You are here
Ridgeley School is an excellent surviving example of a two-room Rosenwald school built for African American students during the 1920s. Prior to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision outlawing school segregation by race, Maryland public school districts operated separate white and “colored” schools. This situation was a product of lingering racial animosity and the 1895 Plessy v. Ferguson decision allowing “separate but equal” racial segregation in public facilities. In practice, decades of unequal facilities led to a desperate need for more and improved African American schools. Philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Company, established the Rosenwald Fund to address this inequality and improve educational opportunities for black children. Between 1917 and Rosenwald’s death in 1932, the Rosenwald Fund provided over $4 million for the construction of nearly 5,000 model African American schools in fifteen Southern states. While Maryland had one of the smallest numbers of Rosenwald schools (approximately 156), these buildings were highly significant to the communities where they were built. Fifty-three Rosenwald schools are extant in Maryland; many of these are heavily altered or incorporated into later structures.
Rosenwald served on the Board of Trustees of Tuskegee University starting in 1911 and was encouraged in his educational reform projects by Booker T. Washington. After a brief experimental phase, the Rosenwald Fund was established with the specific purpose of building improved schools for African American communities. The Rosenwald Fund offered model plans for one-teacher, two-teacher, or larger school buildings with “seed” money towards construction. School districts had to provide the remainder of the costs and each local black community contributed cash or in-kind contributions such as building materials or labor. The Rosenwald Fund also sponsored teacher housing and shop buildings. After a reorganization and relocation from Tuskegee to a Nashville office in 1920, designs were provided by school construction experts Fletcher Dresslar and S. L. Smith.
Rosenwald schools were built in twenty Maryland counties, mainly between 1920 and 1928. The most common Rosenwald school type built in Maryland was the wood-frame, two-room (or two-teacher) plan. While there was some variation, this type typically included a covered vestibule at a central hall entrance. The entryway was flanked by cloakrooms and led to the hall with a classroom on each side. A key feature of the Rosenwald model school was the large banks of windows in each classroom positioned to take advantage of natural light.
Built in 1927, Ridgeley School is a fine example of this two-teacher type. It is one-story with a hipped roof and a small rear addition built by the late 1940s. The wood-frame structure is covered with wood shingles and sits on a low, rusticated concrete block foundation. Each classroom is lit by a row of five large, twelve-over-twelve light windows. The Prince George’s County Board of Education purchased land for the school from Mary Eliza and Arthur Ridgeley. Prior to construction of the new school, local black students studied in a nearby community hall associated with Ridgeley Methodist Episcopal Church. After 1928, the Rosenwald Fund moved away from the small, wood-frame rural schools it had previously been funding. In an effort to enhance access to higher levels of education for blacks, it prioritized construction of regional high schools in more substantial brick masonry construction.
Ridgeley School closed after desegregation in 1954, but remained part of the county school system as a special education center and then administrative offices for the county school bus department. With a restoration completed in 2011, the Ridgeley School now houses museum exhibits and is open to the public.
Deutsch, Stephanie. You Need a Schoolhouse: Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald, and the Building of Schools for the Segregated South. Boston: Northwestern University Press, 2011.
Hoffschwelle, Mary. The Rosenwald Schools of the American South. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006.
Pearl, Susan G., “The Rosenwald Schools of Maryland,” National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form, 2010. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, DC.
Pearl, Susan G. “Ridgely School,” Prince George’s County, Maryland Historical Trust State Historical Sites Inventory Form, 2002.
If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.
SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.