Frelinghuysen University

If someone were to mention a university in northwest D.C. that was founded to serve African Americans, it’s likely that 99 or maybe even 100 out of every 100 people would think of Howard University.  But on this bike ride I visited the site of another, lesser-known university, named Frelinghuysen University, which beginning in 1921 was housed in a two-story residence located at 1800 Vermont Avenue (MAP), formerly known as the Edwin P. Goodwin House.

Frelinghuysen University was founded in 1906 when a group of local African-American educators and leaders met at the home of Jesse Lawson, a Howard University educated African-American attorney, educator, and sociologist, and his wife Rosetta C. Lawson, an advocate for temperance and low-income housing, to organize a branch of the Bible Educational Association, with Kelly Miller as president. They also established the Inter-Denominational Bible College, naming Jesse Lawson, as president.  Eleven years later the two groups were combined and renamed Frelinghuysen University, in honor of New Jersey Senator Frederick Theodore Frelinghuysen, who had worked to promote civil rights during Reconstruction with Senator Charles Sumner, for whom The Sumner School, one of the earliest schools for African Americans in D.C., was named.

Frelinghuysen University provided academic programs, vocational training, social services and religious education for working-class African-American adults.  It was accredited and conferred degrees from 1927 until 1937.  But after losing its accreditation, and with the racially motivated laws increasingly limiting the future of the institution, in 1940 the school became the Frelinghuysen Group of Schools for Colored Working People, and Anna J. Cooper became its registrar.  The institution finally dissolved in the late 1950s.

The historic building eventually fell into disrepair until it was purchased by it’s current owners in 1992 for $90,000, and subsequently renovated back into a private residence.  The Queen Anne-style home follows a triangular plan with an octagonal corner tower, and includes such architectural features as corbelling, a patterned slate roof, and intricate iron finials.  It was designated by D.C. as an historic site, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, in 1995.

      
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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