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The Hawthorne School
17th and M Streets, N.W.
Washington, D.C.

Recollections of The Sumner School building

This page is for recollections and pictures of Hawthorne when it was located at the Charles Sumner School building, 17th and M Streets, N.W., and for other information about the history of the Charles Sumner School before and since.

Please send your recollections or pictures to us as described in the Contact section.

Winthrop Carty


Looking through the front second or third floor windows of the Sumner Building afforded a nice view of the building itself, reflected against the National Geographic across the street.  (That’s how Sandy spotted a group of students recklessly climbing around the roof above the clock tower.)  Many of the rooms were cavernous, with tall ceilings and long, elegant windows. Nevertheless, inside often seemed dark, perhaps a result of inadequate electrical lighting or a sense of foreboding before grades and tests.  The ceiling of the top floor auditorium suffered leaks.  The bathrooms, with their broken or missing stall doors, were run down.

Students didn't seem to mind these physical shortcomings, however, perhaps sensing that priorities were directed more at what happened inside their classroom and their minds.  No class better captured this than Eleanor's geometry classes, which resembled more of a bingo game than a "math class."  In Geometry, students, even the more disengaged ones, struggled to shout out solutions to the problems Eleanor put on the board with her trademark intensity.

All-school meetings were held regularly in a big room on the second floor.  These were part announcements, and part free-for-all.  Thanks to the small school population (about 130 students during that period) everybody knew everybody and relationships across races and cliques were surely far better than those of the vast majority of American high schools then and now.


Occasionally, a polyester-clad businessman would appear indignantly at the second floor office asking to have his car unblocked.  Sandy would have left his VW van against the back of these intruders who disregarded the private parking sign on his space, the only such space abutting the building on 17th Street.  Sandy would take his time freeing the snared car, and students snickered at the glares from the business suit.  This was one of the many indications of the “them against us” attitude we harbored in our Hawthorne world in the midst of the self-important hubbub of downtown D.C.  Since many of us already carried plenty of extra baggage of alienation — socio-economic, racial, ideological, or psychological — the sense that Hawthorne’s leadership was in the “with us” category was one of the ways Sandy, Eleanor, and the rest of the faculty got students to try education.

Duke Ellington gave one of his final concerts (circa 1974) at Hawthorne School.  He was old and sick then and had to be brought up in a stretcher to the theater on the top floor.  Julie Nixon, Richard Nixon’s daughter, came (surely uninvited) to introduced him.  She was greeted with a low-grade hiss and nasty murmur from the student body (and faculty).  The Duke, however, just sat at his piano and played.  It was beautiful.

Winthrop Carty attended Hawthorne from 1972 to 1976.

Last updated February 21, 2003