Guidebook Fetes DC’s Female History Sites

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A recently published guidebook details the district’s sites that focus on women’s contributions to the city, and many of these sites cater to African American women.

Kaitlin Calogera and Rebecca Grawl are co-authors of 111 Washington, DC Women’s History Places You Mustn’t Miss, published by Emons Verlag in Cologne, Germany. Cynthia Schiavetto Staliunas worked as the guide’s photographer with colorful images of places that have connections to women’s history. The guide has become part of a series of similarly titled publications highlighting tourist attractions in places like Baltimore, Chicago, Boston, New York, San Francisco and Palm Beach, Florida. The District Guide focuses on female tourists, however, and the site is the only one of its kind in the series. Grawl, who works as a tour guide in town, said the idea for the guide was a result of A Tour of Her Own, the Calogera District-based tour operator. The two decided to collaborate on the guidebook in 2018, and just as they started the project, the coronavirus pandemic was spreading.

“Just as we were gaining momentum in March 2020, the tourism industry was immediately devastated by COVID-19,” she said. “During a travel ban period, our focus has been on bringing tourism from the streets of DC to the pages of this book. We’ve certainly encountered obstacles, but we’ve taken the time to close down a few locations to delve deep into the history of women in the city. Our stories of people and places often intersected, and when joined together formed a larger narrative.”

Grawl said no city’s women’s story would be complete without the role that African American women played in its development.

“You can’t tell the story of DC without black women,” she said. “We wanted to make sure that we show that in the book.”

Among the places highlighted in the book:

*The Sisterhood AKA mural is located on 4411 14th Street., NW Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first black collegiate sorority, was formed at Howard University in 1908. The mural is on the back wall of the building belonging to the Xi Omega Chapter of the Sisterhood.

*The Mary Ann Shadd Cary House at 1421 W Street, NW Cary became the first black woman publisher in North America with her anti-slavery newspaper in Canada in the 1850s. She moved back to the district to work for the US Army recruiting blacks to fight for the Union during the Civil War. She lived in the house on W Street for the rest of her life.

*The memorial to Mary McCleod Bethune. Located in Lincoln Park at 1301 East Capitol Street, SE, this is the only memorial dedicated to a Black woman in a public park in the district. Bethune served in the Franklin D. Roosevelt presidential administration as director of Negro affairs for the National Youth Administration while living in the district.

*Juanita Thornton Library is located at 7301 Georgia Ave., NW. The library branch takes its name from community activist Juanita Thornton of Ward 4. Thornton fought to get a library in her Shepherd Park neighborhood in lieu of another Hamburg branch. In 1990, the fruits of their labor paid off and the branch received city approval. Thornton died two months after the store opened in 1992.

Grawl said Thornton’s fight for a library branch for her neighborhood shows how hard black women worked to get things done in the city.

“Juanita Thornton really made an impact, but she is an example of the hard work that African American women have done to build this city,” Grawl said.

@JamesWrightJr10

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