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A History of
The Hawthorne School, Washington D.C.
from the 1961 yearbook
In the fall of 1956, Sandy and Eleanor Orr started a new, small, private, co-educational school. As with any institution in Washington, there was a problem of location. They wanted the school to be located in the city so that public facilities, such as libraries and museums, would be easily accessible. They finally found an available basement at 1914 "N" St., N. W., near Dupont Circle. This "building" was a youth hostel of which the Orrs rented three basement rooms and an office on the ground floor.
Next was the problem of locating students. But the Orrs, who both had excellent teaching records at Georgetown Day School, found fifteen students for their eighth and ninth grades, who (or rather whose parents) were willing to entrust their education of a new and unknown school.
The student-teacher ratio was about one to two, but the Orrs thought it was worth the wide variety of courses which they were able to offer and the small classes. There were many problems which had to be worked out by the faculty in cooperation with the students to make Hawthorne a good educational institution. As in any such situation where people are working together toward a common goal, a close relationship between all concerned was the result. This close student-teacher relationship has remained a feature of the school.
Busy as the Orrs were with administrative and teaching problems, they still inaugurated two of their educational concepts which, though modified, also remain as features of the school. These are the seminar and the daily current events' discussion.
During the first four years, school opened every morning with roll call and the current events' discussion. This year [1960-61], current events' comes in mid-morning to give both the students and the faculty a break.
The first year the whole school gathered once a week for a seminar on a variety of subjects ranging from the integration issue to a good high school curriculum. There were occasional guests such as Edward P. Morgan, the news commentator, and Ann Miller of the Washington Housing Association. The seminar continued in this form, with full student participation, for two more years. Last year [1959-60] the enrollment was so large that the idea lost one of its many values; that of giving everybody a chance to contribute. So seminar became a senior history course, and remains so this year.
In 1958, Hawthorne moved to its site at 1221 Massachusetts Avenue, in order to house its growing student body of 52. The building was formerly an Episcopal home for old women. Some alterations, such as the removal of handrailings, the formation of the laboratory, and the creation of an art room, were necessary. These were partially carried out by the students themselves. When school opened, eight rooms, all on the first floor, were in use.
In April 1959, The Hawthorne School was incorporated and made a non-profit corporation, thus relieving the Orrs of the headaches of having the money coming into and, mostly going out of their pockets. Also that year, the mothers of the students worked together to organize books for a school library. The end of the year brought the school its first contact with colleges. There were two seniors, Bob Swain and Dennis Reilly, leaving an unaccredited school and hoping to enter college in the fall. They were both accepted and we had a "senior prom" to see them off.
The Hawthorne School's second year in the Massachusetts Avenue building showed signs of being organized. It was now a full-fledged high school including eighth through twelfth grades. The enrollment was 64. There was a Chess Club, the darkroom gang, a yearbook, a newspaper, and "Alumni Fund" which purchased several books for the library and a Student Advisory Committee. The Hawthorne School was to graduate its first class that year. This meant college boards, applications, and letters of recommendation. All of these were fairly new experience to faculty and students alike. The whole class was accepted many of them by the college of their choice. The year we received periodically excellent reports of their records in college.
This [1960-]1961 school year, the school has again expanded, giving us a student body of 95 and a staff of 15. All three floors of the building are now in use. Another class is about to graduate. The school is now waiting to be appraised by the Accreditation Committee of the Middle States Association in order to receive official accreditation.1
The Student Advisory Committee, the darkroom gang, the newspaper, and the yearbook have been revived. The Student Independent Educational Association has been organized and just recently the "Girl's Club" came into existence. This "Club," made up of all the girls, plans activities for itself and the whole school. Its purpose is to be a unifying factor through which the girls can get to know one another, and, on a larger scale, for everyone in the school to become better acquainted by doing things together.
Now school is coming to an end. Most of the seniors have been accepted by colleges. Graduation, the senior prom, a school picnic, a trip to Rehoboth for the girls, and other activities are planned. Other activities, such as final exams and term papers, are also nearing.
Hawthorne is, we hope, showing its final signs of growing. A move to a new and permanent building in southwest Washington is contemplated in 1962.2 Let's hope it will carry with it the ideals and success that we now associate with The Hawthorne School.
The text and photograph are from the 1961 yearbook of The Hawthorne School; the footnotes and text in brackets have been added. The photograph was taken by Howie Mitchell using infrared film, which accounts for the light color of the grass and foliage. (Click on the picture for a larger version.)
1After further dialog with the Accreditation
Committee and more experience with college admissions, the school decided
not to be accredited by choice, as this left the school with more discrection
in setting the curriculum.
2This move to 501 I Street S.W. eventually occurred during the 1964-65 academic year.
Last updated November 19, 2003