Webster School, Washington, DC
Location: 940 H St NW, Washington, DC 20002
The Daniel Webster School is designated a local landmark in the District of Columbia Inventory of Historic Sites under Criteria A as: (1) a good representative example of the larger red brick public schools designed by the Office of the Building Inspector during the late nineteenth century: (2) the home of the Americanization School during that institution’s most significant period; and (3) one of the last public schools remaining in downtown Washington, providing physical evidence of the residential neighborhoods and ethnic groups that were once an important part of the downtown community.
The Daniel Webster School (also known as Webster School), located on the southeast corner of 10th and H street, N.W., in Washington, D.C., was constructed in 1881 as a public school building for white students who lived close to the downtown area. The school was named in honor of Daniel Webster, who served as both Senator from Massachusetts and as Secretary of State in the cabinet of President Millard Fillmore. The form, plan, style, and materials of the Webster School associate the building with the phase of school building construction that was completed under the auspices of the Office of the Building Inspector during the last two decades of the nineteenth century.
The construction of Webster School corresponds to the third phase of public school building development in the city, as defined in the “Multiple Property Document for Public School Buildings of Washington, D.C.” The third phase represents those years from 1874 to 1900 after the territorial government was abolished and replaced with a board of commissioners. This period also reflects the merging of the school systems of Washington City, Georgetown, Washington County, and the black schools of Washington into a single entity. For most of this period, design and construction of municipal public buildings, including school buildings, was supervised by the Inspector of Buildings, a position created in 1878.
Architect of the Capitol Edward Clark (1822-1902), who was associated with municipal architecture during this time as both a designer and an inspector, signed the drawings for Webster School, indicating that he either had designed the building or that the drawings had passed his inspection. Clark, son of a prominent Philadelphia architect, received his architectural training from Thomas U. Walter, who held the position of Architect of the Capitol from 1851 to 1865. Clark began his training in Walter’s Philadelphia office and became Walter’s chief assistant during the extension of the United States Capitol Building. Clark was also the superintendent of construction on the Patent Office and the Post Office extensions under Walter. After Walter’s resignation in 1865, President Andrew Johnson appointed Edward Clark as Architect of the Capitol, a position that he held until his death in 1902. During his tenure, Clark introduced many improvements to the United States Capitol Building, including electricity, steam heat, and elevators, and was responsible for commissioning Frederick Law Olmsted as the landscape architect for the enlargement and improvement of the Capitol grounds. Clark was also responsible for many other federally-commissioned buildings in Washington, D.C., including several prominent buildings at the United States Soldiers’ Home and the extension of the government printing office.
This third phase of school building construction in the late nineteenth century represents the desire of the newly formed school board to continue the success of the post-Civil War years, which resulted in the construction of a distinctive group of major school buildings “so convenient in location and so well adapted to their purpose in nearly all conceivable particulars, as to win the admiring commendations of judicious visitors familiar with the most renowned buildings of like nature.” This period of construction is typified by eight- or twelve-classroom red brick school buildings placed every few blocks and serving a limited population of students. The floor plan usually consisted of four rooms with adjoining cloakrooms arranged around a central hallway. Most had two staircases, one for boys and the other for girls. Although some buildings were arranged with asymmetrical massing, most of them were designed with balanced massing, usually consisting of a central pavilion flanked by identical sections. Regardless of size and massing, these red brick school buildings shared common characteristics of style conveyed through various combinations of embellishments, including stone banding, corbelled and moulded brickwork, pressed metal cornices, and stone trim. Webster School, constructed between 1881 and 1882, incorporates all of these stylistic details into a symmetrical, three-story, twelve-classroom, red brick school building. Thus this building’s form, style, and plan are consistent with the typical school building constructed during this period and collectively represent this phase of development in the public school system of the District of Columbia.
The Webster School is also significant for its association with the Americanization School, which occupied the building between 1924 and 1949. The Americanization School was established as part of the D.C. Public School system in 1918 and operated free of charge to residents of the District seeking United States citizenship. The school also provided other social services through its allied programs, including aid to pupils in filing for citizenship with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, as well as instruction in reading and writing to American-born and foreign-born pupils with a limited educational background. The Americanization School was a significant institution in the city’s social history and is a unique component of the D.C. Public School system that reflects the desire to institutionalize the assimilation of foreign-born residents after World War I. Webster School’s use as the Americanization School for 25 years made the building a center for civic activity for foreign-born residents and their families. Webster School continued to represent the city’s commitment to meeting the changing needs of its residents through the twentieth century. After serving as an administrative annex for the D.C. Public Schools between 1950 and 1963, the school became the first home for the city’s newly-organized Girls’ Rehabilitation Program. A model of its kind, the program was directed to provide a holistic approach to the education and medical care for students who were pregnant or single mothers. After the Girls’ School was phased out, Webster School housed special education classes and administrative office of the D.C. Public Schools special education program. Thus, Webster School’s use from 1924 to the late twentieth century represents the diversification of innovative educational programs in the city.
- Architect: Edward Clark
- Construction Dates: 1881-1882
- GSA Building Number: DC0720ZZ
- National Register of Historic Places Landmark Status: National Register Eligible