05 Dec 2022


Lost Capitol Hill: The 100th Anniversary of the SE Branch of the DC Library

Next weekend, the Southeast Library will be celebrating a very special anniversary: 100 years serving the Capitol Hill community. It is a big milestone, and also the beginning of a whole new era of the library, as the design process for the building’s renovation is nearing completion, and the next step will be a large-scale project to bring the library into the 21st Century.

But for now, it is time to look back at December 8t, 1922, when the newest branch of the DC public library was “opened amid great enthusiasm” as the Washington Evening Star wrote the following day.

The opening was overseen by Theodore W. Noyes, who was the chairman of the board of the library – as well as the Editor-in-chief of the Evening Star, which may have been a reason why that newspaper’s coverage of this event took over most of page four of the following day’s edition.

Noyes, who can be seen above, introduced Dr. George F. Bowerman, the head of the D.C. libraries. Bowerman spoke about the history of these public institutions in Washington and what he was looking forward to in the future, including a new branch in Mount Pleasant. He also spoke of increasing the budget of the library, hoping that eventually there would be one dollar per District resident or 437,000 dollars a year. Incidentally, and adjusted for inflation and the increase in population, that would be 12 million a year today; the current actual budget is about 5 times greater.

The Southeast Library’s circulation can be seen in this undated picture (FOSEL)

Bowerman, of course, mentioned the Carnegie corporation and their patron, Andrew Carnegie, in his speech as they had been instrumental in getting the branch built. Nonetheless, at the time, D.C. was still well behind other cities in their development of branches to ensure that everyone in the city was in close proximity to a large number of books.

Also speaking that day was F. W. Johnson, the pastor of Grace Baptist on the other side of what is today Eastern Market Metro Plaza, and Frances S. Osborne, who was to lead the library. She, Dorothy Leetch, two assistant librarians, a page and a janitor, were the whole staff for this new venture. In spite of this, they were to be open six days a week, usually from noon to 9 pm.

Over the years, the number of books and librarians – and hours opened – would expand, and both of Bowerman’s hopes of more branches and money for the system would come to fruition.

You can read more about the history of the library in this article written ten years ago in honor of the building’s 90th birthday here. And if you want to join in the festivities, the whole list can be found here. If you want to add your own voice to the proceedings, the library is looking for patrons to describe in 100 or fewer words, what the place means to them. We here at The Hill is Home will be doing so in the course of this week, and will post our answers in hopes of encouraging further entries. Watch this space!

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