School History

Douglass Elementary School


  • 1310 North 9th Street (9th and Washington Boulevard)
  • 9th and Freeman
  • Hoyles 1887 City Directory:  (colored) Washington bet 9th and 10th
  • 1912 City Directory:  (colored)  920 Washington Blvd

Named for Frederick Douglass

Other Names: Third Ward School

Douglass School had its origin prior to 1887. Its growth has been a gradual one paralleling with the development of Kansas City, Kansas. The attractive, modern building located between 9th and 10th Streets on Washington Boulevard represents one of the crowning achievements of the educational system of Kansas City, Kansas.

Let us now review the early history of Douglass School. Before 1887, the Lincoln School (located at Sixth Street and State Avenue) was the only African American school in Kansas City, Kansas. At one time this none-room structure furnished sufficient housing for the African American   pupils of school age. But by the end of 1886, the African American population had increased so much that the Lincoln School could not accommodate all the children of school age.

In order to relieve the crowded conditions at Lincoln, the Board of Education made temporary provisions for the pupils of the first and second grades who lived in the District then known as the Third Ward. A two-room church building was rented by the Board of Education and two teachers were employed, J. J. Lewis, Principal, and Miss Marguerite Calloway of Atchison, Kansas, taught the primary grades.

On the second Monday in September, 1887, the Third Ward School opened with an enrollment of 82 pupils, 46 in the 3rd grade and 36 in the 2nd grade.

Before the end of the first week of school, the enrollment numbered ninety-two pupils. This was too large a group of children to occupy only two rooms, but the Board of Education could not do anything to remedy the situation. Consequently, whatever adjustments there were to be made, for the children for at least one year, depended entirely upon the attitude of the teachers. These two pioneers, J. J. Lewis and Marguerite Calloway, in the education development of Kansas City, Kansas, bravely accepted their responsibilities with an attitude similar to the one expressed in the following lines:

“When e’er a task is set for you,
Don’t idly sit and view it,
Nor rest content to wish it done,
Begin at once and do it.”

The school census of 1888 showed that the number of children of school age living west of 7th Street, the section which composed the District of the Third Ward, had greatly increased. This fact was presented to the Board of Education by two of its progressive members, Dr. G. H. Browne and J. M. Squire.

The Board of Education, recognizing the inadequate housing accommodations of the two-room Third Ward School, adopted a resolution providing the funds for renting a larger building. A newly completed brick flat, owned by H. J. Johnson and located at the southwest corner of 9th Street and Freeman Avenue, was leased by the Board of Education for two years, 1888-1890. This building became the new four-room Third Ward School. Two more teachers were employed to assist Mr. Lewis and Miss Calloway.

On the second Monday in September, 1888, the Third Ward School opened with an enrollment of 180 pupils. After the first month of school, the enrollment exceeded 200 pupils. This was too large a group of pupils to comfortably occupy this four-room building. In order to help relieve the crowded conditions of the Third Ward School, the oldest children in the third grade were transferred to the Lincoln School. With this aid, the Third Ward School completed its second year’s existence successfully.

Throughout the year of 1888, the population of the Third Ward continued to increase with astounding rapidity. This increase of population began to take on a new significance because of the change of the type of inhabitants. Prior to 1888, the majority of the settlers were merely transient tenants; but by 1888, many of the inhabitants began to buy homes, thus becoming permanent settlers.

The Board of Education was informed of this character of the population of the Third Ward. Dr. G. H. Browne, an alert educator, pointed out to the Board of Education that the time for making temporary provisions for the African American children of the Third Ward had passed. He pointed out that more permanent plans were necessary for the future.

Dr. Browne proposed to the Board of Education that it purchase a suitable well-located site for the erection of a school building that would adequately supply the demands of a rapidly growing district. The Board of Education accepted the proposal presented by Dr. Browne and appointed him as a committee of one to select a centrally located site for the erection of a school building for the children of the Third Ward.

After observing many different sites, the elevated tract of land located between 9th and 10th Streets on Washington Boulevard was chosen as the place for the erection of the Third Ward School.

An architect was ordered to draw plans for a twelve-room building, six rooms of which were to be erected immediately.

By January 1, 1890, the first unit (the west wing) was completed. The Third Ward School was then moved from the Johnson’s flat at 9th and Freeman Avenue to its new home on Washington Boulevard between 9th and 10th Streets. Finally, the Third Ward School moved into a permanent home.

It was decided by some of our educational leaders of Kansas City, Kansas that the name, Third Ward School, did not carry with it enough significance to designate this new educational institution. As a result, the name of Third Ward School was changed to Douglass School in our of a great hero, Frederick Douglass. This name was given also because it was one that would be a constant reminder and inspiration for boys and girls to strive for a richer and fuller life.

When Frederick A. Douglass was born in 1817 on a Maryland plantation, his given name was Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. Frederick Douglass constantly fought against his slave condition and was constantly in trouble with the overseer. When he escaped on September 3, 1838, and he settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, he changed his name to Frederick Douglass. In 1845, against the advice of his friends, Douglass decided to write an account of his life, fully aware of the possibility that this would mark him as the Bailey runaway slave. The autobiography was called The Narrative Of The Life and Times Of Frederick Douglass. Besides writing his autobiography, in 1845 Douglass founded and edited the North Star newspaper. When the Civil War broke out, Frederick Douglass urged President Lincoln to free and arm the slaves. He was also a great spokesman for universal suffrage, women’s rights, and world peace. In 1848 Douglass participated in the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. In 1872 he ran for vice president on the Equal Rights Party ticket. In 1889 he was appointed minister to Haiti. He died on February 20, 1895

In the spring of 1904, the east wing was added to Douglass School. This addition made the building a twelve-room structure. This building was not able to accommodate all the pupils of the Douglass School District from the 1st grade to the 8th inclusive. Before the east wing was added to Douglass School, only grades 1-6 were taught in the building. The 7th and 8th grades were taught at the Lincoln School.

The population of the district in which Douglass School is located continued to increase. The twelve rooms which composed the school building were overcrowded by 1920. About 1925, it became necessary to annex eight more rooms to the school building, making the Douglass School a twenty-room structure.

The completion of Douglass School marked the realization of a hope on the part of many of the patrons and the completion of a well planned task on the part of the educational leaders of our city. This majestic building stands as a constant reminder (in 1960) of the efficient management of the educational system of Kansas City, Kansas.


1887 – First school in building at 9th and Freeman. Known as Third Ward School. Second African American school in Wyandotte.

1889 – February 12: Julia A. and George W. Miller deeded property to Board of Education, Lots 41-48, Block 86, Old Wyandotte, north side of Washington Boulevard between 9th and 10th.

Contractor: E. H. Farrell, June 24, 1889, six-room, brick school. Architect: Hackney.

May: Objections by residents near 10th and Washington. Board decided 9th and Oakland or New Jersey might be better.

June: Mass meeting by Third and Fourth Ward patrons. Decided to retain Washington Avenue site. First name suggested for school was “Harrison.”  Patrons wanted the school called Douglass School for Frederick Douglass, slave, educator, and abolitionist. Frederick Douglass was a remarkable man of his time, and deserves to be honored and remembered by members of his race. Born of a slave mother, he managed somehow to learn to read and write in the city of Baltimore when he was a young boy. After his escape to Massachusetts, he lectured in New England and in the country of England on the evils of slavery. He was able with his earnings to purchase his freedom. He was the editor of a paper, a presidential elector, and served as minister to Haiti. No wonder then that his name should have been given to the school built in 1890 at the corner of 9th and Freeman, the second for African American in the city of Wyandotte.

June 24: Contract to E. H. Farrell. Same plan as London Heights School (Abbott School).

September: John Building, 9th and New Jersey, rented for three and a half months.

1890 – January 1: New Building completed. First unit, west wing. Three teachers: J. J. Lewis, Principal, Marguerite Calloway and A. V. Watkins.

1895 – September: Crowded. Some to attend Lincoln School.

1896 – March: Four-room addition planned. Possibly not built.

1903 – August: Board to purchase 100 feet next to school from Dr. Chapman. Six-room addition in 1903-04.

1904 – June: Has eight grades in twelve rooms.

1908 – October: Superintendent of Buildings to erect new room at Douglass School.

1910 – Thirteen rooms and two portables at Douglass School.

1915 – PTA organized. Mrs. Willa Dwiggins, first president.

1920s – In the 1920, Charles “Yardbird” Parker was an elementary student at Douglass School.  His brother, John, attended Douglass, Northeast Junior High and Sumner High School.

1925 – Has modern primary addition and twenty rooms.

1930 – September: Cadet center for Teachers’ College. Leota Bryan, critic teacher.

1931 – Vernon School pupils to Douglass School. (William Tecumseh Vernon 2 )

July 12 – We also made the Douglass School available on Friday to accommodate the growing number of colored refugees.  The immediate opening of all schools was accomplished by the assignment of custodial employees living near the schools.

At 3:30 a.m., Sunday, July 15, extreme fire hazards in the Southwest Blvd area required new evacuation of residents and the Major Hudson School was opened.  At 4:10 a.m. the Rosedale High School was opened to accommodate those on the south side of the area.  Rosedale High School was closed after about two days of operation.  No feeding was done in the school and the cafeteria was not opened.  Major Hudson later dropped to a census of twenty-two and these people were moved to Prescott and Douglass.

1961 – New building planned. Architects: McLain and Sidorowicz. Eight-room annex to be retained. To raze old elementary building by degrees; also the former high school and gymnasium. Only north wing of high school to go first.

1962 – The new Douglass School was opened in September, 1963 with 25 classrooms, library, offices and an all-purpose room. In 1962, the old Douglass (original Sumner) gymnasium and part of its classrooms were razed to make room for a new pre-cast concrete structure. Eight of the original classrooms were retained as a hedge against overcrowding and for removal as anticipated decline in enrollment took place. The eight-room annex was continued in operation in anticipation of additional enrollments which would result from the expansion of the Douglass attendance zone at such time as the old Abbott School could be closed. Schools in KCKs in Years of Change 1962-1986, Dr. Oren L. Plucker, 1987

1963 – New building composed of 25 classrooms, multi-purpose room, library, offices and miscellaneous. Eight rooms in old building temporarily maintained. Old Douglass (original Sumner building) gymnasium and part of old classrooms removed for new building.

1972 – Abbott School closed and attendance zone divided among Douglass, Chelsea and Mark Twain with majority of area to Douglass.

1975 – Remaining eight classrooms of old building razed.

1977 – Douglass part of elementary cluster in Court ordered desegregation plan. Schools in Cluster: Douglass, Central, Frances Willard. Pupils in grades 5 & 6 from Frances Willard, Central and Douglass to attend at Douglass. Grade 4 to Central; grade 3 to Frances Willard.

1982 – Grade 6 to middle school.

1991 – Central closed as school and students to M. E. Pearson Elementary School. Removed from Cluster. Now “paired” with just Frances Willard. Grades 4 and 5 at Douglass.

2001 – Voters approved a proposed $120 million bond issue at the Municipal Election Tuesday (April 3, 2001) to air-condition schools, improve technology, and make other upgrades to schools and public libraries. Douglass was part of Phase I, which was completed in the summer of 2001.

2004 – Douglass Elementary received a $5,000 grant from the Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries.  Douglass was one of only two Kansas schools to receive the award and one of 136 schools across the nation.  The money will be spent to improve the school library with purchases of more biographies, books on science, and books in Spanish for ESL students.