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Leo tonkin with Students 1968

In the late 1960's, Leo Tonkins, a young Johns Hopkins and Harvard Law School graduate, then working on Capitol Hill as a congressional assistant and speechwriter, decided that the time was at hand to invite first hundreds, and then over ensuing decades, thousands of young American high school students from across the nation, to travel to Washington, DC to partake first-hand in short study seminars with leaders of American national government. 

Leo Tonkin (L) with students, 1968.

Workshops Foundation logo 1967-2007

Founder, Leo Tonkin, took various elements from logos of several different government agencies to piece together this original logo cutting and pasting pieces from letterhead, manuals, etc, and sharing the idea with the designer at that time.

WashingtonWorkshops Foundation logo from 1967 until 2007.

That first Washington Workshops seminar was held in the early summer of 1968.  That year witnessed 12 months o historic turmoil in America.  First came the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Senator Robert Kennedy, brother of the slain President, quickly accompanied by searing riots in city after city culminating in armed troops with drawn bayonets surrounding the U.S. Capitol building!  Then occurred a tumultuous national political convention in Chicago, and later the unexpected refusal of President Lyndon Johnson to seek re-election.  All of this shocked and galvanized a reeling America. 

Retro WW Work Group

Early Washington Workshops work group with Leo Tonkin (R).

These many events and more cast amidst the unfolding drama of a growing war in Vietnam, brought increasing numbers of students to Washington to protest America’s controversial role in that faraway land.  It was a time when Members of Congress actually wanted to see fewer young Americans come to Washington, fearing more and worsening street demonstrations and an upending of U.S. foreign policy. 

In such a climate, indeed perhaps because of it, Leo Tonkin decided it was urgent for young Americans, with so much of their future at stake, to come to their nation’s capital, not to tear apart the fabric of government, but to meet and sensibly discuss with their elected leaders, their own deeply felt beliefs on the present and future course of America and the International Community. 


A commitment was forged by the Washington Workshops Foundation that summer of 1968 that would bring together, session after session, year after year, bright and involved teenage American and International students travelling to Washington to engage in the very essence of participatory democracy and at the epicenter of American and International politics.

Leo Tonkin Americanism Award

Leo accepting the Americanism Award from the Valley Forge Freedoms Foundation in 1974.

And thus was born the Washington Workshops Foundation and the high school student Congressional Seminars.  Over the following years, Jr. High and Middle School student seminars have joined the roster, along with special and highly regarded internship program on Capitol Hill available to a smaller group of high school and college students.  Throughout its years of educational accomplishment, Washington Workshops has championed a unique experiential approach to the study of American civic education, all in a remarkable environment creating “...memories for a lifetime”

Leo Tonkin, Gerald Ford, Lydon Johnson

Vice President, Gerald Ford, presenting Washington Workshops with the Americanism Award, 1974. VP Gerald Ford (L), Former President Johnson (C) and Leo Tonkin (R).

Many Washington Workshops students have gone on to assume positions of leadership in their own communities, including state legislators, small town and big city mayors, and members of both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.


Perhaps the enduring success of the Washington Workshops is best summed up in the words of the Americanism Award of the Valley Forge Freedoms Foundation presented to Leo Tonkin and Washington Workshops by then vice president of the United States Gerald R. Ford in a 1974 White House Ceremony, citing Washington Workshops “….for helping to bring about a better understanding of the American way of life”. 

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Late in his own life, Mr. Tonkin established and endowed a scholarship program for a continuing group of young Americans to participate in the Advanced Congressional Seminar, including an internship on Capitol Hill.   These young recipients, know as Tonkin Scholars, will have a matchless opportunity for a hands-on dialogue with their nation’s leaders and undoubtedly go on in their own unique ways to help fashion a bright, free and dynamic America of the future. 

Washington Workshops Skyline Logo

The Skyline Logo
2007 - 2019

Washington Workshops 50th Anniversary Logo

50th Anniversary Logo - 2017

Washington Workshops Logo

Our Current Logo Designed in late 2019

Leo tonkin founder of workshops foundation
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