When Vienna resident Dolores Washington, 65, was a student at the Vienna Colored School, she recalled principal Louise Archer as a woman who encouraged her students to have a love for learning. A disciplinarian, Archer often made personal sacrifices for her students. She spent her own money to buy books for the students, and picked up several students as she commuted from Washington, DC, so they wouldn't have to walk so far to the school. She made sure students learned about black history and public speaking in addition to teaching the traditional subjects, and she provided students with food and vitamins so they could be physically fit as well as academically fit.
"She was a woman who stood tall in the community," said Washington in a phone interview. Washington first attended the school as a 6-year-old first grader in 1943. "It was rough, it wasn't easy, but in the end, it all paid off."
Archer's commitment to her students was a quality that the school likes to recognize every year during the annual Louise Archer Day. Held last Friday, Louise Archer Day brings teachers and current and former students and parents together to recognize the attributes that Archer installed in her students: forgiveness, wise choices and courage.
"You're in a very loving and safe place. Remember that. It's a good place to learn," said former assistant principal Tish Howard to students at Friday's assembly.
Each class presented skits and songs celebrating the school and life of Archer. After saying the Pledge of Allegiance and singing America the Beautiful, fourth graders paid tributes to Archer, first and third graders spoke about forgiveness, second graders spoke about choices, and sixth graders talked about courage. One class dramatized Archer's life and the early history of the school.
The school first opened its doors in 1867 inside the First Baptist Church, which was then located on Lawyers Road. In the 1890s, it moved to the corner of Malcolm Road and Church Street. In 1939, the school opened at its present site on Nutley Street. Archer served as both principal and teacher at the Vienna Colored School from September 1922 to March 1948.
CITIZENS LOBBIED to change the school's name to Louise Archer School in 1948, after Archer died. A dedication ceremony with the school's new name was held in April 1950.
In September 1965, the school became integrated, serving children of all races who resided in western Vienna.
School "made me a lover of studying..it let me know that in all of your life, there's something to be learned," said Washington, a retiree who has returned to school to get a doctorate in Christian counseling and psychology. "That comes, I think, from your roots, it comes from your early learning. She taught you studying and learning, of knowing who you are and being proud of that."