Downtown BID Callboxes

DowntownDC Business Improvement District Callboxes, Washington, DC. Bronze Portraits of four African American Women and five Caucasian Women who helped shape Washington, DC. The Artwork is located on nine historic cast iron fire and police callboxes. Charles Bergen Studios was selected by the Downtown BID in a national artist call to create this artwork. The BID secured matching grant funding from the DCCAH for this $175,000.00 project. In honor of the 100th Anniversary of Woman’s Suffrage in 2020, artwork depicting nine extraordinary woman who worked, lived and or were associated with the locations of the Callboxes will be created. Bronze relief portraits of nine women as well as painted stainless steel which has been waterjet cut, with painted stenciled words on the Callboxes symbolizing their achievements, talents and organizations.

Participating /Advising Artists Darian Lassiter, Nathan Cousins, Mathew Andrews, Tsahai Pettiford, Amber Logan, Hakeem Olayinka, Aaron Rogers, Brandon, Bailey, Charles Bergen, Elsabe Dixon and George Tkabladze.

TITLE:                           Downtown BID Callboxes           

DATE:                           October 2018

MEDIA:                         Bronze and waterjet

LOCATION:                  Northwest, Washington, DC

BUDGET:                      $175,000

To download the project sheet, click here.


Callbox 1 - Vermont Ave and K St NW - Elizabeth Keckley

Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley (1818-1907), born into slavery in Virginia, was hired out as a seamstress. With money from clients, she bought her own and her son’s freedom in 1855. She gained renown as a dressmaker after moving to Washington, where First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln became her frequent client and close friend. Keckley helped found organizations to assist formerly enslaved people, and later taught at Wilberforce University in Ohio. She rented rooms at various downtown addresses, including nearby 1509 L Street.

Callbox 2 - 15th and L sts NW - Katharine Graham 

Katharine Meyer Graham (1917-2001) worked at the Washington Post as a young woman, after her father, Eugene Meyer, bought the paper in 1933. Meyer made Katharine Graham’s husband, Philip Graham, the Post’s publisher, but she took over the job after Philip’s death in 1963. Under her tenure, the Post’s status grew significantly, especially after it published the Pentagon Papers in 1971 and broke the Watergate scandal a year later. Graham became one of the country’s most powerful figures in publishing. 

Callbox 3 - 14th and K sts NW - Josephine Butler 

Josephine Butler (1920-1997) was a tireless and dedicated community activist. As a young woman she organized the first union of black female laundry workers in DC and the country. In the 1950s she shepherded the Adams and Morgan elementary schools through desegregation, thereby uniting the neighborhood since then known as Adams Morgan. She worked for better health care, air quality, and parks, and in 1971 co-founded the DC Statehood Party, once headquartered nearby, at 11th and K streets, NW.

Callbox 5 - 14th and G sts NW - Mary Church Terrell

Lifelong civil rights and women’s rights activist Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954) helped end racial discrimination in restaurants and other public accommodations in the District. In 1950 she and colleagues were refused service at the whites-only Thompson’s Cafeteria, nearby at 725 14th Street. Invoking 19th century anti-discrimination laws, they persuaded the city to sue Thompson’s. The case advanced to the Supreme Court, which in 1953 outlawed discrimination in DC’s public accommodations, in District of Columbia v. John R. Thompson Co., Inc. 

Callbox 6 - 14th and F sts NW - Julia Ward Howe

Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910) was a poet, author, composer, abolitionist, suffragist and more—but she is most remembered for writing the lyrics to The Battle Hymn of the Republic. According to the story, she and her husband were asleep at the Willard Hotel one night in November 1861, when she awoke to voices in the street singing “John Brown’s body lies a-moldering in the grave.” From the window, she saw lines of Union troops marching by. Inspired, she composed new words to their tune, which they’d adapted from old hymns. The Battle Hymn of the Republic became the Union anthem. 

Callbox 7 - 14th and E Sts NW - Alice Paul

Suffragist Alice Stokes Paul (1885-1977) advocated a more militant strategy for the woman suffrage movement, which was decades old when she came along, and short on victories. With others she founded the National Woman’s Party and soon organized a huge demonstration for March 3, 1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson’s first presidential inauguration. Thousands of women came to Washington to march along Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House, and the demonstrations continued until they’d converted Wilson to their cause. The 19th Amendment, granting women the vote, was ratified in 1920.

Callbox 8 - 13th and G sts NW - Alma Thomas

Painter Alma Thomas (1891-1978) was Howard University’s first fine arts graduate, in 1924, and that same year began teaching art at Shaw Junior High School. Upon retiring from Shaw in 1960, Thomas finally had time to focus on her own work. That is when she began developing her association with the Washington Color School, along with the abstract style for which she became known. Her paintings hang in many museums and galleries, including the National Museum of Women in the Arts, a short distance from here.  

Callbox 9 - 13th and G sts NW - Flora Molton

Flora Molton (1908-1990) was a blues and gospel musician whose primary stage was the street, first at Seventh and F, and later 11th and F. Born visually impaired in Louisa County, Virginia, Molton moved to Washington in 1937 and soon began relying on her musical, and preaching, talents. She became part of DC’s burgeoning folk and blues community in the 1960s and in the next decades performed at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Library of Congress, and many other places. She also recorded three albums – but continued singing on the street until six months before her death.


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