franklin school dc


Brief History

Designed by Adolf Cluss, Franklin opened in 1869. and its fourteen classrooms became a laboratory and model for the the city’s new public school system. Franklin pioneered the modern concept of age-graded classrooms and curricula. It also housed the offices of the Superintendent and the Board of Trustees, the first high school and first Normal School for white students.

The massive Great Hall at Franklin (originally designed to seat up to 1,000 people) – with its once handsome murals mirroring the building’s exterior decoration – functioned as a community resource for concerts, exhibitions, and public meetings. Alexander Graham Bell successfully tested his new invention, the “photophone” (sound transmitted by light waves), from the rooftop of Franklin School in 1880.

The building's 19th-century façade – including a bust of Benjamin Franklin – is an eloquent expression of the principles and importance of public education in a democracy in post-Civil War America. The exterior of Franklin was restored in 1992 and is on the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated as a National Historic Landmark. The interior, one of only thirteen DC buildings given interior landmark protection, remains largely the way it was when the building was closed decades ago.

Franklin School was considered so important in the 1870s that a model of the building was sent to international expositions in Vienna, Paris, and Philadelphia. The British, Nicaraguan, and Argentine governments requested plans of the building to study as they developed public school systems, and Congressmen sent copies of its plans to their home districts.

The model at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876 (photo: Library of Congress):

More at:

-- Adolf Cluss Project Website

-- Virtual Tour of Downtown DC