There are fifty-one streets in D.C. named for every state and Puerto Rico. But, admittedly, not all state avenues are created equal. Some are long, vital roadways through our city. Others are historic and prominent—the location of our country’s most important events. And some are…well, a bit hard to find. Admit it: you probably couldn’t point to all of them on a city map. So why are some state avenues more prominent than others? Is there any method to the naming madness?
If you were to delve into the history of the Girl Scouts of the Nation’s Capital (GSNC), most of what you would find relates to troops’ longstanding history of service. After all, Girl Scout’s mission statement espouses values like “courage, confidence, leadership, and character.” But as historian Miya Carey reveals, the GSNC’s legacy is complicated by its historical exclusion of Black troops.
As we celebrate the Nineteenth Amendment’s centennial year, those of us in D.C. should also remember the women whose victory wasn’t assured in 1920. Our local story really isn’t about the large demonstrations down the Mall, or the women who protested outside the White House—the suffragettes of Washington were the Voteless Voters, who continued to fight long after the Amendment was ratified.
Recently, Washington’s Black community has – rightfully – pushed for more memorials and markers honoring Black leaders and the city's rich African American heritage. While we wait for our city’s landscape to reflect more of its history, we highlight some existing sites that deserve more attention.
When the stresses of life in Washington became too much, John Quincy Adams calmed his nerves by taking early-morning swims in the Potomac River. In a move that might be considered questionable by today’s standards, he especially liked to soak in the brisk, cold water wearing nothing but his own skin. According to local lore, it once got him into a bit of trouble: Anne Royall, a trailblazing journalist, caught him in a very awkward situation. But is there any truth in the tale?
Much like any city, Washington’s landscape is ever evolving, and the rise of gentrification has transformed many of the city’s neighborhoods. Take downtown 14th street, for example. Today, 14th street offers all the hangout spots a D.C. millennial yuppie might desire: hip bars, coffee shops, sleek gyms equipped with spin bikes... In the 1970s and 1980s, though, a less-conventional business threatened to displace the street’s small neighborhood shops: adult bookstores.
Within local legend, David Burns, one of the area's early landowners, is better known as “the obstinate Mr. Burns.” The moniker was given to him by someone he really managed to irritate: George Washington.
With the recent protests in response to the murder of George Floyd and the continued unearthing of our nation’s racist history, conversation regarding what history we set in stone is back at the forefront. In the District, memorial removals are extremely rare occurrences, but that doesn’t mean they have never happened before. In the late 1950s, two of the Capitol building’s most significant monuments were removed, despite the fact that a future president himself advocated for their installment: Horatio Greenough’s The Rescue and Luigi Persico’s Discovery of America. Largely due to public pressure, the statues were taken down during the building’s remodeling in 1958 and never re-erected.
How did Washington's most famous river get its name? Though the name is of American Indian origin, historians can’t really agree on its exact meaning. It’s been called a lot of different names, depending on who you talked to. And, until 1931, most people weren’t even sure how to spell it!