlborough has nurtured and cherished many beloved customs and traditions, each holding its own unique place in the life of the school, its students, and alumnae.

Big Sister/Little Sister/Twin Sister: Each new student is paired up with a “Big Sister” or "Twin Sister" who welcomes her to Marlborough and helps orient her to her new school.

Father-Daughter Picnic: An annual event since 1954, Marlborough students and their dads (or favorite father-figures) enjoy a day filled with food and friendly competition.

Pumpkin Day: A carnival-like atmosphere takes over the School each Halloween as students, teachers, and administrators turn out in costume for a parade and contest.

Class Colors and Class Song: Before they leave the Middle School, 9th graders select their Class Colors and Song. They carry the colors with them through Upper School and sing their song at various School celebrations.

Pin Ceremony: To celebrate their completion of Middle School, 9th graders are given a Marlborough School pin at a special ceremony at the end of the year.

Banner Presentation: 10th Grade students create and present a banner embodying the best characteristics of their class. The banner moves with them and is then proudly displayed in the Senior Lounge when the class becomes seniors.

Ring Ceremony: Marking the passage into their final school year, juniors are presented their School rings by seniors in a formal evening ceremony. The design of Marlborough’s school ring dates back to the early 1920s.

Mascot Presentation: Each senior class selects and presents a class mascot--a fictional figure that symbolizes the identity of the graduates. Recent mascots have included Madeline, the Pink Panther, Wonder Woman, Curious George, and the Lorax.