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Eastern High School: History of The Pride of Capitol Hill

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I thought it would be a good to branch out and do a on Eastern High School (check them out on Facebook) near RFK Stadium. It’s a beautiful building at 1700 East Capitol St. NE, originally built in 1923. The original Eastern High School building was building in the 1890s at 7th and C St. SE.

This past fall, they started a unique program of enrolling a new ninth grade class, growing the school by one class each year until this incoming class of 300 freshman graduates in 2015.

So, the next “If Walls Could Talk” will be Eastern High School: The Pride of Capitol Hill. Also, I know the poll we’re running is for the next “If Walls Could Talk,” but I thought I could slide this one in before since it’s a school and not a restaurant. I’m sure you won’t mind … and plus, Capitol Hill is underrepresented on Ghosts of DC.

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Eastern High School, 1700 E St. NE (Wikipedia)
Eastern High School, 1700 E St. NE (Wikipedia)

The Rev. Curtis Lee delivers commencement address

In the evening of June 24th, 1897, sixty young women were graduating from Eastern High School, receiving their diplomas from Washington’s Mayor Hooper. This was the 45th annual commencement at Ford’s Opera House (the current building was constructed in 1890). The Rev. Curtis Lee, pastor of the First Baptist Church, was the keynote speaker — his wife was a graduate of the school.

Below is an excerpt from his speech:

“This municipality spent a million and a quarter dollars last year for education and I should like you young ladies to say to yourselves, What do I owe this community for what has been spent upon me? You have enjoyed is privileges for twelve years and there are duties you owe in return.”

“Personally, I pray that the day be not far distant when women’s wages will be measured only by the standard of women’s accomplishments and not by the weakness of their sex.”

“Not all men get married, either. There’s one here tonight who has been the admirer and the friend of thousands of pretty girl graduates and has been interested in hundreds of those women who are teaching in these public schools of Baltimore. Yet he has never surrendered to one woman. While there is life there is hope, though. The young lady who delivered the salutatory tonight mentioned his name in the same sentence with that of Queen Victoria. She is a widow, and would not surprise me some day to read that Mr. Morris had taken steamer to Europe to lay his hand and heart at her feet. Why not?”

In the ninth inning

I came across a short notice in the July 9th, 1899 Washington Post about an exciting baseball game at the old National Park. Eastern High School was facing off against Congress heights in a thrilling match up.

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The Eastern High School nine, by a great batting rally in the last inning, won the game from the Congress heights team at National Park yesterday afternoon. It was one of the prettiest contests seen on the amateur diamond this year, and was full of star plays. Wahler, the husky pitcher of the Heights team, seemed to have the youngsters at his mercy, but they pounded him for four hits, and aided by a wild pitch and an error, scored four runs.

Stuart, the second baseman, made a number of good plays and also did well at the bat, leading his team in the streak which won the tame.

Eastern ended up winning the contest 7-4 after scoring those four runs in the top of the ninth inning. Amazingly, the game only took one hour and forty minutes.

Proper dress required

Seems like adults have always complained about the appearance of teenagers.

Editor Post: Principal M. F. F. Swartzell, of the Eastern High School, cannot be too highly commended for his prompt and vigorous suppression of insubordination and its immediate cause. No more convincing proof is required that laxity in dress is closely associated with laxity in manliness, self-respect, courtesy to superiors, and personal dignity than was afforded by the recent shirt-waist episode.

Clothes are a great factor in this material world. A man in evening dress will conform to the manners of a gentleman so far as he is capable, and would scorn an act that he would practice in an obnoxious “shirt waist“–a poor term to be applied to a man’s clothing. The latter garment is most unbecoming to most men, bringing natural defects into undue prominence. It is no more sanitary or cool than a light coat worn without a waistcoat, and the fashion is deteriorating and an incentive to rowdyism, as is too apparent.

Fathers and mothers ought to feel indebted to teachers who combine with a knowledge of classics and a higher education will and power to teach the deportment of a manly man and help their sons acquire the manners of a gentleman with respect and courtesy to all whom he may meet. The boys who have graduated from the high schools and have made and are making such honorable progress in the world would never be guilty of such dishonorable conduct as this intended disrespect to their preceptor, Mr. Swartzell. Silly women–and they are increasing–delude themselves wi the idea that approving of laxity of dress of men in their presence is a sure passport to their favor. instead, it lessens respect for them, for men are grateful to women for the self-restraint so necessary to the highest type of manhood. Thomas Carlyle, in his “Sartur Resartus,” gives his readers an idea of the value of cloths and how judiciously we should use them.

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Congratulations to Mr. Swartzell, for liberty soon degenerates into license.


Change a little bit of the language and this could possibly be a letter to the editor today. I really applaud the beginning of the third paragraph and think it is so applicable today.

On a side note, Principal Swartzell was a seriously controversial figure in the neighborhood, as many in the community disliked him extensively and called for his removal.

The french teacher committed to St. Elizabeths

St. Elizabeths Center Building (Wikipedia)
St. Elizabeths Center Building (Wikipedia)

Poor Miss Mathilde Mellee, a 35-year-old french teacher at Eastern High School. She was committed to the House of Detention and was being transferred to St. Elizabeths in August of 1900.

…She is a woman of intelligence, with an attractive presence, and speaks English fluently with a French accent, which gives an added charm to her words. She has traveled extensively in this country and filled positions in private families and schools as French tutor. She is without relatives in Washington, though she has numerous acquaintances and friends here.

Her case was diagnosed as hallucinations of the ear, and it is thought proper treatment and rest for Miss Mellee at the asylum will soon result in cure. Her condition is not regarded as dangerous, but if she were permitted to retain her liberty in her present state of mind and without relatives or near friends to care for her it is feared her mental condition would grow worse and develop into melancholia.

“One thing I cannot understand. Recently I have been hearing voices, strange words urging me to do certain things, teasing me. They were like spirit voices. I heard them, though I do not believe in spiritualism. I have no relatives in this country. I am a native of Paris.

The article goes on to state that she was crossing the street during a thunderstorm, stepped on the streetcar tracks and was electrocuted. She claims that as a result of being “electrified,” her mental condition had been altered.

Victory for Eastern

Eastern High School had a powerhouse football team in the early 20th century. Here is an article from the Washington Post on September 30th,, 1905.

Eastern High School defeated the Gallaudet Reserves on Kendall Green yesterday afternoon by a score of 16 to 0. Capt. Mikesell, of the varsity, refused to allow his substitutes to play on the reserve team because of the Georgetown game to-day. This, with only two of last year’s Reserves remaining, and only a week’s practice, left the Reserves with a patched-up team. Eastern appears to be heavier than last year, giving its average weight as 150 pounds per man. The high school boys played a faster game than the Reserves, and their teamwork was better.

Fields, for Eastern, until he was injured and forced to retire toward the close of the game, was by far the best ground gainer of his team, and carried the ball nearly half the time. Bender and Perry also did fine work for Eastern, while Preston, Eider, Stover, and Leitch did the best work for the Reserves.

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Slowness and fumbling were the chief faults of the Reserves. Four times they lost the ball on fumbles, and their interference was ragged.

Eastern has been at work for three weeks, and seems to be stronger than last year.

Ha! An average weight of 150 pounds. AVERAGE! They couldn’t beat a junior high school team today. Take a look at the team photo from 1905 below. Looks like a bunch of dapper, weeny athletes (sorry, no offense guys).

Eastern High School football team (1905)
Eastern High School football team (1905)

Eastern meets Central on the gridiron

Eastern High School versus Central High School — Cardozo High School after 1949 — was a large football rivalry in the city. Thousands would attend their games. This was Washington’s gridiron battle royale of 1923. It was scheduled for October 19th at Central Stadium at 11th St. and Florida Ave. NW.

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EASTERN and Central High school football teams face each other this afternoon on the gridiron at Central stadium, signaling the opening of the interscholastic titular series of 1923. Play will start at 3:15.

A week ago the teams were acknowledged to be of about the same strength, and the chances of each for a victory was a toss-up. The outcome of today’s game depends upon the relative improvement of each team during the past week. Central seems to have the edge.

Well, the game was postponed due to rain and rescheduled to October 23rd … but, yet again, that was rained out as well. It finally took place on November 3rd, 1923.

CENTRAL HIGH yesterday set a pace entirely too fast for Coach Guyon’s Eastern team at Central stadium, easily winning its second start in the scholastic series 22 to 0.

Central presented a line that was the best shown so far in scholastic football this season. Eastern could make little or no impression on the Mount Pleasant forwards, while the Central backs–Johnson, Harper and Kauffman–found little difficulty in plunging through for substantial gains.

Mike Gordon was again the star of the game. This Central flash was entirely too fast for Eastern’s ends and secondary defense, getting away for several long runs. One went as a touchdown after a 52-yard dash. The ability of Quarterback Harper to make the distance needed for a first down was a prominent factor of Central’s offense. Harper crashed through seven times for first downs.

Too bad for Eastern, but below are two photos from that game. I think you’ll agree that these photos are amazing. Maybe the first one is of Mike Gordon being brought down by an Eastern defender.

Eastern High School vs. Central High School football - November 3rd, 1923
Eastern High School vs. Central High School football – November 3rd, 1923
Eastern High School vs. Central High School (1923)
Eastern High School vs. Central High School (1923)

Two teenage girls drink poison in church

Here’s a bizarre story I came across from March of 1926, not unlike the suicide by acid story I posted weeks ago. There seemed to be an epidemic of suicide by poison in the 1920s.

Standing in the vestibule of Holy Comforter Catholic church at Fourteenth and East Capitol street, two 15-year-old pupils of Eastern High school, Margaret Carragher, 1307 F street northeast, and Lillian Miller, 700 Sixteenth street northeast, drank poison, dropped the bottle in the church vestibule, walked to the corner and collapsed.

Hurried to the hospital, they later were taken to the Fifth precinct police station and then sent to the house of detention where they went to bed. Their condition is not serious.

Self-administered poison sent another young woman to the hospital and caused the death of a woman patient of Freedmen’s hospital yesterday, bringing the total of poison cases involving women to thirteen in the last three weeks, with two deaths resulting.

When the two High [sic] school girls were taken to the police station, after hospital treatment, they declared, police said, that they were dissatisfied with conditions at school and wanted to discontinue attendance. Their parents had refused to permit them to do so, they said and they agreed to end their lives.

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This is crazy, and there seemed to be an epidemic of depressed women in D.C. attempting to end their lives by consuming poison.

Eastern basketball team disappears during snowstorm

This is something that probably would never happen these days with Facebook, Twitter and foursquare. In early March, 1932, The Eastern High School basketball team was on a bus near Lexington, Virginia, when a snowstorm cut all communications and rendered roads impassable. They were stranded 12 miles outside of Lexington, unable to move, and for 24 hours, the community had no idea where they were.

After a 24-hour silence as to their whereabouts, members of the Easter High School’s basket ball [sic] team returned home by train yesterday, to the relief of parents and school officials, who were about to send a Ludington Line plane in quest of the young athletes when news of their safety was received.

General concern for the safety of the boys was felt, as the last message from the party, before the storm broke communications between Washington and Lexington, was received Saturday night, announcing their intention to leave Lexington by bus. The storm shattered communications and made roads impassable, blocking their return.

Okay, not exactly the Capitol Hill version of the Donner Party or the Andes flight disaster, but plenty frightening to experience I’m sure.

Eastern’s yearbook rated ‘All-American’

Eastern High School, “The Punch and Judy,” apparently had a nationally recognized yearbook.

Eastern High School’s yearbook “The Punch and Judy,” has been awarded All-American honor rating, the National Scholastic Press Association of the University of Minnesota announced yesterday.

The award is the highest given in the national competition by the association. The yearbook was entered among schools with an enrollment from 1400 to 2000. Judges termed the annual a “fine, able yearbook, well conceived and well sustained.”

Editors were Joan Ruth, 17, editor in chief, of 1329 North Carolina ave. ne.; William Atchison, 18, managing editor, of 1741 A st. se.; Maria Forbea, 18, of 1021 15th st. se., and Barbara Horn, 17, of 1608 G st. se., art editors.

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Congratulations Eastern … that sounds impressive.

Pupils say integration is winning

D.C. school integration in Anacostia (1955)
D.C. school integration in Anacostia in 1955 (Library of Congress)

A short article in the December 7th, 1954 Post talked of the recent high school integration in Washington after the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Five District high school students agreed last night that integration in classrooms and sports was “on the way to success” by were divided on the question of whether their classmates were ready for social integration.

“We have to do it sooner or later,” said George Miller, of 620 H st. sw., a student at Eastern High School, when the question of social integration came up at a panel discussion at a meeting of the Southwest Citizens Association. “This delaying could go on for the next 20 or 30 years.”

Student at Roosevelt did not take part in the demonstrations against integration this fall, but several hundred at Eastern stayed away from their classrooms.

Another Eastern student, Hannah Lipsitz, of 727 6th st. sw., pointed out that curtailment of school social activities may force pupils to seek less wholesome recreation elsewhere.

Wailey Wing, of 928 New York ave. nw., told how students of both races now go to classes together, play in the gym, and dress in the same locker room at Eastern.

D.C. marine dies fighting at Danang

This is a sad story from April 3rd, 1969 in the Washington Post.

Marine Pvt. Ronald Jones, 19, a 1968 graduate of Eastern High School, was killed in action in Vietnam March 27.

Pvt. Jones, who lived at 4953 F st. se., was serving with H Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Division, when killed in action about three miles south of Danang. He had arrived in Vietnam in January.

Pvt. Jones enlisted in the Marine Corps shortly after his June graduation from Eastern. While attending Eastern he belonged to the Washington High School Cadet Corps.

A native Washingtonian, Pvt. Jones attended Young Elementary School and Browne Junior High School. He helped pay his high school expenses by working part-time as a maintenance worker at George Washington University Hospital and the Langston Terrace housing project.

He is survived by his mother Virdie M. Jones, four brothers and four sisters, all of the home address, and his father, Cecil Jones.

Young Ronald Jones had only been in Vietnam for three months … and out of high school less than a year.

Filling in the gaps with some photos

Here are some great old photos I dug up on Shorpy.

Eastern High School in 1910 (Shorpy)
Eastern High School in 1910 (Shorpy)

And zooming in on one of the girls in the photo, you’ll notice the sassy one below. What do you imagine this girl was like? In an age of being quite prim and proper, check out the way she’s posing for the camera with that hat and hand propped on her neighbors shoulder.

a sassy young woman
a sassy young woman
Eastern High School, High School Cadet Corps, Company F (1915)
Eastern High School, High School Cadet Corps, Company F (1915)
Eastern High School typing class (1920)
Eastern High School typing class (1920)
Eastern High School (1935)
Eastern High School (1935)
Eastern High School newspaper club (1941)
Eastern High School newspaper club (1941)
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Enjoy daily

Ghosts of DC stories.