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In 1906 a group of educators and leaders met at the home of Jesse and Rosetta C. Lawson, 2011 Vermont Avenue, NW, to organize a Washington branch of the Bible Educational Association with Kelly Miller as president. They also established the Inter-Denominational Bible College, naming Jesse Lawson as president. In 1917 the two groups were combined and renamed Frelinghuysen University, honoring white New Jersey Senator Frederick T. Frelinghuysen (1817-1885) who had worked with white Senator Charles Sumner to promote civil rights during Reconstruction and served as secretary of state during the administration of President Chester A. Arthur. The school provided social services, religious training, and educational programs for black working-class adults.

Until 1921, when the school purchased this Victorian brick house at 1800 Vermont Avenue, Frelinghuysen's programs were carried out in private homes and businesses throughout the city. The house was the first building purchased for use as classrooms, and it was used until 1927, when it was sold in order to purchase a larger house at 601 M Street, NW, that would permit all of the classes to operate in one building. The school eventually operated out of the home of Anna Julia Cooper at 201 T Street, NW, among other locations. Frelinghuysen was accredited and conferred degrees from 1927 until 1937. After it lost its accreditation, it began to lose support. In 1940 the university became the Frelinghuysen Group of Schools for Colored Working People under Anna J. Cooper. The institution finally dissolved in the late 1950s.

Jesse Lawson was a Howard University-educated lawyer (receiving his law degree in 1881) who served as president of Frelinghuysen University from its consolidation in 1917 until his death in 1927. Rosetta C. Lawson was a temperance advocate and a founder of the Alley Improvement Association, which worked to improve housing for Washington's poorest residents.

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