In 1972, a teacher named Elizabeth C. Ely founded The Field School with 44 students in a small set of rooms above Regina Cleaners, a dry-cleaning establishment on the corner of Connecticut Avenue and R Street in downtown Washington, DC.
Elizabeth, as Field students have always known her, had taught math in public school classrooms of over 50 students, and she had worked in "progressive" schools of the era that failed to teach with a sense of intellectual order. After helping to found Edmund Burke School, she envisioned her own school—a place where a classic curriculum encompassing organized "fields" of knowledge could be taught in a small, informal environment that stressed dialogue, analytic thinking, and larger lessons of how young people could grow to become generous, responsible, self-knowing adults. Thus, The Field School—a place where students call their teachers by their first names but also study Homer and Shakespeare—was born.
By 1974, Field had grown to 97 students and needed a new home. On a famed Saturday that spring, students, faculty, and parents convened to carry all of the school's desks, chairs, and books up Connecticut Avenue to Field's new home on Wyoming Avenue. By this time, the school had already established several of its signature programs—every student took a studio arts class every day of every year, and participation in athletics was a must. Also, the school spearheaded a program in art history education and a volunteer internship program each winter during which students went into the community to learn how to find a job and apply their skills in the world.