Inspired and Founded by Courageous Women

Posted by Dr. Beth Reaves

Women’s History Month presents the perfect opportunity to pay tribute to all the many women in our school history that helped create the school we enjoy today. WSG was formed in 1997, the brainchild of a group of women who were inspired by women in history to serve, nurture and educate young girls. Southeast Washington, D.C. was chosen as the location for WSG: the co-founders felt it essential for WSG to be present where girls were most underserved educationally. WSG was founded on the premise of educational equity – acknowledging that girls East of the River should have the same opportunities, hopes and dreams as young girls everywhere else in DC, and deserve to have the education needed to help them reach their goals.

Our co-founders recognized the importance of values-based education, and selected three “Founding Spirits” that would serve as knowable and accessible examples of those values in the years to come. To this day, our Founding Spirits continue to shape and form our program. Cornelia Connelly (Society of Holy Child Jesus) promoted an approach to education based on trust and reverence for every human being. Her schools encourage children to develop to their full potential, based on her firm belief that all fields of study contribute to the development of that potential. Mary McLeod Bethune (National Council of Negro Women) believed as an educator and civil rights activist that achieving a quality education would be an important equalizer between races. And Claudine Thevenet (Religious of Jesus and Mary) was devoted to providing young women with opportunities for work that would imbue both economic autonomy and a sense of dignity. It is these real-life courageous women in history that led our own co-founders Sr. Mary Bourdon, Ms. Jennifer Gibbs Phillips and others to design a school that weaves together perspectives from each founding spirit to form our unique school identity.

From our humble beginnings in the basement of an apartment building in Southeast, D.C. over 20 years ago, to now on two campuses serving over 125 girls, the vision of a school inspired by famous women in history continues. Cornelia Connelly urges us to provide an academic program recognizing the whole child, which is evidenced by our commitment to social-emotional learning and a wide range of out-of-classroom experiences and learning opportunities for our students. From Mary McLeod Bethune we know it is important for our students, all young girls of color, to be positively engaged in school and that they see themselves represented in their education: in our classrooms, hallways, books in the library, and throughout the curriculum. And from Claudine Thevenet we are reminded to elevate the voices of those who are often overlooked, encouraging our girls to advocate for themselves and their learning.

We have a small “pop-up museum” on our campus at THEARC this month, with artifacts on our Founding Spirits generously loaned to us by each organization. Looking at the materials shows how Washington School for Girls is a perfect example of a school where women in history are still evident in the school today – and continue to influence how we look to our future. With our daily focus on supporting the development of future courageous women, we are inspired to build on the vision of our Founding Spirits and the co-founders of the school. We take all of what we’ve learned from these women and our 20 years of education on our journey to ensure WSG continues to be an important place for girls in the years to come.

Update: Since WSG will be closed for the remainder of March, the “pop-up museum” will stay on display when we return to school.