Why Is It Named Hearst Elementary School?

Phoebe Hearst Elementary School
Phoebe Hearst Elementary School

Hearst Elementary School up in North Cleveland Park, behind Sidwell Friends, is a cute little school for about 200 students. We’ve wanted to do a post on a local public school for a while and were curious where the name Hearst came from.

Below is an article that we found in The Washington Post, reporting on the dedication of the school from November 15th, 1932. The year prior, the First Lady, Mrs. Hoover, had attended the cornerstone laying ceremony.

Described by Senator Royal S. Copeland, of New York, in his dedicatory speech, as “a worthy monument to the most public spirited woman of her period,” the new Phoebe Apperson Hearst Elementary School at Thirty-seventh and Tilden streets northwest was dedicated last night with a program of music and oratory.

Senator Copeland traced the career of Mrs. Hearst, laying stress on the important work she did while in Washington in laying the foundation for the kindergarten system and launching the parent-teacher movement. As a member of the District committee of the Senate, Senator Copeland pledged the advancement of every possible effort in interest of the local public school system and expressed confidence that his fellow members on the committee entertained similar sentiments.

Two grandsons of Mrs. Heart, William Randolph Hearst, jr., and John Hearst, presented an aquarium to the school in behalf of their father, William Randolph Hearst. They took part in the corner stone laying ceremony of the school last year. Miss Catherine Watkins, director of kindergartens in the District, accepted the gift.

Dr. Frank W. Ballou, superintendent of District schools, paid a tribute to the memory of Mrs. Hearst, and pointed to the school built in her name as a realization of the type of school she had in mind when she worked for the establishment of ideal school surroundings for young children.

So, Phoebe Hearst was a philanthropist, feminist, and suffragist. Along with Jane Stanford, she founded the Golden Gate Kindergarten Association which became the foundation for early education in California. Hearst was a strong advocate for early education and helped start countless free kindergarten schools throughout the country, which eventually became a part of the public school system.

She also happened to be married to George Hearst, a wealthy miner and Senator from California. (The HBO series Deadwood is a fictionalized account of his mining exploits in South Dakota.) Not only that, but there’s another famous Hearst whom you might know. William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate.

So that’s why it’s named Phoebe Hearst Elementary School. Any readers attend Hearst or have children that attend the school?

About Tom

Tom founded Ghosts of DC on January 4th, 2012 as a blog to uncover the lost and untold history of Washington, D.C. He has lived in the city for over a decade and loves exploring every corner of the District.

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  • David

    I grew up in the neighborhood and had friends attend Hearst! I do have a question, not pertaining to the school itself but the surrounding area. Do you know what the story is with that wooded path between the sections of Idaho avenue on the east side of the school? For a long time on some maps it was listed as a road, and then on others it wasn’t, and now I haven’t seen any maps or listings with it as a road in a couple of years. If you find any information on that I would love to know. I’ve been wondering what the deal is with that ever since I was a little kid.

  • hearstparent

    I live in the neighborhood and have a kid at Hearst now. It’s a great school and just getting started on a big building expansion. But the aquarium is still there and in great shape, thanks to Ms. Dawkins, one of the current pre-K teachers. They renovated the existing building already and did a great job really fixing it up and showcasing some of the original building, like the fish tank.

  • Sean

    My older brother and I both attended Hearst in the late 70s early 80s. We grew up in Mt. Pleasant and our local school was Bancroft, which was nothing like it is now. Our parents had us take the.H2/H4 busses across the park. It was a good school with a great Principal, Mrs. Greer, who was also the principal at Eaton because of the small sizes at the time.

  • DaBear

    I played soccer at Hearst for years in elementary school in the 70’s. It was part of the DC rec league at the time. I recall a small clubhouse building with ping pong and pool tables. I should swing by and take a look at the place.

    PS – Mrs. Greer was my sister’s principal at John Eaton in the early 80’s. I recall a firm yet warm person.

  • frankoanderson

    I went there for 2 years in the early 80’s. I recall a small, very old wooden building in the corner of the playground, and a jungle gym right on the blacktop, neither of which would be allowed today. They used the air raid siren for the fire drills. My 1st grade teacher was Ms. Melvin.

  • Cheryl

    My brother and I attended Hearst in the 50s and early 60s. I attended from Kindergarten through sixth grade. The graduating class had 18 pupils, most of whom had attended the school since Kindergarten. The aquarium was awesome. The school terrific and provided one of the best educational foundations I could have ever received. I used to see the limousine waiting for the Nixon girls every afternoon at Sidwell Friends, which was across the street. The school had 6 Cherry Blossom trees lining both sides of the entry. They were some of the trees that were gifted by the Japanese government which were planted downtown by the Potomac.
    The building by the playground was the recreation center for the area. it had been slave quarters before the Civil War. We affectionately called it the “Little House”. In the early 60s the 5th and 6th graders used to turn it into a dance hall and we would dance to rock and roll records after school. The Twist was the new dance. In the summer there were various activities that we could participate in (basket weaving was really taught).
    The 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Dunn, started every day checking our nails for cleanliness and to ensure that each had a handkerchief. She read Ecclesiastes verse 3 every morning (years before the Birds recorded Turn, Turn, Turn). She drilled us on our multiplication tables every day until we had them all memorized.
    The 5th grade teacher taught us square dancing one afternoon each week.
    We played football during every recess in 3rd grade. Boys and girls on the same teams.
    We walked or rode our bikes to school each day and every corner had a 5th or 6th grader crossing guard.
    Washington was a small town then and a delight to live in. Hearst Elementary was a wonderful experience.