History of School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens

School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens (SWWFS) is the result of School Without Walls Senior High School, Francis Junior High School, and Stevens Elementary School, merging over a six year period, to establish a challenging and rigorous academic program, with a global perspective, for pre-school through eighth grade students in the District of Columbia. Our school and campus have a legacy of achievement and excellence and it is the foundation on which School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens is built.

During the 2013-2014 school year, School Without Walls Senior High School merged with the Francis-Stevens Education Campus. School Without Walls Senior High School (SWWHS) was founded in 1971 as part of a concept in urban education at the time to “use the city as a classroom,” and was patterned after Philadelphia’s Parkway School and the Chicago Public High School for Metropolitan Studies. On March 9, 1971, thirty of the District’s 10,000 10th graders started their first day at “school without walls”. On that day, a Washington Post article described the concept behind the school this way:

The idea behind the school, based in a small suite of offices on the 12 floor of a building at 1411 K St., NW is that there are better ways of educating than simply putting students and teachers off by themselves in a school building every day. Instead the “school without walls” intends to use the District of Columbia, with its museums, government offices and universities, as its classroom. The city’s people – it scholars, small businessmen, white and blue-collar workers – will supplement the professional teaching staff.

Francis Junior High School

Francis Junior High School and Stevens Elementary School were both historic schools in the District of Columbia. The two schools consolidated during the 2008-2009 school year to become Francis-Stevens Education Campus and serve students preschool through eighth grade. Francis Junior High School was named for Dr. John R. Francis (1856-1913). Francis attended public and private schools in the District of Columbia until he was sixteen. He graduated from Howard University and received his medical degree from the University of Michigan. His skill and ability as a physician and surgeon were recognized in 1894, when the Secretary of Interior appointed him Assistant Surgeon-in-Chief of Freedman’s Hospital. While at Freedman’s Hospital, Dr. Francis instituted reform in the treatment of patients, installed training schools for nurses, and served as the obstetrician for the hospital.

In 1895, Dr. Francis established at 2112 Pennsylvania Avenue, the first private hospital owned by an African American man in DC. He served as a trustee of District of Columbia Public Schools and on the Board of Education from 1886 to 1889.

Mary H. Plummer was Francis Junior High School’s first principal. She graduated from Miner Normal School in 1914 and from Howard University with an A.B. degree in 1922. She earned her Masters of Arts from Columbia University.

In 1914, Mrs. Plummer was appointed a teacher in the DC public schools and was assigned to teach first grade at The Douglass School. In February 1924, she was promoted to the Randall Junior High School as an English teacher. On September 1, 1928, Mrs. Plummer was promoted to principal of Francis Junior High School. When she retired from principal of Francis Junior High School in 1947, the school Board said of her service:

Both as a teacher and as a principal Mrs. Plummer has made an outstanding contribution to public education and to community life. Always conscientious, cooperative, and efficient, both as a teacher and principal, Mrs. Plummer was an inspiration to thousands of pupils who were fortunate enough to come under her instruction and to teachers and officers whose great privilege it was to be associated with her. She exhibited at all times great capacity for constructive leadership for which she was richly endowed by nature.

Today, Mary H. Plummer Elementary School, serving over 250 grade school students, stands at 4601Texas Avenue, S.E. in Washington, D.C., in her honor.


Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School

Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School was located at 1050 21st Street, NW, in the West End community of D.C. The Stevens building was built in 1868 as one of the first publicly funded schools for Black children, and before its closing in June 2008, it was the city’s oldest school in continuous operations.

The school was named for Thaddeus Stevens (1792-1868), who was an important abolitionist who served as a U.S. representative from Pennsylvania. He was first elected in 1848 and was a constant opponent of extending slavery or appeasing the South. Stevens worked his entire life to reduce the distinctions between the rich and poor, as well as between blacks and whites. Congressman Stevens was a champion of “free schools” for all. In his final declaration for equality between blacks and whites, Stevens arranged to be buried in a remote cemetery where both whites and blacks are buried.

The Francis-Stevens Campus

Construction began on the Francis building, the primary campus for School Without Walls pre-school through 8th grade, in 1924. In 1926, after the drawings had been completed by municipal architect Albert L. Harris, Charles H. Tompkins was awarded the construction contract. The building was dedicated on March 20, 1928. Approximately 670 poor black students who lived in the swampy area of the District known as Foggy Bottom, as well as black students from Georgetown, enrolled in Francis Junior High School relieving overcrowding at the Stevens, Sumner, Magruder, Montgomery, Phillips, and Wormley schools.

Nearly as soon as construction was completed, a ten-room addition was constructed at the rear containing a gymnasium, cafeteria, and classrooms. In 1951, a new gymnasium/cafeteria wing was constructed on the east side.

Architectural Summary
The three-story building is constructed of brick with limestone sheathing at the first story along the main façade on the south. This elevation is articulated by segmental arch openings above the windows at the first story and double windows under flat arches at the second and third stories, each separated from the other by brick pilasters with limestone bases and capitals. At each end of the façade is a double pilaster. The brick pilasters support a limestone cornice. The double windows are repeated throughout the other elevations at all stories.

The building is surrounded by grassy lawns along the south side of the building. A playground is located to the west of the building and a parking area to the north. Rock Creek Park lies just to the north.

The interior floor plan consists of classrooms arranged around a central auditorium to capture maximum natural light.



Old News Reports


  • New Junior High School Dedicated
    The Evening Star, March 21, 1928
    » Download (pdf)
  • The Children Aren’t Fooled
    The Washington Post, April 18, 1998
    » Download (pdf)
  • The City Becomes A Hall of Learning
    The Washington Post, March 30, 2000
    » Download (pdf)


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