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Historic Designation for Frederick Douglass High School

Patricia Rhodes ’70-President Emeritus

In 2013, the Frederick Douglass High School – (former location-1645 N. Calhoun Street and current location – 2103 Gwynns Falls Parkway) received Historic Designation from the Baltimore City Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP).  On February 12, 2013 several members of the Frederick Douglass High School Alumni Association, Inc. (FDHSAA) along with members from Councilmen Nick Mosby’s very able staff attended the CHAP hearings, Planning Commission hearings and Baltimore City Council hearings and presented testimony in support of historic landmark designation legislation introduced and spearheaded by Councilman Nick Mosby and his staff.  In attendance at the hearing and presenting testimony were Councilman Mosby as well as members of the FDHSAA, Inc. including immediate past-President: Dr. Reginald Lawrence ’61; former Presidents Mrs. Barbara Leak ‘43, Mr. Joseph E. Smith ’53, Mrs. Patricia Rhodes ’70.  Also in attendance and gave testimony were FDSHAA, Inc. Board of Directors members:  Dr. Ruth J. Pratt ’39, Rose Hillery Jones ’47 and  former  board Vice-Chair Robert L. Rhodes ’70.  Robert Rhodes, working out of the FDHS Alumni Office on a daily basis at that time, played an integral part in insuring that individuals were present for the on-site hearings, obtaining correct documentation and myriad of telephone calls and constant contact with FDHSAA members and sponsoring city agencies. Portions of the Landmark Designation Report are as follows:




Source:  Baltimore City Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation – Landmark Designation Report – February 12, 2013 


Frederick Douglass High School was the first high school established for African Americans in the city of Baltimore and the State of Maryland.25 It was the third African American high school established in the United States.26 It grew out of a primary school for African American children established in 1867, called the Colored Grammar School. The high school curriculum was added in 1883, and the first class graduated from the Colored High School of Baltimore City in 1889, receiving their diplomas from Mayor Latrobe.27 In 2013, the school will celebrate its 130th anniversary.

For fifty years, this was the only high school for African Americans in Baltimore City and Baltimore and Howard Counties.28 The school has had several locations over its history, and its present home is its fifth location. It was first located at the Peale Museum on Holliday Street (which is a Baltimore City Landmark), moving in 1888 to a new building, the first public African American high school constructed in the United States.29 The beautiful brick building was considered a credit to the city, and was located on Saratoga Street three doors from Charles Street, in the most fashionable part of town.30 The building housed a high school and grammar school for 1,200 students, which was double the capacity of any other school in the city.31 In his speech at the school’s opening, Mayor Latrobe stated that “the colored pupils will have an incentive to strive after excellence that may be rewarded by securing for them places as teachers of  their race.”32 The significance of this building is evident, and made more so by the fact that during the late 19th century, African American schools were typically located in former white schools.33 this building doesn’t survive today.

In 1896, the grammar and high schools separated. The high school added “Normal School” curriculum in 1900 which trained teachers, and nine years later the Normal School broke off to become its own school, which is now Coppin State University.34 In 1901, having outgrown its quarters, the school moved to the former English-German

School No. 1, and elementary school on Pennsylvania Ave. and Dolphin Street, which was larger and located in the midst of a large African American community.35 The same year, the school’s white faculty and principal were replaced with African American faculty, and the school merged with the Colored Polytechnic Institute.36

The Colored High School quickly outgrew its quarters at Pennsylvania and Dolphin Streets, and beginning in 1908, the City School Superintendent noted that the building was inadequate. By 1914, the school was using a portable structure, and renting a house and a church to combat the overcrowding.37 That same year, there were demands for a new building to “alleviate wretched conditions,” a demand that was reiterated by the African American community for over a decade. In March 1925, the old school building was crowded to over-capacity with 1900 students in a building only intended to house 600 students.38 In order to teach all of these students, the high school ran on two shifts.39 This problem was not unique to the Colored High School; nearly a third of African American schools were run this way to alleviate overcrowding.40 In 1923, Dr. Howard E. Young wrote a letter to the school board, stating that “No such pesthole as the Colored High School Building for white children would be tolerated for ten minutes.”41 A survey conducted in 1921 by the City’s Survey Commission found that every single school for African American students was inadequate, with twelve schools recommended for condemnation.42 that same year, a new African American high school was approved by the school board, and Douglass opened four years later.

Douglass High School was designed by Spencer E. Sisco of the Baltimore firm Owens & Sisco, and this was his most prominent work.43 His partner Benjamin B. Owens was a prominent Baltimore architect, who designed the Terminal Warehouse building (a Baltimore City landmark), among other industrial, religious, and residential homes in the Baltimore area.44 Owens died in 1918, and Sisco carried on the firm into the 1930s, designing buildings for Springfield State Hospital in Sykesville, and other projects.45

In 1935, East Baltimore’s Paul Laurence Dunbar Junior High School expanded to include ninth and tenth grades, but students still graduated from Douglass.46 In 1938, Dunbar became a full high school, and afterward, Douglass served African Americans from the western part of Baltimore City, as well as students from Baltimore and Howard Counties.47 Douglass had a night school for many years, which offered the same high-quality education to thousands of students who had to work during the day.48 Night school is still offered at Douglass today.49

After thirty years in this building, the school once again faced crowded conditions and a need for larger quarters. In September 1954, Douglass High School moved into the Western High School building on Gwynns Falls Parkway to alleviate over-crowding.50 The school has been located at this campus ever  since.


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