Margaret Murray Washington School

The Margaret Murray Washington school provided vocational and manual training for African American students throughout the 20th century.

As public education programs expanded in the early 20th century, vocational education became more popular in order to train young people with desirable skills for specific industries. The Margaret Murray Washington School, originally known as the O Street Vocational School, constructed in 1912, taught African American students, particularly women, in various trades and skills throughout its almost century-long history. First constructed by Snowden Ashford in the Collegiate Gothic style design, the building expanded vocational training programs to include domestic, industrial, and medical programs, in addition to many others.

When it first opened its doors, the school had relatively low enrollment, but, with additional advertising, soon became a well-attended school for its African American students. While it originally taught both men and women, the United States’ entrance into World War I forced the school to shift to primarily teaching its female students, with male enrollment rates dropping due to military enlistment and drafting. In its time primarily teaching women, the vocational programs continued to expand and develop, making the school a well-regarded institution.

In 1926, the school gained a new name as it continued to grow. Principal Lenora C. Randolph suggested the new name in honor of the recently-passed Margaret Murray Washington, wife of African American activist and scholar Booker T. Washington. With the vocational school model following Booker T. Washington’s philosophy of manual education and training for African Americans, as well as Maragret’s own legacy as an advocate for education and social reform, the new name fit well with the school’s mission. Two years later, the building was expanded into an L-shape by architect Albert L. Harris, who continued the Gothic Revival architecture.

Ten years later in 1938, the building underwent yet another addition, bringing it to its final U-shaped form. This addition was designed by noted African American architect Albert I. Cassell, who maintained the original style of the building, allowing the building to look seamless in its expansions. Similarly to the First World War, the arrival of World War II made the school’s training important in educating its students for the homefront. Additionally, the school established its practical nursing program in 1945, which immediately gained attention due to the need for wartime nurses. The program was soon after accredited and well-praised by other medical professionals due to the students’ professional demeanor and abilities in the industry.

After the war ended, veterans’ return to the United States meant that the school would once again serve both men and women in its wide-ranging curricula. In one last expansion, the school added a new gymnasium to its campus in 1971, but did not follow the existing architectural style. Throughout the rest of the 20th century, the school continued operating and reformulating its programs, but declined in public support due to changing opinions on vocational schools, as a whole. Over time, the school’s funding and programs were cut and changed, with its doors finally closing in 2008 in a city-wide school consolidation move. Many local residents were saddened by the school’s closure, but its impact on the African American community and its ability to effectively train its students proved that in its time operating it was a well-respected and influential institution.

DC Inventory: November 18, 2010
National Register: November 22, 2011



27 O Street, NW