The Association’s first home was in Georgetown, where the Ellington School of the Arts is now located (35th St. NW). The home belonged to a man named Richard S. Cox, a clerk in the office of the Paymaster General of the Army, who joined the South during the war in 1861. His property, in accordance with policy, was confiscated by the state, and was readily granted to the Association by the Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton.

The conditions under which they had to work were difficult at best when they began in 1863. With a budget of only $3,476 from donations and memberships, the center cared for a total of 64 “inmates” as they were called – 62 children and 2 elder women. 12 of the children were infants. There were 13 deaths that year, partly stemming from the desperate conditions under which the children were brought to the home, and partly due to the issues around the home itself. The 1864 Annual Report noted that a lack of water supply on the premises was contributing to illnesses, and that work was in progress to introduce water from the reservoir.[1] Still, the accomplishments under the circumstances were commendable.

In June 1866, President Andrew Johnson granted a pardon to Richard Cox, allowing him to repossess his land, but not before General O.O Howard provided a new site for the home, on Eighth St., where Banneker High School now stands. The new location at that time was outside of the boundary of the city.

The move is a difficult one. They were forced from the property in the harsh winter month of December, as Cox dismantled doors and windows, making the building unsafe for them to stay. In addition, he retained 100 bushels of corn and hay they raised the past summer, then sued them for $10,000 in damages. By 1869 they had recovered somewhat, caring for a total of 153 inmates over the course of that year.

In 1882 they began to discuss replacing the frame building they were using, mainly because of the danger of fire. They have in their care at this time 120 children and 7 women. They made an appeal to the Senate for $20,000 for a new building, which is granted. Construction of a new brick building is completed in 1886. They also created an endowment fund to acquire three lots on the north side of the Home between the building and Irving (now Euclid) St. belonging to the estate of Marshall Brown. The lots were purchased in 1886 for $2,250.

The new building allowed for the care of more inmates, but the annual allocation from Congress would have to increase in order to make this happen; many applicants were turned away. In 1891 the budget does increase and the total cared for by the home was 157.

An Infant Department began in 1891 which cared for approximately 91 children. The death rate was high – 51 children – but it was not believed that this rate was higher than other asylums. The Commissioner of Charities, Amos Warner recommends an additional appropriation of $4000 for this department.

In 1893, concerns about building improvements arise once again. An open sewer ran behind the building presenting risks of typhoid and malaria. Water was being pumped from wells underneath the house. The heating system, a configuration of five furnaces needed to be replaced by one that would heat by steam or hot water. In 1894, 20 cases of diphtheria got the attention of the Board of Health. After two visits, they could not find issue with the sanitary practices inside the home, and ordered complete renovation of the plumbing, involving the whole line of pipes through the grounds to the sewers. This involved a great expense to the Association. By 1899, other building improvements are made, including a steam heating plant replacing the hot air furnaces.

As of the last report of the Association (1927), they were caring for more than 40 children each month. The Board of Children’s Guardians had withdrawn many of the children in 1919 because the facilities were inadequate. Those who remained were paying board at a rate of $10 to $15 per month. This was a significant reduction in their capacity from the 115+ women and children they had been caring for. A study on child welfare in the District conducted in 1923 noted that, “The building is very much out of repair and has a very dark and gloomy aspect. On February 28, 1923 there were only 21 children in a building intended for more than 100. It was impossible to keep it in proper condition for lack of the necessary help. Either this building should be abandoned altogether or it should be thoroughly repaired. Apparently there is no need for a building of this size to provide for the class of inmates that are sent tto it.” [2]

Following the close of the First World War, the District government purchased all of the property on Eighth St. for Banneker Junior High School and in September 1930, the property across the street at 733 Euclid St. NW was purchased by the Association from Lillian P. Sterling and Joseph Greene for a grand total of $10. The relationship the Association had at the time with Ms. Sterling and Mr. Greene is unknown. It is possible the Association transitioned to 733 Euclid earlier, and the transfer of the property was made to make the arrangement official. Two additional investment properties were purchased at that time which allowed the Association to be self-supporting.

[1] First Annual Report of the National Association for the Relief of Destitute Women and Children. Washington, D.C. 1864

[2] Hastings H. Hart, LL.D. Child Welfare in the District of Columbia (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1924), p. 89.