The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How many K-12 public schools are still named after JFK?

President John F. Kennedy greets Caroline, John Jr. and their pony, Macaroni, outside the Oval Office on June 22, 1962. (White House Historical Association)
Placeholder while article actions load

May 29 marks what would have been the 100th birthday of President John F. Kennedy. The day will include tributes and remembrances, but when those are over, this honor will remain: his name on schools.

There was a time when it was popular for K-12 public schools in the United States to be named after presidents, a reflection, perhaps, of a community’s civic vision. Today, schools are often named after things found in nature. There are, for example, 18 elementary, middle or secondary schools in Florida with the name “manatee” (and they aren’t all in Manatee County), and 11 have “cactus” in their names in Arizona.

There still are plenty of schools named after presidents, with the most popular probably being Abraham Lincoln, according to the National Center for Education Statistics search tool, which allows you to find information about individual public schools, including their names.

I say “probably” because the results of a name search depend on the terms you enter. For example, if you put in “Abraham Lincoln,” 46 public schools come up. If you put in “Lincoln,” 620 schools turn up.

There is, for example, East Lincoln High School in Denver in North Carolina’s Lincoln County. That county was not named for Abraham Lincoln but, rather, for Benjamin Lincoln, a major-general in the Revolutionary War who was in command of the Southern armies, according to this history of the county. But in Lincoln, Ill., there is a school called Chester-East Lincoln Elementary School that was indeed named in part after Abraham Lincoln but doesn’t appear in a search for “Abraham Lincoln.” Lincoln Elementary School in Lakewood, Ohio, is in a district with a number of schools named after presidents.

A search for “George Washington” turns up 77 schools, but some are named after George Washington Carver, a prominent African American scientist, and not the first president of the United States. If you just put in “Washington” as a search term,  you will get 544 results.

Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t a U.S. president, but 77 schools bear his name (and two are named after his wife, Coretta Scott King). Seventy-two schools are named after Cesar Chavez, a labor leader who co-founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962.

Fifty-two schools include “Woodrow Wilson” in the name, and 17 have “Ronald Reagan” in the name. Put the name “Obama” in the search tool and 19 schools come up (three more than in 2011), with most named after the former president. Two are named after Michelle Obama, the former first lady. One is in California and the other in Illinois.

So what about JFK? A search for “J F Kennedy” turns up 103 schools. A search for “Kennedy” alone turns up 197, with some named for the president’s assassinated brother, Robert Kennedy.

You can search for the names of public schools — and other data — here.

Read more:

JFK’s Harvard application (with essay) and other school records

Loading...