The Octagon House was home to Dolley Madison after the White House burned.
In this summer heat, EVE volunteers have been beating the streets researching the names and addresses of famous women who were born in D.C. or spent part of their lives in D.C. In our quest for equal visibility, we found out some interesting things.
- Jackie Kennedy lived in five different addresses in D.C. …all in Georgetown.
- Other First Ladies have also lived in Washington, D.C., exclusive of the White House. Eleanor Roosevelt lived on R Street NW, Dolley Madison was a resident of the Octagon House, and Mary Todd Lincoln spent many months at the Lincoln Cottage on the grounds of the Soldiers’ Home.
Last month our president, Dr. Lynette Long, blogged about street names in Washington, D.C. and her letter to the City Council members about the importance of honoring women. Today Dr. Long had her first meeting with Councilmember Muriel Bowser, who represents Ward 4. Councilmember Bowser was very enthusiastic about our project, and she and Dr. Long discussed the possibility of honoring Elizabeth Proctor Thomas (“Aunt Betty”), the farmer who owned land on which Fort Stevens was constructed:
Elizabeth Proctor Thomas (1821-1917)
Elizabeth Proctor Thomas (1821-1917), a free Black woman whose image appears on each Brightwood Heritage Trail sign, once owned 11 acres in this area. Known respectfully in her old age as “Aunt Betty,” Thomas and her husband James farmed and kept cows here. When the Civil War came in 1861, her hilltop attracted Union soldiers defending Washington.
As Thomas later told a reporter, one day soldiers “began taking out my furniture and tearing down our house” to build Fort Stevens. Then a surprising visitor arrived. “I was sitting under that sycamore tree . . . with what furniture I had left around me. I was crying, as was my six months-old child, . . . when a tall, slender man dressed in black came up and said to me, ‘It is hard, but you shall reap a great reward.’ It was President Lincoln.”
For years afterward, even though her land was returned, Thomas unsuccessfully pressed the federal government to pay for her destroyed house. “[H]ad [Lincoln] lived, I know the claim for my losses would have been paid,” she said. Thomas died at age 96 after a lifetime of community leadership and activism.
Although Elizabeth Thomas is recognized on the Brightwood Heritage Trail, there are no streets named after her. Councilmember Bowser suggested including our proposal as part of the development plans for the Fort Stevens area.
We’ll be moving forward with other possibilities in the District as we continue to do research and compile data.
Note for potential volunteers: if you’re in the D.C. area and would like to help with the research and legwork for the street name project, please email us at email@example.com or write directly to Dr. Long at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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