Duncan College Preparatory School for Boys

by Leonard N. Wood.

In 1908 Duncan College Preparatory School for Boys was founded by Mr. Marvin T. Duncan and his wife Pauline. Located at 401 25th Avenue South in Nashville, a three-story structure served both as the school building and as a home for Mr. and Mrs. Duncan. In recent years a historical marker has been erected at the site, just south of the Vanderbilt gym.

Headmaster Marvin T. Duncan (photo courtesy of the author)

Mr. Duncan, the son of a Methodist minister and a graduate of the Webb School at Bell Buckle, graduated from Vanderbilt in 1905. He established Duncan School after stints as a teacher at the old Wallace School on Broadway and as principal of schools in Lawrenceburg and Paris, Tennessee. Mrs. Duncan was a graduate of Columbia Institute and had taught at the old Tarbox School, which is now the Senior Citizens’ Center at 1801 Broad.

Mr. Duncan was a strict disciplinarian. Any student who violated school rules certainly knew the punishment he would receive. The Honor Council, elected by their fellow students, sat in judgment of all honor code violations. Some student misdemeanors were handled by an invitation to Saturday School, while more serious infractions required a visit with Mr. Duncan and his belt. Whippings were reserved for students who appeared not to benefit from one of his famous lectures.

“Trapping” was an academic exercise that rewarded those who were prepared for their daily classes. Students sat in rows on old-fashioned benches, and those who were able to answer questions from the teacher moved ahead of those unable to answer. When a student moved to the head of the class and stayed there for a full class period, he received a “headmark” for his efforts, which enhanced his final grade in that class.

Chapel was an integral part of daily life at the school. Mr. Duncan was always at his best during his “sermonettes,” and the students enjoyed these lectures since they took time away from class work. Duncan’s presentations were designed to instruct his boys in high principles of honor and scholarship, and to remind them of the importance of hard work in both life and the classroom.

Duncan Student Body (photo courtesy of the author)

Athletics was another important part of school life. In spite of having no gym, track, or athletic field, the Duncan Longhorns fielded competitive teams in the major sports. In 1945 the baseball team won the Mid-South Association Western Division crown.

Ill health forced Headmaster Duncan to close his school after the 1951-52 academic year. After he died that fall, Vanderbilt University acquired the property. The school building was torn down in 1958.

Many leading citizens of Middle Tennessee received their education at Duncan. A Duncan diploma enabled graduates to enter many leading universities, including Vanderbilt and Sewanee, without an entrance exam. A number of Duncan alumni – some 752 men and 6 women graduated from the school – helped Brentwood Academy raise funds for their building program, and the Duncan Library at Brentwood Academy is the repository for the school’s memorabilia. (2000)

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