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‘An ethnic white community’: Foster School opens its doors

January 28, 2022

Foster School, located at 2010 Dewey Avenue, was the pulse of Evanston’s Fifth Ward for much of the 20th century, only for it to be closed as a neighborhood attendance school in 1967 and closed entirely in 1979. 

Opening in 1905, Foster School was located on the corner of Dewey Avenue and Foster Street, in the heart of Evanston’s Fifth Ward. The school’s first principal was Ellen Foster, a female trailblazer in many aspects of Evanston’s history. Foster’s platform as principal revolved around questioning segregation, and she even ran for a superintendent position in 1918.

At the time of Foster School’s establishment, the school’s population was predominantly white with a heavily white staff. While there were just under 800 Black Evanston residents, they lived throughout the city and did not heavily populate the Fifth Ward until the 1930s. 

“The Fifth Ward as we know it today was not the Fifth Ward then,” Dino Robinson, founder and executive director of Shorefront Legacy Center, an organization aiming to archive the Black history of Chicago’s North Shore, says. “The Fifth Ward was predominantly an ethnic white community.” 

In 1908, when the school’s permanent building was constructed, the school housed mostly white children. In 1928 and 1932, additions to the original building were added to house a larger number of students. 

When Foster School was created, other children in Evanston attended a variety of other public schools, many of which are still around today. 

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