On December 18th, the DC Preservation League (DCPL) in partnership with Ben and Dawn O’Connell submitted a nomination to designate the Slowe-Burrill House, 1256 Kearny Street, NE, as a DC Landmark.
“We were delighted to learn more about the lives of our house’s former owners and are pleased that this designation will preserve such an important landmark in our city’s LGBTQ history.” – Ben and Dawn O’Connell, owners 1256 Kearney Street, NE.
About the Property:
Built by James T. Ward in 1890, Lucy Slowe and Mary Burrill bought the Queen Anne house together in 1922. The two women had successful careers in the field of education and lived together in the house until Slowe’s death in 1937. The women first met because of their shared background in the field of education ten years before purchasing the house on Kearny Street. Slowe had the more prestigious career, highlights of which included her being tasked by the District to create the first public African-American Junior High School in the city and later becoming the first Dean of Women at Howard University. In the latter role, Slowe introduced a new study curriculum to female students at Howard; she encouraged women to consider and pursue varied careers beyond the traditional path of teaching. Her willingness to invite many students to her house for social events and informal counseling sessions demonstrates Slowe’s affection for her students. Burrill remained a dedicated educator throughout her life. She taught at a number of District schools during her career, but her longest tenure was at Dunbar High School. Burrill sold the house at 1256 Kearny Street NE shortly after Slowe’s death in 1937.
The Slowe-Burrill House meets DC Inventory Criterion B in the area of Social History, as the location of what is thought to be one of the most prominent female same-sex relationships in Washington, DC during the early twentieth century. At this time, although the women’s rights movement was growing, society still maintained a generally conservative view regarding alternative lifestyles, particularly in regard to same-sex couples. This resulted in many gay and lesbian couples keeping their personal relationships either entirely hidden or out of public view. Slowe and Burrill were life partners for over twenty years and because they were very private, they escaped significant scrutiny that could have impacted their social standing and careers. Their relationship endured during an era when LGBTQ lifestyles were not yet accepted by society at large.
The Slowe-Burrill House meets DC Inventory Criterion C at the local level for its association with the life and productive career of Lucy Slowe, an important African American educator who made significant contributions to the field of African American education within the District of Columbia.
If designated, the Slowe-Burrill House will join the Dr. Franklin E. Kameny House and the Furies Collective in the DC Inventory of Historic Sites for its association with the LGBTQ history in the District of Columbia.
This project has been funded in part by a grant from the Dorthea de Schweinitz Fund for the District of Columbia of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Update: The Historic Preservation Review Board Hearing on this nomination has been postponed until April 30, 2020.