The name "Marymount" has long been associated with excellence in education. The Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary (RSHM), founders of Marymount University, have a long history of providing thoughtful responses to societal needs. Today, elementary, secondary, and collegiate institutions bearing the name "Marymount" are located in California, New York, Virginia, England, France, Italy, and Mexico.

Marymount University in Arlington was founded as a women’s college in 1950 at the suggestion of Bishop Peter L. Ireton of Richmond. Thirteen freshmen entered the first year, and nine of them comprised the first graduating class in 1952. In 1960 the institution was incorporated as Marymount College of Virginia, an independent college governed by an autonomous board of directors.

Enrollments steadily increased, and the physical plant and facilities were expanded to serve a growing student population. From the original property, which included a mansion, stone guest house, and two cottages — all comprising the residence of Rear Admiral Presley M. Rixey, White House physician to Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt — the institution has grown to be a modern residential campus.

From 1950 to 1972, as a college, Marymount offered only the associate degree. In 1973, it became a senior college offering the bachelor’s degree in more than 20 fields. In 1979, graduate programs leading to the master’s degree were added. Marymount’s first male students were admitted in 1972 in the nursing program. In 1979, coeducational graduate programs in a number of fields were added. In 1986, the institution responded to its changing student profile by becoming coeducational at all levels and changing its name to Marymount University. In 2005, Marymount was approved by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to offer its first doctoral degree, the clinical Doctor of Physical Therapy.

The university responded to its dramatic enrollment growth by acquiring new buildings near the Main Campus and increasing accessibility through a shuttle service. Ballston Center, established in 2017, houses classrooms, offices, computer labs, support services, auditorium, art gallery, and the Ballston Center Library Extension. 4040 Center houses the Physical Therapy Program.

Marymount University also reaches out to the metropolitan Washington area through off-campus offerings at corporate and government sites, medical centers, and public schools.

An independent institution related to the Roman Catholic Church, Marymount University is governed by a board of trustees that includes corporate and professional executives, members of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, and Marymount University alumni.