A Brief History

In the beginning

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. After helping to found a local school, she envisioned a school of her own—a place where a classic curriculum encompassing organized "fields" of knowledge could be taught in a small 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 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 and participation in athletics was a requirement. Additionally, the school developed an internship program each winter during which students went into the community to learn about the world of work and refine their skills in a career or volunteer opportunity of interest.

Growth & Maturity

Between 1974 and 2002, The Field School grew and evolved at a remarkable pace while maintaining its allegiance to its core values of small class size, intellectual challenge, and focus on the individual student. The school expanded to fill a second brownstone home across from the first, and eventually 220 of the most adventurous and individualistic young people in the DC area were being educated in the quirky rooms of Field's two homes. All of Field's programs had expanded in size and ambition—the curriculum included a greater variety of sports, jazz studies, science labs, devised trips, simulations, and projects to challenge students whose curiosity and invention seemed always to grow. Faculty from the best colleges and universities arrived, and students left to pursue studies in every field imaginable, spreading the indelible reputation of this small DC school.

When the school was accredited by the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges in 1993, it was praised as a "model school" that had found success with a diverse population of students. Field, however, had outgrown its beloved campuses. And so it was that the Field Board of Directors initiated the school's first capital campaign, to build a new home for the school's ideals and work.

A New Beginning

In 2002, The Field School opened the doors on its new campus, the 10.5 acre former home of the Cafritz family —complete with its first gymnasium and playing field, brand new science labs and studio spaces. Though the quirks of "the old campus" were difficult to leave behind, Field students and teachers made sure that the new campus would be distinctive and unique. 

Elizabeth Ely retired in 2006, and the ideals she established continue to guide a Field education: "A key aspect of Field's success is the mutual respect among teachers and students. The exchange of dialogue with teachers and other adults builds students' confidence, particularly when teachers reach out and talk personally and sincerely to the students and learn who they are. 

After Elizabeth's retirement, Dale Johnson was appointed as Head of School by the Board of Trustees in 2004.

After celebrating the school’s 40th year, an ambitious Field Forward Capital Campaign allowed the school to grow and enhance its physical plant. The Middle School was expanded, adding a 6th grade; and the overall student body grew to the 360 students it now serves.

As a nod to the Quaker Meeting House in Dupont Circle where all school meetings were previously held, the Elizabeth Ely Meeting House was constructed, which gives the community the opportunity to gather together in one space, whether that be for an assembly, a performance or a celebration. In addition, new state-of-the-art facilities were added to the campus including a science lab, a music and recording studio, and a strength and movement room. 

Following Dale's tenure, Anne Foley '96 served as Interim Head of School for the 2019-2020 school year. Field welcomed Lori Strauss, our third Head of School, in July 2020. 

Field is still guided by its motto, Aude Sapere or "Dare to Be Wise." Our mission statement is brief and bold: Self-Discovery, Skills of Mind, Generosity of Heart. Those ideals live in our classrooms every day, and they continue to guide our alumni, whose transformational educational experience as young people helped to shape them into active citizens, good neighbors and leaders in their chosen professions.