Home > Local History > Washington High DC School Cadet Corps

Washington High DC School Cadet Corps

Harlan Woodfork 1950-1951

Harlan Woodfork

The other day I was looking through my family history files and came across some pages I had copied from the Washington DC’s Dunbar High 1951 yearbook.  I had found the yearbook at my uncle’s house a few years ago.  It belonged to his brother and my uncle, Harlan.  Harlan Woodfork was second to the youngest child of my grandparents Sylvester and Ethel Woodfork.  I never met Uncle Harlan; he died when he was 19 from congestive heart failure.  He was about to start his sophomore year at Hamilton College in New York.

From the yearbook I learned Uncle Harlan was a member of the football team, the Rex Club (Senior Boys’ Choir), captain in the Dunbar High School Cadet Corps and aspired to be a lawyer.  The yearbook contained a brief history of the school’s Cadet Corps along with several pictures, as well as, an article about the armory that was written by my uncle.

1950-1951 Dunbar HIgh Cadet Corps - Regimental Staff

1950-1951 Dunbar HIgh Cadet Corps - Regimental Staff

1950-1951 Dunbar HIgh Cadet Corps - Battalion Staff

1950-1951 Dunbar High Cadet Corps - Battalion Staff

1950-1951 Dunbar High Cadet Corps - Company A

1950-1951 Dunbar High Cadet Corps - Company A

1950-1951 Dunbar HIgh Cadet Corps - Company B
1950-1951 Dunbar HIgh Cadet Corps – Company B

1950-1951 Dunbar High Cadet Corps - Company C

After reading the information I became interested in the Washington High School Cadet Corps and decided to do a little research….

The Cadets Corps – a precursor of the Junior ROTC – consisted of male high school students.   The purpose of the corps was to teach them disciple and leadership.   Like most of America at that time, the Cadets Corps were segregated.  In 1882, two companies of High School Cadets where organized for white high schools.  The first competitive drill for white students was held in 1888. The first colored high school cadets were organized in 1888 at M Street High (which would later become Dunbar High School) by Christian Fleetwood.

M Street High School Cadet Corps 1895

Source: Library of Congress

Cadet Corps were a great source of school and community pride. They marched in parades, including presidential inaugural parades, escorted dignitaries and participated in drills.   Being in the high school Cadet Corp was a family tradition for many households.  One of the highest honors was to be commissioned as an officer as a senior.   In addition to being in command, an officer wore a saber (instead of carrying a heavy rifle) and enjoyed increased popularity.

The annual drill competition at Griffith stadium was a major event for the entire community.  Every cadet company participated in the  drill.   The cadet corps was removed from the high school curriculum in the late 1960’s

Washington, D.C. high school Cadet Corps unit holding a competitive drill at Griffith Stadium - 1935

Courtesy: Midwestern Femm

  1. December 22, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    What an outstanding entry for your blog! I loved reading all about your late uncle as I am following my passion of writing about and teaching military drill. I appreciate reading about the history of the art I enjoy so much.

    Your uncle passed too early.

    Thank you for writing this. Blessing to you and your family!

    • December 22, 2011 at 9:11 pm

      Hi John,
      I am glad you liked the post. From what I understand being in the Cadet Corps had a very positive influence on a young man’s life. It is good to know that the military drill is still being taught.

  2. Robyn
    December 27, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    That was a very interesting history you found. It kind of amazes me what can be discovered online these days. What a handsome guy. Died at 19!!!! Wow.

    • December 27, 2011 at 2:52 pm

      Thanks Robyn. Growing up in Washington, DC I often heard the older folks talking about the Cadet Corps. It was interesting to read about the history and find some pictures online.

  3. Angie
    January 22, 2012 at 8:45 am

    I enjoyed reading about your Uncle along with the hisoty of the Cadet Corps.

    • January 22, 2012 at 9:01 am

      HI Angie,
      Thanks. I am glad you enjoyed it.
      I was doing some research at the library and found some more picture from different schools which I plan to add to the blog.
      One picture was of a female cadet corps.
      That was interesting becuase everything I read has stated the cadet corps were only for boys.

      Take Care.

  4. Eh Jay
    May 1, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    Thanks so much for the great research and for documenting it on the internet for everyone to see. I read your article with eagerness and excitement. You see, I recently discovered that my Grandfather was also a cadet in the Corps. I found a Washington Post article from 1928 which listed him as a Private on the winning drill team!!! I never met my grandfather, nor have I ever seen an image of him–so, it was fun to see those of your uncle.

    • May 1, 2012 at 8:31 pm


      I am glad you enjoyed the article.
      Did your grandfather attend high school in Washington DC?
      IF so what school?
      The Martin Luther King Library has many more pictures of Cadet Corps.


  5. Blanche Smith
    January 17, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    Marion, this is wonderful the Paul Laurence Dunbar High school alumni federation is always looking for articles such as this that document our history as the first high school in the US for students of color. When attended Dunbar the cadet corps was the best in the city!!!!

  6. Maurice
    October 23, 2013 at 12:38 am

    I was a member of the cadet core. Wow nice. Maurice

  7. George
    November 8, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    I was in the Anacostia High School Cadet program for three years in the late 50’s to early 60’s. Did you know one of our duties was to protect the District of Columbia from enemies should there be a war?

    • May 24, 2015 at 7:29 pm

      Hi George,

      I recently came across this website for Anacostia High School and other schools in SE Washington DC during the 1950’s and 1960’s

      I thought you might find it interesting since it it during the time period you attended Anacostia.

      What elementary school did you attend?
      I came across the aforementioned website when I was researching Kimball Elementary School

  8. George Allin
    May 24, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    Thanks for your article. I was in the Western High School Cadets in 1932 – 1934. George Allin

  9. James Hillier
    July 14, 2020 at 8:06 pm

    This is a very late entry but I also was a Cadet at Anacostia High School in DC 1962_63 was on the school rifle team and also the drill team. Served me well when I joined the Navy the fallowing year. The armory in the school had 3 walls of M1 rifles. We learned to take the apart and clean and put them back together. Also they were used in our Regimental drills. It is a shame the there is no longer a required draft nor the cadet corps to build the men we need so badly today.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: