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LeDroit Park in Washington, District of Columbia — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)
 

Government Girls

Worthy Ambition

 

—LeDroit Park/Bloomingdale Heritage Trail —

 
Government Girls Marker image. Click for full size.
By Devry Becker Jones, November 23, 2017
1. Government Girls Marker
Inscription.

To your right is Lucy Diggs Slowe Hall, a Howard University dormitory. It opened in 1942 as U.S. government housing for African American women who came to DC to take new war-related jobs or fill in for men who left to join the military during World War II (1941-1945). These women and their white counterparts were known as "government girls." Housing was tight, so the few government-built residences were in great demand. Following local custom, they were segregated.

Slowe Hall honors a celebrated Howard University women's dean, tennis champion, and co-founder of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first national sorority for African Americans. In addition to housing young women, Slowe Hall offered meeting spaces that brought notables to the neighborhood. Constance Allen, who grew up nearby, recalled greeting Eleanor Roosevelt in 1943 when the first lady met here with Mary McLeod Bethune, a member of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Black Cabinet."

Charles E. Fairman, curator of the U.S. Capitol's art collection, lived at 325 U Street with his wife Mary from 1887 until the 1940s. Their neighbor across the street at 320 was Julia West Hamilton, founder and longtime president of the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA and mother of Col. West Alexander Hamilton. In 1941, Mathilde Smith Gray opened the LeDroit Park Nursery School
Government Girls Marker image. Click for full size.
By Devry Becker Jones, November 23, 2017
2. Government Girls Marker
one block west at 404 U Street.

On your way to Sign 5, you will pass original McGill Victorian style houses and some replacements that mimic them. The nonprofit Manna, Inc., built 319-325 U STreet in 1997. Turn left on U Street to reach Sign 5.

Reverse:
LeDroit Park and its younger sibling Bloomingdale share a rich history here. Boundary Street (today's Florida Avenue) was the City of Washington's northern border until 1871. Beyond lay farms, a few sprawling country estates, and undeveloped land where suburban communities would rise. Nearby Civil War hospitals and temporary housing for the formerly enslaved brought African Americans to this area in the 1860s. Howard University opened just north of here in 1867. Boundary Street (today's Florida Avenue) was the City of Washington's northern edge until 1871.

Around this time, a Howard University professor and trustee and his brother-in-law, a real estate speculator, began purchasing land from Howard University to create LeDroit Park, a suburban retreat close to streetcar lines and downtown. It took its name from the first name of both Barber's son and father-in-law. Bloomingdale was developed shortly thereafter.

For its first two decades, wealthy whites set up housekeeping in LeDroit Park. By 1893, African Americans began moving in. Soon LeDroit Park became the city's
Government Girls Marker image. Click for full size.
By Devry Becker Jones, November 23, 2017
3. Government Girls Marker
premier black neighborhood. Bloomingdale remained a middle- and upper-class white neighborhood until the 1920s, when affluent African Americans began buying houses in the area south of Rhode Island Avenue.

Among the intellectual elites drawn here was poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. The trail's title, Worthy Ambition, comes from his poem, "Emancipation": Toward noble deeds every effort be straining./Worthy ambition is food for the soul!

Although this area declined in the mid-20th century as affluent homeowners sought newer housing elsewhere, revitalization began in the 1970s. The stories you find on Worthy Ambition: LeDroit Park/Bloomingdale Heritage Trail reflect the neighborhood's -- and Washington's -- complicated racial history and the aspirations on its citizens.

Worthy Ambition: LeDroit Park/Bloomingdale Heritage Trail is an Official Washington, DC Walking Trail. The self-guided, 2.5-mile tour of 16 signs offers about 90 minutes of gentle exercise. For more DC neighborhoods, please visit www.CulturalTourismDC.org.
 
Erected 2015 by Cultural Tourism DC. (Marker Number 4 of 16.)
 
Location. 38° 55.01′ N, 77° 0.956′ W. Marker is in LeDroit Park, District of Columbia, in Washington. Marker
Government Girls Marker image. Click for full size.
By Devry Becker Jones, November 23, 2017
4. Government Girls Marker
is at the intersection of 3rd Street Northwest and U Street NW on 3rd Street Northwest. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Washington DC 20001, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Christian Fleetwood and Sara Fleetwood Residence Site (within shouting distance of this marker); A Voice from the South (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Robert and Mary Church Terrell House (about 400 feet away); Separate Schools (about 500 feet away); Best in the Country (about 500 feet away); Elks Columbia Lodge No. 85 (about 600 feet away); T Street Elites (about 700 feet away); The University Next Door (about 800 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in LeDroit Park.
 
Also see . . .  https://www.culturaltourismdc.org/portal/phyllis-wheatley-ywca-african-american-heritage-trail. (Submitted on November 23, 2017, by Devry Becker Jones of Silver Spring, Maryland.)
 
Categories. African AmericansPoliticsWar, World II
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on December 5, 2017. This page originally submitted on November 23, 2017, by Devry Becker Jones of Silver Spring, Maryland. This page has been viewed 48 times since then. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on November 23, 2017, by Devry Becker Jones of Silver Spring, Maryland. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.
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