In Her Honor: Remembering the Women Behind Alexandria’s Building Names

In looking at Alexandria facilities named for women we see that City leaders tried to honor their service and their specific field.

Page updated on Aug 16, 2021 at 9:36 AM

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.

Vola Lawson

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.

Helen Miller

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 girls.

Sarah Gray

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.

Cora Kelly

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.

Minnie Howard

Minnie Howard 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

Annie 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.