In Her Honor: Remembering the Women Behind Alexandria’s Building Names
Remarks of Amy Bertsch to Alexandria Business and Professional Women (BPW), March 10, 2009, reprinted with permission.
City facilities that are named for people usually reflect that person’s specific contribution to Alexandria.
For example, those of us who know Vola Lawson were not at
all surprised that Council chose to name the animal shelter in honor of the
retiring City Manager because Vola is a true friend of animals and a longtime
supporter of the Animal Welfare League.
In looking at the facilities named for
women we see that City leaders tried to honor their service and their specific
field. A city playground and park at the
corner of Queen and Fayette streets is named in part for Helen Miller,
who worked for years to improve the Parker-Gray community and the very park
that would later be named for her. She was a community activist who was
involved in the civil rights movement, school and church programs, the police
department’s Community Action Team and the Hopkins House Board. She lived down
the street from the park and whenever she saw suspicious activity in the park,
she called police and complained to city officials. In spirit, the community
and city leaders considered the park Helen Miller’s park long before it was
officially named in her honor in the early 1990s.
Kate Waller Barrett
Two of the earliest sites named in honor of women date from the 1930s. The son of physician and humanitarian Kate Waller Barrett offered to fund the cost of a new public library that would be named in his mother’s memory when it was built in 1937.
Jane Solomon Crouch
In 1933, a new public school for African-American students was named
Lyles-Crouch, in honor of two teachers, one of them a woman named Jane Solomon Crouch.
Jane was born in 1835 to a free mother and an enslaved father who later
purchased his freedom. She was one of eleven siblings and she and her sister
Sarah attended a Catholic school in Baltimore especially for African American
In 1861, Jane and another woman of
color, Sarah Gray, opened the St. Rose Institute to educate free black
girls. They also both taught at the Hallowell School for Girls on Alfred Street
and years later, when it opened in 1920, the Parker-Gray School would be named
in part in honor of Sarah Gray.
Two other Alexandria public schools
are named for women. Cora Kelly, the daughter of Alexandria police chief
James Webster, taught for more than 50 years. She was born in 1869 and spent
much of her early career at the Washington School for Boys, first earning $250
a year. She later taught at the Jefferson School when it opened in the early
1920s and was remembered as being strict. She was a believer in the traditional
teaching and encouraged her students to go to church and be good citizens. Many
did, with some becoming Alexandria mayors and council members themselves. Cora
Webster Kelly had married but didn’t have children and she identified very
strongly as a teacher, with her tombstone reading, “Beloved teacher who trained
the hearts and minds of Alexandria youth through 53 years of dedicated
service.” When a new elementary school was built in 1955, it was named in her
honor, though two years after she had died.
is now a school for ninth graders but when it opened in 1954, it was an elementary
school and one of the first in West End of Alexandria that had just been
annexed two years earlier. Minnie Stansbury Howard wasn’t a teacher but she
devoted much of her life the welfare of children. Minnie Stansbury was born in
1869 and lost her parents before she was 15. She lived with her brother and his
family before marrying Thomas Clifton Howard. As she raised seven children to
adulthood, Minnie Howard founded a children’s home and served as Alexandria’s
first juvenile probation officer. She was founder of the City’s first PTA,
president of the Alexandria playground association and helped established
Alexandria’s first public playground at the Washington Street school. She used
to sell cherries during George Washington’s birthday to help raise money for
playgrounds. Like Cora Kelly, Minnie
Howard’s namesake school opened just a few years after her death in 1950.
Nannie Jane Carrington Lee
Another passionate supporter of
programs for young people was Nannie Jane Carrington Lee. A resident of
South Payne Street, Nannie and her husband General supported athletic and
recreational activities for children. They had four children of their own and
Nannie was very concerned about the apparent lack of recreational facilities on
the south side of town. She formed the Lee Southside Parents’ Club and appealed
to City Hall for support. She was given a box of playground supplies, like
balls and jump ropes, which she would hand out to children after school at the
old Robert E. Lee school. Her husband organized athletic teams and raised money
to support the teams through bake sales, cocktail parties and banquets. They
also successfully campaigned to keep a City swimming pool in their community.
The Nannie J. Lee Memorial Recreation Center was later named in her honor.
While efforts for children certainly
comprise a large number of these women, several are recognized for other
improvements to our quality of life.
Ellen Coolidge Burke
Ellen Coolidge Burke
was very active in civic causes, including the League of Women Voters, Human
Relations Council, and the Urban League, in addition to her service with the
City libraries. She received two degree from Catholic University and worked for
many years as a cataloguer and reference librarian before being named director
of the Alexandria Library in 1948. She served in that capacity until she
retired just over 20 years later. During her tenure she greatly expanded
library services to support the growing population of the City. She opened two
branches and organized a bookmobile, and the branch on Seminary was named in
her honor while she was still working. She died in 1975, five years after she
was honored for her innovation with a “Ellen Coolidge Burke Day.”
Dora Murphy Kelley
Dora Murphy Kelley,
native of Massachusetts, lived in the West End community of Dowden Terrace. She
was an avid nature lover and encouraged with City to acquire a preserve of
woodlands once known as “Rolfs Tract.”
She saw the property’s potential as a park and wildlife sanctuary and
the City agreed, purchasing the parcel in 1973. In 1976, the park was named in
her honor, and in the years that followed, she volunteered there, educating
visitors about the variety of animals and plants before her death in 2001.
Annie B. Rose
the daughter of a slave who had been sold from an Alexandria slave pen, was an
advocate for seniors and Annie B. Rose House, a high-rise for low-income
seniors, was named in her honor. Annie Beatrice Bailey Rose, born in 1893,
retired in 1945 after working for the federal government. She spent the rest of her long life trying to
improve housing and home nursing for Alexandria’s elderly and helped to
establish the City's Commission on Aging. “Miss Annie,” as she was known, also
educated young people about African-American history and preservation, becoming
a founding member of the Alexandria Society for the Preservation of Black
Heritage and working to establish the Alexandria Black History Museum. She died
in 1989 at age 96.
Flora Krause Casey
Finally, we’ll look at a public health
advocate. Flora Krause was born in Georgia in 1905, and first worked in
Alexandria as a librarian. But it was Flora Krause Casey’s volunteer work with the Alexandria
Kiwanis that led to the establishment of a public health clinic around 1938.
She started off by simply getting kids physicals to go to the Kiwanis camp, but
soon her efforts expanded when she saw the need for a clinic. The clinic was
supported with donations and grants and dependent on volunteers, and it
provided medical services for those who could not pay. The clinic grew from
space over an ice cream shop to a clinic attached to the hospital, and each
year, patients had more than 12,000 medical visits. Casey retired from the
clinic in 1971, and the City took over its operation three years later. Today,
the Flora Krause Casey Health Center is named for the longtime executive
director of Alexandria’s community health center. Casey died in 1991 at age 86
and was survived by her son.
When we consider the incredible service of these women, it’s not surprising to see schools, libraries and other facilities named in their honor. But it’s somewhat sad that their stories, their individual accomplishments, have been forgotten. While these facilities were named in honor of Alexandria women, we can spread that honor by remembering their life stories.