Seattle Public Schools, 1862-2000: Emerson School

  • Posted 9/06/2013
  • Essay 10503

This People's History of Emerson School is taken from Building for Learning: Seattle Public School Histories, 1862-2000 by Nile Thompson and Carolyn J. Marr. That book, published in 2002 by Seattle Public Schools, compiled profiles of all the public school buildings that had been used by the school district since its formation around 1862. The profiles from the book are being made available as People's Histories on courtesy of Seattle Public Schools. It should be noted that these essays are from 2000. Some of the buildings profiled are historic, some of recent vintage, and many no longer exist (new names and buildings not included in these profiles from 2000 have been added), but each plays or has played an important role in the education of Seattle's youth.

Emerson School

The Rainier Beach School, in Columbia School District No. 18, opened with two classrooms in the Rainier Valley in 1903. After becoming a Seattle Public School, it held grades 1-4 in 1907-08. The following school year, two additional classrooms were added to accommodate grades 1-7. The area's 8th graders were sent to Brighton. However, the structure was so full that the board authorized the "renting of a portable church building at Rainier Beach . . . should an additional room become necessary."

That same school year, the older wooden building was moved due west and a new brick building was erected on the original site, while school continued in the older classrooms. The new structure represented in the Jacobean style and was nearly identical to Greenwood and Hawthorne. With the new building, 8th graders were added to the student body. The school was renamed to honor Ralph Waldo Emerson, the 19th century American poet, essayist, and philosopher.

When Charles Gray became principal in 1911-12, he instituted a commonwealth student government. It consisted of a council, with a president and vice president, and a student court. The president had a cabinet, and law enforcement agents, consisting of a chief marshal and two assistant marshals, served the school. The constitution embodied provisions for referendum, initiative, and recall. Members of the council observed the Seattle City Council meetings.

Parents established a kindergarten at Emerson's old building in 1910. It was integrated into the public school in 1914.

In the late 1920s, not only was the annex in use for classes, but there were also five portables on the grounds. Overcrowding led to the addition of a new wing of 10 classrooms on the south side of the building in 1930. Enrollment declined, however, during the 1930s, and there were many empty rooms at Emerson before World War II. By 1947, however, enrollment rose to 539.

The 8th grade left in 1949 to attend George Washington Junior High. In 1952, the 7th grade moved to Sharples. In 1957, enrollment passed the 900 mark. The building was remodeled in 1969, and a team teaching center was established in the 1930 addition. In the early 1970s, Emerson moved into individualized instruction with reading as its first priority. The most ambitious endeavor was a diversified, individually prescribed language arts program. In 1973-74, the 5th and 6th grade were moved to the new South Shore Middle School, leaving Emerson as a K-4 school. In 1978-79, it shifted to a K-5 configuration. During 1982-89, it operated as a K-6 school. It returned to K-5 by 1993-94. Victor Dickinson retired in June 1975 after serving as Emerson's principal for 30 years.

A 5.53-acre playfield, named Hutchinson Park after baseball great Fred Hutchinson who attended Emerson, is located to the north of the school. Because the school is on a hill and because of its height compared to smaller buildings surrounding it, Emerson is a prominent landmark in the neighborhood.

Beginning in the summer of 2000, a major renovation project was launched at Emerson. The historic 1909 building will be reconstructed and modernized. The 1930 addition will be demolished and replaced with a new two-story classroom wing on the south and a one-story multipurpose room and gym (all designed by DLR Group) to the west. Students will be housed at South Shore during the construction. Emerson will reopen in September 2001.


Name: Rainier Beach School
Location: Pilgrim & 60th Avenue S
Building: 2-room wood
Architect: n.a.
Site: 1.6 acres
1903: Opened by Columbia School District
1907: Annexed into Seattle School District
1907-08: Operated as annex to Brighton
1908-09: Operated as annex to Dunlap
1909: Moved to side of site
1910: Used for kindergarten by parents
1925-30: Used as K, 3 annex
1930: Closed; demolished

Name: Emerson School
Location: 9709 60th Avenue S
Building: 9-room brick
Architect: James Stephen
Site: 1.84 acres
1909: Named on April 7; opened as independent school
1930: Addition (Floyd A. Naramore)
1969: Remodeled
1998: Exteriors designated city landmark

Emerson Elementary School in 2000
Enrollment: 295
Address: 9709 60th Avenue S
Nickname: Eagles
Configuration: K-5
Colors: Blue and white


Nile Thompson and Carolyn J. Marr, Building for Learning: Seattle Public School Histories, 1862-2000 (Seattle: Seattle Public Schools, 2002).

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You