50. 30th and M Streets

Henry Smothers mortgage property, executed December 22, 1826.
Photo courtesy of D.C. Historical Society

Henry Smothers

Henry Smothers lived in Georgetown at the corner of 30th and M Streets, NW. In 1818, The Resolute Beneficial Society, a mutual aid society formed by free African Americans to provide health and burial benefits opened the first school for African Americans in the District of Columbia. After it was forced to close their free school for African American children, one of Mary Billings’ African American students, Henry Smother, opened his school in the 1820s to serve them. Mr. Smothers provided a classroom (believed to be in his own home) and taught his neighbors’ children, also for free. Demand for education escalated and he soon built a school house near 14th and H St. NW. Here as many as 100 Black children were able to attend classes. Costs of the school overwhelmed Henry Smothers and another African American man, John Prout, took over the school and began charging students 12 and a half cents per month tuition. Henry Smothers’ contributions to education continued into the 21st century. Henry Smothers Elementary School (4400 Brooks Street, NE) bears his name to this day.

(Source: Nothing More Powerful: Who DC Schools Are Named For)