Wendell P. Dabney      

Guide to African American Resources
at the Cincinnati History Library and Archives




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Douglass School
  With an increasing African American population in Walnut Hills, Rev. Dangerfield Early began a school for the children in his home in 1858. When Walnut Hills became part of Cincinnati in 1870, the school came under the jurisdiction of the Cincinnati Colored School System and a new building was built in 1872. It was named Elm Street School. In 1887, however, Ohio’s Brown-Arnett Bill called for the phasing out of segregated schools. Some of the African American community felt that integrated schools would lead to intense prejudice against the children attending them and a decrease in jobs for African American teachers. In an attempt to circumvent integration, in 1902 the name of the school was changed to Douglass Elementary School, named for the famous writer and abolitionist, Frederick Douglass.  

The school ostensibly was open to any child in Cincinnati, but in reality became a magnet school for African American children. It was hoped that in an environment where there was no racial prejudice and an all African American faculty, the children would be able to learn unhindered by bigotry. The school indeed became a beacon for African American children, and many notable citizens including Wilber A. Page, minister of Union Baptist Church, DeHart Hubbard, the first African American to win a gold medal in the Olympics, and Jennie D. Porter, a teacher at Douglass who went on to found Harriet Beecher Stowe School attended. Despite the quality education received by the students, there were many critics of Douglass School and other similarly segregated schools during the early part of the century. Wendell P. Dabney and the NAACP were especially vociferous in their opposition.

Douglass School class register
Part of the Douglass School sixth grade girls class register, 1917-1918
Douglass School Records, 1917-1940, Mss 815, Box 1, Folder 1
Cincinnati History Library and Archives, Cincinnati Museum Center

Nevertheless, the school continued to be a magnet for African Americans across the city until the 1954 Brown vs the Board of Education Supreme Court decision prompted the Cincinnati School Board to make it a district school. The school, however, remained mostly African American since its Walnut Hills location was primarily an African American neighborhood. The school made a radical change in 1981 when a new building was erected. It became an alternative learning school using the Montessori system. The school still stands today and continues to be center for the community and education.

To learn more about Douglass School, consult the following resources:

Souvenir Program of the Tenth Anniversary of the New Douglass School
Pamphlets q372.9 D737
A program for the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the new Douglass School building in 1920. Includes the schedule of events, descriptions of the school, different classes, and pictures of the faculty and students.   View catalog record   Request slip
Frederick Douglass Elementary School: 107th Founders Day Celebration 1872-1979
General 372.1 F852
A souvenir program from the 107th anniversary of the first building of the Douglass School. It includes a short history of Douglass School and pictures of the school buildings and students throughout the years.   View catalog record   Request slip
Douglass School Records, 1917-1940
Mss 815
This collection consists of one box of material from Douglass School, including two class registers, a souvenir program from the tenth anniversary celebration of the new building in 1920, and two yearbooks called "The Douglass." For More information, a collection register is available in the Library.    Request slip
Frederick Douglass School Collection
Photo SC#124
A collection of five photo prints of the faculty, students and school buildings.   View catalog record   Request slip
Irvine Garland Penn Photo Collection, [1890-1959]
Photo SC#122
This collection contains photos of the Penn and Sandipher families. It also has photos of Douglass School faculty members.   View catalog record   Request slip

Sources Used for Historical Sketch:
  • Souvenir Program of the Tenth Anniversary of the New Douglass School, Nov. 22, 23, 24, 1920. Pamphlets 372.9 qD737. Cincinnati History Library and Archives, Cincinnati Museum Center.
  • Nicholes, Walter McKinley. The Educational Development of Blacks in Cincinnati from 1800 to the Present. General 370.193 N61 T. Cincinnati History Library and Archives, Cincinnati Museum Center.
  • Cornelius, Lindy. “Proud Past Hailed at Douglass Dedication.” Cincinnati Post, October 12th, 1981, page 1B.
  • Zigli, Barbara. “Douglass Alumni Recall Days Past.” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 26th, 1979, page B1.
  • Zigli, Barbara. “Douglass Not Just Another School to City’s Blacks.” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 26th, 1979, page B1.


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This online guide opened on February 10, 2004.