“Mrs. Noland, I hesitate to suggest it, but do you think you might eliminate molasses from the boys’ breakfast?”
Rosalie Noland had welcomed the school headmistress to her home with her typical southern hospitality and grace, but the conversation had taken an unexpected turn.
Mrs. Noland had recently insisted her seven children learn civility and culture, and had brought them to Washington, D. C. for proper schooling. The children were not adjusting to city life well, and they longed to return to their country home in Middleburg, Virginia. Charlotte, the third oldest at age 13, deeply resented being away from her beloved animals and countryside and acting out had become common. But what did that have to do with the boys of the family eating molasses for breakfast?
Charlotte had been arriving to school late every day. When questioned, she blamed her tardiness on dish-washing duty, claiming that the sticky molasses on the plates prevented a prompt arrival. Unfortunately, that turned out to be a lie. Instead of going to school, Charlotte was sneaking off to a local zoo and helping the zookeeper train and feed a raccoon! The story is told in Charlotte’s biography, Charlotte Haxall Noland 1883-1969, published in 1970 by Foxcroft School.
Ultimately, Charlotte was expelled for her truancy, and over the next two years, the educational struggle continued at other schools in Washington and Baltimore. Charlotte insisted that the teachers didn’t understand her, and that they made the lessons boring and inaccessible. She began to plot for her own school, a cherished dream that would some day come true.
Charlotte Haxall Noland (1883-1969) spent her childhood leading others (sometimes into mischief) and riding the farm horses around her family home of Burrland. The family reunited with Burrland after two years in the city, and a year later Charlotte went to stay with her aunt in Richmond to make her debut. It was an unqualified success, but upon her return home, the pragmatic Charlotte assessed the ritual as “a lot of fun, but really a waste of time.”
A turning point came when Charlotte went to work. She found employment as the physical education teacher at St. Timothy’s School in Baltimore, and found that the gym suited her well. She went on to teach at Bryn Mawr School in a similar capacity, refining ideas for her dream school. Eventually she enrolled in a summer course in physical education through the Sargent School at Harvard where she learned the rules and how to officiate a new sport known as basketball.
Upon returning to Baltimore, Charlotte set up a gymnasium for girls, finding clients from all the surrounding schools. She built up enough capital to open her dream school, near her hometown of Middleburg. The school was named Foxcroft School (Charlotte fell in love with the name when she walked past a family home belonging to a Major Foxcroft one summer) and opened in 1914. Charlotte had her dream school at age 31.
In many ways, Foxcroft was an expression of Charlotte Noland’s belief in the virtues of sport and physical competition. The school motto is “mens sana in corpore sano” (a healthy mind in a healthy body). Beagling was an early mandatory excursion for all students. A basketball tradition was founded at Foxcroft with an annual Thanksgiving game between the school’s two houses, the Foxes and the Hounds.
Other sporting traditions began to take shape: the girls were trained in riding (aside or astride) by Miss Charlotte (as she would be called forever afterward) and, with parental approval, be given training on jumping their steeds. Students spent a weekend each year riding their horses to Luray, Virginia (a round trip of over 100 miles). A Coon Hunt was organized every October, and very soon the school had its own horse show.
From 1932 to 1946, Miss Charlotte served as Joint Master to the Middleburg Hounds with Daniel Sands. Early in the school’s development, she allowed the best riders from among her students to ride with the Middleburg Hunt. Miss Charlotte’s hunting career eventually came to an end, as she never truly recovered from a bad fall while hunting. She gradually lost the full use of her injured leg, and riding became difficult. Instead, she turned to fishing, spending her retirement in her boat, “The Sea Fox,” and she reportedly caught a 68 pound marlin!
Many of the sporting traditions at the school have continued on, and riding is still a signature program of the school. Today, Foxcroft School is a cornerstone of Virginia’s hunt country and an embodiment of its founder’s vision.
John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail