In the last report from the National Association for the Relief of Destitute Colored Women and Children that we have record of (believed to be from 1927), Mrs. Marie Meriwether, secretary, writes: “What shall we say of the future? We can point with pride to some of the children, now men and women, who have gone out from this Home, holding creditable positions. We believe the future will reveal the same. May we not hope the time is not far distant when this Home, the only one of its kind in the District of Columbia for colored children, will be amply provided for by Congress or some person or persons who know the value of such an institution.” [1]

An active participant in the Association since 1884, Mrs. Meriwether served on the Board of Managers from 1884 until at least 1910, was President in 1915, and Secretary in 1927. Although the number of children had greatly diminished, it is clear that Mrs. Meriwether had no intention of letting the Association’s work fade into history. The building at 733 Euclid St. was purchased in September 1930, and in 1932, permits were obtained to build a large extension on the rear adding approximately 3200 square feet. Section I of the Association’s By-Laws were amended to read, “The said National Association for the Relief of Destitute Colored Women and Children (chartered name) hereby expresses its willingness for the Institution to be known in the community as the Mary Louise Merriweather [2] Home for Children.” [3]

The purpose of the Merriweather Home was:

1. To give foster care to the neglected and dependent children of the District of Columbia.

2. To help the individual child to develop spiritually, morally and mentally so that he may be able to take his place in the community.

3. To care for both boys and girls so that children in the same family group can be kept together. Children under care of the Association understand through group living the value of association of the sexes in the daily experiences of growing up. [4]

Recent interviews with individuals who were residents of the Meriwether Home in 1938 describe a well-run and caring home for the children. Discipline was strict, and staff did their best to provide for the needs of the children. A study was conducted in October 1953 by an independent evaluator to assess the issues with the Home and to make recommendations. This study, pulled from the trash of the abandoned building in 2002, provided insights into the working of the Home at this time.

They had the capacity to care for 33 children, boys and girls, ages 2-13. Some of the children were placed by parents, but most were placed there by the Board of Public Welfare.

In 1953, Maria S. Ogle was President of the organization, and Mrs. Marie B. Key was Superintendent. Staff consisted of three housemothers (one temporary), a cook, a maintenance man, and a doctor. Children were taken on a two-week trial basis to see whether the child can adjust to group living. There was no policy on the type of child to be admitted to the Home, but they did not admit children with serious health problems or children committed by the court. Younger children had to be toilet trained.

Children were expected to stay at least three months, but not usually longer than a year. The Home was responsible for room, board, school placement, recreation and discipline. All children attended church and studied the Sunday school lessons. The children could attend the church of their choice; most went to the Lutheran Church (the minister was a member of the Board). All children had chores such as dressing the younger ones, setting the dining room for meals, cleaning and bed making. If they were of school age, they attend one of the area schools – Monroe, Bruce, Banneker or Shaw. The close vicinity of Banneker playground and swimming pool allowed for recreational activities. Children were allowed to go to movies or to parties in private homes, and to have visitors in the Home.

Funding came from payments made by the Board of Public Welfare (an amount paid per child assigned to the Home), payment from parents (ranging from $40-$45 per month), rents from apartments owned on Euclid St. and S St., the Duke Foundation, The Eugene Meyer Foundation, the Administrative Staff of the Navy, and yearly fundraising efforts by the Board.

[1] National Association for the Relief of Destitute Colored Women and Children, 2458 Eighth Street N.W. Washington, DC (undated)
[2] The name of the home appears as “Meriwether” and “Merriweather” in different publications.
[3] Dixon Smith, Ruth. The Mary L. Merriweather Home For Children, A Study July 1953-October 1953 (unpublished).
[4] Ibid.