Sunday, November 8, 2009

Who the heck was Ludlow?

Rachel Klein and I have been planning our first Open House, which I'm proud to say has been scheduled for November 24th at 6:30pm and posted on the DCPS website. It's been a fun distraction from everything else but one thing has been bugging me ever since I started taking an interest in our school--Who the heck is Ludlow? So a couple of weeks ago I took the time to make a couple of trips downtown to find out.
Let me start by saying that DCPS has a wonderful rich and interesting history that not many people take the time to learn of. You can find out many things by visiting the DCPS Archives which is located in the old M Street School/Sumner School at 17th and M, NW across the street from the headquarters of National Geographic. This building has a rich history of it's own. Historically, some of the teachers tie directly into our local and national civil rights movement and reach all the way back to the end of the Civil War and the abolition of Slavery…but that's a completely different subject.
For whom was our school named? According to Wikipedia, William Ludlow was a Major General in the Civil War, fought in the Spanish-American War and led a scientific exploration examining the natural wonders of Yellowstone National Park. I love how written history can often sum up something extraordinary like "led a scientific exploration examining the natural wonders of Yellowstone National Park" into such a quick phrase that it almost seems an after thought. What an exciting adventure that must have been.
Believe it or not, he actually shows up in a very famous film. We were all just too blinded by the stardom of Brad Pitt to remember that the father character played by Anthony Hopkins in Legends of the Fall was William Ludlow--though the screenplay seems to have taken some creative license regarding his rank and time of death.
However it is for none of these reasons that our school is named for him. It is for one small line in his bio that his name graces our school's doors. "During 1886-88 was Engineer Commissioner of Washington, D.C." This is important to us as Washingtonians because it reminds us of the ridiculous lack of representation in the nation's capitol and the bizarre and varied forms of city governance. After the controversial tenure of Boss Shepherd, congress abolished the short lived territorial government of Washington DC in favor of a three-member Board of Commissioners, which remained in charge of the District for over a century. As school's were constructed in the nation's capitol, the board named them after presidents of the United States. Once they ran out of these names, they turned to the names of city commissioners. William Ludlow only had the job for two years and even then he was only one of a set of three that simultaneously held that position. Thank goodness he went on to do some other interesting things.
After finishing a recent tour of Arlington Cemetery I hiked over to Section 3. Section 3 is one of the more prestigious sections of the cemetery. There are quite a number of famous names in United States Army History on the headstones found in that section, Walter Reed, Daniel Sickles, Vinnie Ream (Hoxie), Thomas Selfridge and would-be
President William Rosencrans to name a few. Among the headstones of all of these stands the tall stone cross that marks the grave of Major General William Ludlow.
Our school was built three years after his death in 1901. His exciting life and short connection to our city obviously made him an excellent candidate for the naming of a school though few know of him now.

For a full bio of William Ludlow, try these links. There are several on the web.
Wikipedia Bio
Unofficial Arlington Cemetery


  1. have you found any records of the original building?

  2. a few. I have one photo but haven't posted it. If you email me I can send it to you. It looks pretty much like the Madison School at 10th and G NE. I can't find anything for the Taylor School. Mrs. Scofield's entire family attended there. I'm hoping she can find something.