TAPE 1/SIDE 1
MCMAHON: This is Bernadette McMahon. I am interviewing Ann Higgins on November 18, 2011. And we're here at my home at Bryan School in a condo. And we're particularly here because Ann went to school here. Ann can you tell me your name?
HIGGINS: My name is Ann Higgins but it was Ann Cochran before I married.
MCMAHON: Do you want to spell that?
HIGGINS: [spells it]
MCMAHON: Good. And you were born here or not?
HIGGINS: No I was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1936. And came to Washington when I was about three years old.
MCMAHON: What were your parents' names?
HIGGINS: My father's name is Ellison Robert Cochran; my mother Sarah Frances Manning. My father was born in Primrose, Georgia; my mother born in Newnan, Georgia.
MCMAHON: So they were Georgians coming to Washington?
HIGGINS: That's correct. They were a part of I think a movement that took place toward the end of the Great Depression. My father had an opportunity to come work for the Federal government. And he had a job during the 1930s but they didn't have much work. And they actually pulled up stakes, came to DC for a secure job.
MCMAHON: And what -- did he work for one of the Federal agencies?
HIGGINS: He did. Well he worked for the General Services Administration. His first job was as being a maintenance mechanic at the Justice Department in J. Edgar Hoover's era. He met the great J. Edgar Hoover, you know. And my mother had been a telephone operator and she took a job here in DC after the War [WWII] started, working for the Price Control Administration. I don't have that exactly -- it's not exactly the correct name of it. It was the OPA, Office of Price Administration. It was to, you know, to prevent inflation and the like during the war years. So pretty effectively I lived here on Burke Street SE through the war.
MCMAHON: Well tell me where the place you lived when you first were -- you wouldn't remember it when you were three I suppose.
HIGGINS: Well I do remember it because they rented an apartment at 1826 Burke Street.
HIGGINS: Yes [spells it]. It's a one block-street. If you went to where the southeast side from East Capitol Street, it went A, B [Independence Avenue], Bay, Burke. And it was a one-block street.
MCMAHON: And which hundred block is that?
HIGGINS: Well, 1800 block I guess, if it were 1828 . . .
MCMAHON: Between 18th and 19th Southeast.
HIGGINS: That's correct. And then they bought the house next door later. So we lived at 1828 Burke Street [SE].
MCMAHON: And that started in what, 1939 you're talking about?
HIGGINS: I think that's -- they came around '39, '40 around that time.
MCMAHON: Had you lived there all your childhood?
HIGGINS: I lived there until I was 15, I guess, 14, yeah. And then I lived in DC again after I -- my parents moved to northern Virginia.
MCMAHON: And you with them?
HIGGINS: Yes, but I commuted back to Eastern High School, because my mother at that time worked for DC General Hospital.
MCMAHON: I see, so even though you moved to Virginia you finished high school at Eastern?
HIGGINS: I did.
MCMAHON: Okay, we're going to talk about the schools a little later. I didn't realize that. So you were here until you were 15 and then with your parents in Virginia and then you said you commuted to GW [George Washington University] as well.
HIGGINS: Yes. That's right from Falls Church, Virginia. And I married young. I was 19 years old when I married and came back to live in DC then.
MCMAHON: And where -- did you live on Capitol Hill at that time?
HIGGINS: No, my husband was a student at Catholic University and so I lived on Fort Drive up the hill near -- there's a Catholic boy's high school there, Cardinal Gibbons I think. [ed: the high school is Archbishop Carroll.] Right near the Soldiers Home. And lived on Riggs Road for a while, and then we moved to Clarksville, Maryland, for my husband's work took him there.
MCMAHON: And at what point did you come back to Capitol Hill?
MCMAHON: And by that time you were by yourself?
HIGGINS: That's correct, yes, I was divorced.
MCMAHON: And are you -- where did you live when you came back?
HIGGINS: In the house I live now, which is 18 Tenth Street NE in the old neighborhood.
MCMAHON: So you've been there since '94.
HIGGINS: Yes, that's correct.
MCMAHON: Good. I do want to talk about schools because you went to school here at Bryan for elementary school. Can you tell me about that? You say you went here -- what years, I mean what grades?
HIGGINS: Well I started in the kindergarten and was here at Bryan through the sixth grade. And then I went to Eliot Junior High [Constitution Avenue and 17th Place NE], and that's seven through nine, on to Eastern, 10 through 12.
MCMAHON: Is Eliot the same building that's there now behind Eastern?
HIGGINS: Well to my eye it looks pretty much exactly the same. Maybe a little bit of change in the back of the building.
MCMAHON: Okay, but they've never rebuilt that school?
MCMAHON: Okay. I'm sure you've seen the latest incarnation of Eastern.
HIGGINS: Not from the inside.
MCMAHON: No, but from the outside?
HIGGINS: Yes and it looks grand. Looks grand, and I'm glad to see that happen because I think that's a wonderful old building.
MCMAHON: It's beautiful. It's really a beautiful building. I'd like to see the inside sometime.
HIGGINS: Well, I've read the reviews of what a nice place it is to be in.
MCMAHON: And they're starting some interesting programs now there that I hope are very successful.
HIGGINS: Well, I found that one thing that is in my mind about the schools in DC is that I felt very privileged to go to public school in Washington. I had good teachers. And an interesting thing about Bryan School that I was thinking about is that there weren't any men; it was all women.
HIGGINS: Yes. Even the custodian was a woman.
HIGGINS: Yeah, it was all women. And a woman principal. And then it was the big innovation when we actually went to junior high and there were men who were teaching us, so -- and I just felt that all the way through junior high school and through Eastern that I was very fortunate. And I hope that that will happen again that people are not figuring out how to get around sending our kids to public school in DC. It's a shame.
MCMAHON: Well, there seems to be a definite trend in the other directions, particularly in this neighborhood. Now you were at Bryan and all those schools when they were white schools. It was still a segregated system at that time.
HIGGINS: That's correct.
MCMAHON: Was that something you gave any thought to?
HIGGINS: Well, it was interesting because in funny ways the neighborhood was integrated, but it was block by block. So, I walked to school. And so you would walk through blocks that it was all African-American families living there. We didn't know each other though. Now that was a certainty. We didn't go to the same schools, knew little to nothing about the other schools because they didn't -- well up in through high school and the like -- they didn't play; the teams didn't play against each other.
MCMAHON: Oh, not ever?
HIGGINS: No, I mean it was -- in fact I've run into people who were in school about the same time I was, but they were going in this parallel universe because they were in black schools.
HIGGINS: And you know Spingarn, that was central high school white school in the old days, and no that's Spingarn, well. So I think that the significant thing about integration in Washington for my family was that my parents had come from Atlanta to get -- to have some stability in terms of my father's job. And they'd owned a little house in Atlanta and they took every, practically all the money they had to buy the house at 1828 Burke Street. And during the time that Washington was being more integrated there was a really big push to frighten homeowners that if they didn't sell out to speculators they were going to lose it all.
MCMAHON: Block busting.
HIGGINS: Exactly what it was, and my parents couldn't take the risk because that was what they had. And they left the city because of that. Now, you know, my father continued to work in Washington although later in his work life he was at the Pentagon powerhouse there. But mostly his work life had been in DC; my mother's completely in DC. And, but it was definitely worth it for me to come back and finish high school at Eastern, definitely worth it.
MCMAHON: Did they require you to pay tuition when you were not a DC resident?
HIGGINS: Yes. Yes I paid tuition.
MCMAHON: Good [laughs], that's still an issue despite the bad publicity DC schools get, there is a segment of people who make use of them even though they don't live in DC. And they're always trying to ferret out people who are doing that.
HIGGINS: Who are actually -- well there wasn't really any question at all that -- well particularly since I transferred, by being a mid-term student, I transferred out to Falls Church High School. I was losing out on something that was very, very special about Eastern. There was a woman named Regis Boyle. And Dr. Boyle went to Trinity College here in DC when it was a women's school. And Dr. Boyle taught journalism. And she was a person that was the overseer of the yearbook and the newspaper and she was highly demanding of what you did, the quality of your work. And as a result the Columbia University had this Scholastic Press Association and we always won. We always won. We went to New York and would go to . . .
MCMAHON: So were you on the yearbook or the newspaper?
HIGGINS: Well, I was on both. My yearbook stint was to write headlines, you know, so don't get too excited about that, but I actually won. Quill and Scroll was the honorary for high school journalists. And I was the woman, the young woman who won for the U.S. It was a writing --
HIGGINS: Yeah, it was -- and it was big money, $500 right?
MCMAHON: Were you the editor of the newspaper?
HIGGINS: Nope. I wrote a column called "Rambling Along with Ann".
HIGGINS: I wrote editorials, I wrote news; I did heads again, which I always thought was a huge amount of fun. And we ran to high standards. "Rambling Along with Ann" was just little things, personal things, but was never gossip. Yeah, it was -- it was an experience that I was very, very fortunate to have. I don't know if you've ever heard of a artist named Leon Berkowitz, but he was mentor to people like Morris Lewis, the whole Color School of DC. Well, Leon Berkowitz was my art teacher and friend.
MCMAHON: At Eastern?
HIGGINS: Sure. And we did a Kreeger -- we did two art exhibits there that were fantastic things.
HIGGINS: At Eastern. There was a room and we did a gallery. One of my stints for one of them was to go to Pietro Lazzari who was a Washington artist too -- because he lent us things. My dad drove me on a Sunday morning, you know, to pick up a sculpture he had promised to lend. So, you're not talking about mundane stuff. I mean, it was special.
MCMAHON: Really high quality.
HIGGINS: It was special. And of course when I was at Eastern we won the inner high football championship which is you know -- and a baseball -- had good athletic teams. They were the Ramblers still then.
MCMAHON: Oh that's why "Rambling Around with Ann" . . .
HIGGINS: Uh huh. Yeah.
MCMAHON: What year did you graduate from Eastern?
HIGGINS: I guess it was '54. And again mid-term. You know I graduated in mid-term, and had a job, believe it or not, working in the Pentagon until I went to GW. And I did two years at GW then got married. Very, very typical in those days.
MCMAHON: You talked about mid-term, and you and I talked about this earlier, that all the schools at all levels had students coming in, in both September and January I guess?
HIGGINS: Yes they did. And as we were talking before, I actually started in September but I skipped part of the fourth grade. And I think that's something that probably doesn't happen that people will skip grades much anymore because you would be doing the whole year. But it was not that uncommon when I was in school. So I started here [Bryan] in kindergarten and as we discussed, it was through the sixth grade. Some of my friends have talked about how the phenomenon you remember your grade school teachers and pretty much I found that was the case.
MCMAHON: Well you told me earlier -- we were looking at a diagram of this building. As I say, I have particular interest because I've been living here for a year and a half in a condo. The building was converted to condos back -- I think in 2004 is when it came on the market. There are 20 units in the building now. And Ann was telling me earlier, and I'm going to ask her to repeat it. She remembers where the classrooms were, what grades they were.
HIGGINS: Indeed I do. If I've got anything that's vague, it's between what would be actually on what I would call not the ground floor but the first floor. And I think I went to the third grade on the third floor and then that was the only time I was on the third floor. But there was a -- the interesting thing that is still on the school was that there was a girls entrance and a boys entrance, except that did not prevail in the years that I was a student here.
MCMAHON: Oh it didn't?
HIGGINS: It did not. It was from an earlier era. Someone told me once the Bryan was the oldest elementary school in DC, but I don't know if that is exactly the case.
MCMAHON: I doubt that. It was built in 1909.
HIGGINS: Oh that seems [?]
MCMAHON: And certainly there were plenty built in the 19th century.
HIGGINS: Yeah. So that was probably a misplaced thing. The kindergarten -- and I can only remember the teachers that I had. But if you were on the girls side, which is if you . . .
MCMAHON: The west.
HIGGINS: Yeah, the west side of the building and you entered into the first floor, on the left was Mrs. Isherwood who had the kindergarten class. And then on the right side was Mrs. Loving who taught first grade. We always thought that was an appropriate for her. Sixth grade was next to her. My teacher was Mrs. O'Neil. And then down at the other corner was fourth grade, Miss Murray. And then there's a difference that's not accounted in the floor plan now and that was the teacher's rest room and the principal's office. That was on the first floor and that was Miss Crook. Her name was Ann, so I remember her first name. But she wore a pince-nez, and I thought -- we thought that was the most exotic thing that would put, you'd pinch your glasses on your nose, you know. That does seem so exotic you know with the gold chain.
MCMAHON: It must have seemed very old-fashioned by that time.
HIGGINS: I guess it was something -- I don't know if I thought of it as old-fashioned. There was a nuance about it. It was from a different era. It was a different way of living. I mean, I'd never known a person in life who . . .
MCMAHON: I pictured Teddy Roosevelt which was half a century earlier.
HIGGINS: Yeah. I also wondered how she could stand it pinching her nose, but that was another thing.
HIGGINS: And second grade, if I haven't already mentioned, was Miss Birch. And she was on that floor as well. And I know there was another classroom there, but, I don't know who had that. I just don't remember. I went to fifth grade on the second floor.
MCMAHON: Now there's a third floor here. Was that -- were all three floors plus the ground level in use?
HIGGINS: Well the ground level was not. There was like an auditorium down on the ground level, with a stage. And, but that whole front of the building were these two, very, very large restroom facilities, the boys' and the girls'. I mean, now, you know, grant my memory things might have seemed larger at the time. But they were big, big restrooms.
MCMAHON: So they were all on the ground level if you were on the third floor in a classroom, that's where you had to go to use the restroom?
HIGGINS: Yes, except for on one notorious occasion when I thought that I could get away with using the teacher's lounge. It didn't work out well [both laugh].
MCMAHON: Oh do tell [laughing].
HIGGINS: Oh it was just one of those things that -- I guess it was one of -- should I talk about humiliating things? I guess that's a good memory if you look back in the times when you were a kid and you did something and you really were just terribly embarrassed. And I went into the teacher's lounge and there was this contraption that was an automatic flush on toilets. But it was in the seat. So how it worked is -- if you sat down and then when you got up it flushed, right. So here I'm in the second grade, okay? And I've gone into the teacher's room which is right across from where I . . .
MCMAHON: Is that because it was closer and you were in a hurry?
HIGGINS: Yeah, it was right across, right, so. Instead of going down to the lower level I went in there. Well by jiminy, I'm -- these people start coming in and out, right? [laughs] And I was afraid that if I moved, I'd be caught because it would flush, right [laughs] Well it was so bad that they wondered what had happened to me, right?
HIGGINS: And I had disappeared. [both laugh] And there was this wonderful Irish woman who was the custodian, and I tried to remember her name. It's Mrs. Gallahan or Gallagher. Really Irish woman; white hair and she wore it back in a bun. And she wore housedresses and garters. You know you could see the top of her garters because they're by knees. She discovered me, right? And she covered for me. She just, you know, she said, "Oh, she was with me."
MCMAHON: Oh sweet.
HIGGINS: Well, she may have told later, but she didn't embarrass me, but. It was a harsh lesson, let me tell you, not to disobey the rules, but mostly my career in Bryan was really pretty good. And, the only -- just to finish out. I did go on the third floor to the third grade. McCauslin, I think was that name of my teacher. And I think it was on the third floor. You know, back down to the fourth and then back up a level for the fifth. And I can't remember my fifth grade teacher's name as a matter of fact, but you know then finished out on the first floor. But we -- you know, I was in the school during the war, the Second World War. And it was -- there were interesting things about being a student during that time. And it was the whole rationing issue that I didn't have a banana hardly ever. I don't think I had bananas at all during the war.
MCMAHON: Had you had them before that?
MCMAHON: You were used to them?
HIGGINS: Yeah because being a child of the south, I mean, banana pudding was sort of a way of life.
MCMAHON: Oh, of course.
HIGGINS: And the other thing that was really kind of interesting was bubble gum. And it was because of the chicle that in it. And we didn't have butter, you know.
HIGGINS: You had ration stamps for sugar and beef and stuff like that, but. Mostly the things that you didn't have were from parts of the world where they would have to be brought in by of course by ship in those days.
MCMAHON: Oh, course.
HIGGINS: All of that went into the war effort. And we did have campaigns. We bought War Stamps and then if you got eighteen seventy . . .
MCMAHON: Through the school?
HIGGINS: Uh huh. And you could -- I think the first of the bonds was like 18 dollars and change. And you could build -- you could get that of course.
MCMAHON: What? Did you save the stamps until it was converted to a bond?
HIGGINS: That's right. You could save -- and they were like 10 cents, and you could buy savings stamps until you had enough to get a war bond, we called them in those days. And there was another program that was really, I thought was kind of cute, was the paper troopers. And it was arranged in such a way that you got military rank based on how many pounds of paper, of newspaper you brought in. And you started out private and you could just work yourself through the ranks. And of course I didn't know my husband; I'd never met -- my husband but, also put . . . [phone rings]
MCMAHON: We had the tape stopped there for a minute while the phone rang. We're resuming and you were talking about . . .
HIGGINS: Well I was talking about the paper troopers and it turned out that my former husband grew up in Washington. In fact, my children, even though they've never lived in the city, are fourth generation Washingtonians in that they were born here in the city, in Washington.
MCMAHON: Wow. You came to a hospital here?
HIGGINS: Well, I was living here in Washington when two of my children were born and then suburban Maryland, yeah, but my former husband grew up in northwest Washington and of course went to Shepherd School [14th and Jonquil Streets NW] and he graduated from Coolidge [Senior High, Fifth and Tuckerman Streets NW] and then Catholic University. But, he and one of his friends were the generals of the Army of Paper Troopers.
MCMAHON: Because of the paper drive?
HIGGINS: They collected so much newspaper that -- and I was a corporal, right, so . . .
MCMAHON: Oh, oh, he really got paper.
HIGGINS: Yeah, yeah. They did. Their picture was on the front page of the Washington Post.
MCMAHON: Now was that run by the school system?
HIGGINS: I think that had to have been, at least the school system. But I think it must have been bigger than that because we had, you know, you got insignia. And I guess over the course of time we brought in a lot of waste paper.
MCMAHON: And this was newspapers for the early recycling?
HIGGINS: Newspapers. The other thing that we did was to collect tin cans, we called them at the time. And we brought that scrap in.
MCMAHON: They probably were tin.
HIGGINS: And there was a program called "Back the Attack" and it was arranged, and I think I remember this correctly, that the contribution of the school bought, well in our case a jeep. We bought a jeep. And one of the parts of the program was that a soldier came and drove the jeep around Bryan School and there was a retaining wall and the jeep could actually, you know, be driven off the retaining wall. And we thought that was like -- you see it in every second commercial now something like that, but that was a pretty exciting day when [?] came.
MCMAHON: Of course.
HIGGINS: The other kind of interesting programs that were here, because we didn't have an art or music teacher, did not mean we did not have art and music, it just was a rotating teacher. And there were other things -- Dick Mansfield was on the police force here in Washington and he had a pet squirrel. And he would come around. The squirrel had clothes and all this stuff, it was [laughs] -- you probably couldn't get away with that now -- he would come and talk safety. He would talk about safety. And of course we had Safety Patrol, you know, with the crossing guards. But there was one thing that was different then. It was only boys, only boys were safety patrols. My granddaughter became one. I had to laugh. Times do change, huh? And they took responsibility.
MCMAHON: And they were -- they stood at corners?
HIGGINS: At the corners, yeah. And they wore these cross-chest belts.
MCMAHON: Apparently that's still a big deal. I don't know about that here. I've never seen children doing that here in the city, but there's a parade every year where . . .
HIGGINS: That's right and they had it then as well.
MCMAHON: . . . students come from all over the country for the safety patrol parade.
HIGGINS: That's correct.
END OF TAPE 1/SIDE 1
TAPE 1/SIDE 2
MCMAHON: Did you have -- did Bryan School have more than one class per grade?
HIGGINS: I think -- I know in some instances they did, because I've been in touch with two of the people who were in my class, you know, my very, very good friend Mary Lou Oreto her name was in those days. But Max Robinowitz was in my class and he still lives here. Well I think he lives in the suburbs, but we were reminiscing about teachers and there was one grade we did not have the same. You know, we didn't have the same teacher, so my assumption is yes, and I just, I just don't remember.
MCMAHON: It would seem certainly a big enough building.
HIGGINS: It was indeed. It was indeed and, plus there were a lot -- a fair number of children in, you know, the neighborhood. But as we've spoken of it, it was, this was of course well before schools were integrated, so it was all white children. And when I say all white children, that's -- I don't think there [were] any children of any other race in the school except Caucasian when I was going through school here. Changed a bit as I got into high school, but pretty much it was . . .
1948 Midterm Graduating Class, Bryan School
MCMAHON: Now you lived in 1800 block. This school is in the 1300 block and, so you walked about five plus a couple more to go south to north . . .
HIGGINS: Yeah, it was tough in the winter.
MCMAHON: That was a pretty good hike for a small child.
HIGGINS: Uh huh, yeah. I had a sister that was 14 months older so we were a duo, So we probably walked more independently than, you know, maybe some children did but, you know, we didn't have lunch at school in elementary. We walked home at lunchtime as well.
MCMAHON: Oh of course.
HIGGINS: So, does anyone do that anymore?
MCMAHON: I don't think so. Even city schools; I don't think lunch hour is long enough.
HIGGINS: That's right. I think we did have enough of a break. But there was one exception to that. My mom was active in the PTA. Even though she had worked and returned to work. During the time that my sister and I were in elementary school she stopped work. And so she was active in the PTA. And one of the events that they sponsored several times of the year was the school luncheon. And my mother made devils food cakes which, you know, people liked those a lot. You know the parents would contribute the food and they would have hot dogs and stuff. They would have some games and the like.
MCMAHON: So it was a really special treat to have lunch at school.
HIGGINS: It was, yeah, it was a special day. We also -- that makes me think of auditorium and we also did sort of dancing. We learned the minuet if you can believe it [McMahon laughs]. I know -- made these paper plate hats to make it look like we were colonial dames I guess. And we didn't have formal phys ed. But we would play dodge ball, you know, and that sort of thing, on breaks.
MCMAHON: And this was outdoors?
MCMAHON: The part of the property that used to be a playground is now been turned into townhouses and it was done at the same time the building was converted. But all of that property was a single playground?
HIGGINS: Yeah, yes it was a single playground. But for some reason known but to the people who did it, it had a cinder finish.
MCMAHON: Oh wonderful.
HIGGINS: I have cinders in my knee to this day, you know, from that playground.
MCMAHON: I believe it [laughs]. Was there playground equipment?
HIGGINS: You know, I'm trying to remember.
MCMAHON: Were there toys, swings?
HIGGINS: There might have been swings, but I don't have a really strong recollection of playground equipment to a great extent. It's odd that I don't remember that but that certainly isn't strong in my memory of Bryan. We sang a lot in the upper grades. As a class we would sing.
MCMAHON: Did you also have choral groups?
HIGGINS: Not really. The music teacher would -- the visiting music teacher would come around and she didn't do it with the school as a whole. It would be more individual classrooms. And we also had library books that would come in these baskets; you probably see around -- well they probably use plastic now. Baskets of books that we could borrow from the library.
MCMAHON: But, was it a school library or did somebody come from the public library?
HIGGINS: Public library on the Southeast Branch [Seventh and D Streets SE] of the library up by the Eastern Market. It is so much the same [McMahon laughs] as it was when I was a kid that it's always amusing to me to go in there [Southeast Library]. They've done modernization of course but . . .
MCMAHON: Did you go there a lot as a child?
HIGGINS: A fair amount, yeah I did, I did.
MCMAHON: Borrowed books?
HIGGINS: Uh huh. There was a lot of -- of walking neighborhood although . . .
MCMAHON: That would be a really long walk from 18th to Seventh [Streets SE].
HIGGINS: No. And in fact as my sister and I got older we would walk to the swimming pool that's over the Sousa Bridge [Pennsylvania Avenue SE]. And our cut-through was Congressional Cemetery [McMahon laughs] and we'd climb over the wall, right, and then walk over the Sousa Bridge. There was a golf course down there and they had junior golf. So we learned to play golf down there.
MCMAHON: And you say that's where the Fairlawn neighborhood is now?
HIGGINS: They called it; we called it, yeah, we called it Fairlawn.
MCMAHON: It was call Fairlawn then. But later it became residential?
HIGGINS: No, no, it's still there. It just doesn't have . . .
MCMAHON: The golf course is still there?
HIGGINS: Oh, no, no. It's still that parkland that goes along the Anacostia [River] on the other side of Sousa Bridge. Now what is gone, other than the golf course down there. There used a -- at Barney Circle [just before the Sousa Bridge on the west side of the Anacostia River] was there and that was the end of the line for the buses. It was a turn around for the buses.
MCMAHON: What about the streetcars?
HIGGINS: Well they -- the streetcars went down East Capitol [Street] to the barn there, it's a condominium now [East Capitol Street between 14th and 15th Streets NE].
MCMAHON: What's now the Car Barn.
HIGGINS: Yeah, but I . . .
MCMAHON: I thought there were Pennsylvania Avenue streetcars as well?
HIGGINS: I guess perhaps there were.
MCMAHON: And that Barney Circle might have been a turn around for them.
HIGGINS: Yes it was definitely a turn around for the buses. Because, of course the buses took over for, completely from the streetcars, you know, during my lifetime. So we would walk across the bridge and there was a something -- Stephenson's Bakery was on the other side of the bridge, now gone for an entry onto the freeway [Anacostia Freeway, Route 295], but that was very common for us to be sent on an errand to bring pies which sometimes didn't fare very well as we climbed the wall back through. [McMahon laughs]. It was a neat neighborhood to live in. And as we got older we rode streetcars and buses all over the place.
MCMAHON: Well you must have had an easy walk to Eastern [High School].
HIGGINS: Yeah, that was definitely . . .
MCMAHON: That would just be a few blocks.
HIGGINS: Yeah, that was easy enough and Eliot [Junior High] wasn't too bad either.
HIGGINS: Eliot oddly enough -- Bryan School in many ways is stronger in my mind than my time at Eliot. But we did do things that really became required like phys ed. Our phys ed teacher had been in the Women's Army Corps. So I actually became a very good marcher [McMahon laughs] because we had a gymnasium there and we would play volleyball and the like. And one of the things that hasn't changed much, if my grandson is any example, we weren't real keen on showers. You know, we didn't think -- we didn't want to disrobe there in the shower room [McMahon laughs]. But, that was a part of it. We wore ugly gym suits.
MCMAHON: Oh yes.
HIGGINS: And of course the big difference was going from class to class there.
MCMAHON: You had never done that in elementary school?
HIGGINS: That's right. We were in our schoolroom. So that was the big innovation. And of course there was a cafeteria with . . .
MCMAHON: Oh, so you stayed for lunch in junior high and well as high school?
HIGGINS: That's correct. Mediocre food [McMahon laughs]. Most of the people took bag lunches. But they didn't have anything of the soda machine variety, you know, in those days. It was, you either brought your lunch or you ate what was, you know, provided in the cafeteria line. And again I thought that I had a high caliber of teachers there at Eliot. And you know, we were well prepared to go into high school, which for my case was Eastern. I don't think that they had as many accelerated courses. You could go on and take advanced algebra for example or solid geometry and the like. And you had the opportunity to do a year of science each year. And pretty much a standard curriculum. Good music. My sister was a very accomplished singer, so she, you know, sang in the chorus. And actually when I look back at the yearbook, I did a lot of stuff there; a lot of stuff in high school.
MCMAHON: So you did mention you did attend Falls Church High School for a short while and then came back to Eastern?
HIGGINS: I did. I did come back after my parents moved. We moved I should say. But because I was in the mid-term and they didn't have that, I actually was in the position that I was taking things like check writing.
MCMAHON: Check writing?
HIGGINS: Yeah, it was like personal finance. That was how you write a check. I mean, here I had been working on one of the top high school newspapers in the country and I'm going to check writing class [McMahon laughs]. I mean, I just . . .
MCMAHON: How long did you last at Falls Church?
HIGGINS: Well not long; not very long because I wasn't behind when I came back. You know I wasn't behind when I came back.
MCMAHON: So just a few months or less than that?
HIGGINS: I don't think I lasted a few months. If I lasted a month -- in fact one of my parents' neighbors was a schoolteacher there. He laughed about the sad look on my face [both laugh]. He wasn't surprised when I -- which meant of course we commuted. This was about 14 miles I think. And it was the beginning of the, you know, horrendous commuter days without the wide, wide highways. And so, you know, it took a fairly long time to get into the city.
MCMAHON: But your mother was driving into work so you could come with her?
HIGGINS: That's right. Yeah, she worked in DC General [Hospital at 19th and C Streets SE] so it was a natural -- you know, it was easy enough to do it on the commute. And it just seemed to me that Washington was and is a really nifty place to live. We started -- the first inauguration that I went to, if you can believe this, was Franklin Roosevelt's last inauguration. And the war was still on and so they didn't have -- he was sworn in at the White House but they opened up the White House grounds.
MCMAHON: And you went there?
HIGGINS: Uh huh. Yup.
MCMAHON: Did it require a special invitation or was it public?
HIGGINS: Public, public. I mean, you know, we've moved into a different era in terms of security within, you know . . .
MCMAHON: Oh, and we obviously need it.
HIGGINS: You know it was not like that. And then of course I went to Harry Truman's. Eisenhower. What else? Well then I skipped for a while. Took teenagers to Clinton's.
MCMAHON: Now you're talking about the inauguration itself or the parade or both?
HIGGINS: Well, yes. Yeah, uh huh. Oh sure. But anyway I worked my way through a lot of them as a matter of fact. I don't think anybody much went to Reagan's or -- it snowed at Kennedy's as well. And of course I went to Barrack Obama's and George Bush's -- the younger George Bush. But I was, you know, away living out of town for some of those years. But the other thing that was here during the war was, were parades.
MCMAHON: Oh, during the war?
HIGGINS: Army Navy Day, sure. Yeah because there was this really push for patriotism, you know, and support for the war. And of course . . .
MCMAHON: Did troops come through the streets?
HIGGINS: Oh are you kidding? Oh yeah there was like marching -- fly overs and . . .
MCMAHON: Now were these mainly along Constitution Avenue [NW] up along the Mall the way they do now?
HIGGINS: Uh huh, yup. They were. And as the war ended I remember one very, very short one that I went to was Jonathan -- I have a hard time getting Wainwright [Lt General Jonathan M. Wainwright highest ranking POW] pronounced correctly but he had been held in prison in the Philippines. And he was liberated. It was like two jeeps. I mean it was a very teeny parade but there were people lined up to sort of welcome him back out of captivity. Because living through that, you know -- I don't if he was actually in the Bataan March but he may have been, but he did get back alive and he was the size of a toothpick to my eyes.
MCMAHON: Was he local?
HIGGINS: No he was just an American hero at the time. Now there may have been controversy around him, I don't know. But to me, you know, the fact that he had actually gotten back alive was really quite wonderful.
MCMAHON: The main thing?
HIGGINS: Yeah. So there were a lot of temporary building of course that are gone now. It was very, very hard to find a place to live. Even my folks put up a couple of government girls because my cousin came to work for the -- get ready -- the FBI. She was a fingerprint specialist. The whole National Guard Armory [East Capitol Street between 19th and 22nd Streets SE] was full of filing cabinets of fingerprints.
MCMAHON: Oh it was out there then?
HIGGINS: It was in the National Guard Armory; it was where they had all the fingerprints were stored. And, you know, it's not like when you look at the computer screen and they go to these fantastic -- women actually pulled them out of the drawers to do the matches.
MCMAHON: Oh, I'm sure.
HIGGINS: Yeah, did the matches and that.
MCMAHON: Now did she stay after she came during the war? Did she stay?
HIGGINS: She did. Well she stayed and then she lived with a house of girls over on C Street. And she married a young Marine who was -- came back. He was on Iwo Jima. And they stayed married for many, many years until he died. They had a long, long happy marriage.
MCMAHON: And did they stay in this area?
HIGGINS: They lived in suburban Maryland. Yeah they did. You know those GI houses that went up in the suburbs after the war? Small but a lot of them. One of the programs that they had for school children while I was here at Bryan was that we all finger -- the FBI came and took all of our fingerprints. So, I mean, joke was FBI had me in their file for a lot of years [both laugh], but of course it was in case the city was bombed.
MCMAHON: In case what?
HIGGINS: The city was bombed.
HIGGINS: Yeah. And we had practice blackouts and we had wardens [air raid wardens]. Our next-door neighbor was the warden and he would put on a hard hat and go out and make sure there was no light coming out of houses.
MCMAHON: How often did that happen?
HIGGINS: Not often.
MCMAHON: It wasn't every night, it was . . .
HIGGINS: Oh no, no, no.
MCMAHON: Just if there was some threat?
HIGGINS: It was more preparedness I think.
MCMAHON: Right, but everybody knew it was?
HIGGINS: Oh that's right.
MCMAHON: It was publicized that tonight would be a blackout night?
HIGGINS: Yes, it was -- that's right, and it meant that it gave you a chance to put blankets over your window or -- which my parents tried with reasonable success. So definitely Washington was in a war footing. You know, men in uniform; it was a very, very common thing. The USO had a theater down at Lafayette Square. And the Boys' Club here off Mass Avenue [SE, at 17th Street] had tap dancing lessons [McMahon laughs] and acrobatics for girls. We couldn't go in the swimming pool.
HIGGINS: Well, it was an all boys -- it was Boys' Club. They didn't wear swim suits was the reason they wouldn't let us in, or least so -- I think they didn't wear them so we couldn't go in.
MCMAHON: I wouldn't be surprised.
HIGGINS: Yeah. But, so one of our tap dance routines was to the Seabees of the Navy [McMahon laughs]. And we wore little sailor suits, shorts, and we were invited to dance at the USO. So we did [McMahon laughs]. My conclusion was that the soldiers liked it. It was like home.
Boys Club Follies, December 15, 1943; Ann is fourth from the right in the first row.
MCMAHON: In this -- you were still in grade school at this point?
HIGGINS: Uh huh, yeah. It was an interesting commentary in that one young woman went out front to sing. We all sang "We're the Seabees of the Navy" [singing it]. And I was too shy to do it so my sister did. As it turned out, that was a fair predictor, you know, that she was more willing to do it than I was. So we really got, you know, to participate at least on a limited scale at the Boys' Club.
MCMAHON: So I guess the school children felt they were contributing to the war effort?
HIGGINS: Oh we thought that was really something, really quite exciting I guess as I look back.
MCMAHON: I'm sure.
HIGGINS: When I was in junior high school the one thing there was a woman named Hannah Bonell who was the music teacher there and I was in something called the Girls' Quartet. It was like a double quartet I think if memory serves me correctly. And we sang all over town.
MCMAHON: Again, this is part of the war effort or just singing?
HIGGINS: No. That was part of going to school there. Yeah, I'm kind of jumping around here. But in terms of an opportunity to, well perform for one of -- we actually, of course we had tap dancing shows at the Boys' Club which were kind of fun too. I was a rabbit in one of them. The garden fantasy. My sister was a scarecrow [McMahon laughs] and I was one of the group of rabbits and they had, you know . . .
MCMAHON: Now I assume just like everything else that was all, a segregated situation at the Boys' Club? Was it all white?
HIGGINS: Oh yes. There wasn't anything. There wasn't the necessity, if I remember correctly, to go to the back of the bus. I don't think that ever prevailed in DC.
MCMAHON: Not that I'm aware of. Only if the bus crossed the river [into Virginia].
HIGGINS: And certainly -- yeah -- my father worked in integrated jobs. That was different. But in terms of just about any of the public facilities -- as an aside on that, something that -- you think back on it, it's really quite laughable. One of the women at the swimming pool that I know now up there, at the Rumsey Center [William H. Rumsey Aquatic Center, North Carolina Avenue NE behind Eastern Market] was talking about coming to Washington and going to an old department store called Jelleff's, and she went to try on a hat; she was from Alabama. And they wouldn't, you know, it was like she could not because she was an African American, she could not try on the hat.
MCMAHON: I've heard that. Yes.
HIGGINS: Even at the time we were talking about it she was shaking her head because in the south she could. So, but, definitely it was a time when we were deprived, I think, of ever having any friends who were people who had lived in Washington for years and years and years. We could have been in different towns.
MCMAHON: So you didn't have black children as friends in the neighborhood?
HIGGINS: No because we lived on . . .
MCMAHON: You lived on a white block.
HIGGINS: We lived on white blocks. And it was a whole stretch of them from, you know, from East Capitol right on down to Potomac Avenue and Congressional Cemetery. It was more around when B Street [Independence Avenue SE], I think, moving in toward the center of the city. And certainly different now. I do know that one of the most unfortunate things that happened because of so many of the white families moving away from DC was the public schools fairly rapidly became not integrated again. You know, it was just a complete racial shift. Many of the people who were in my high school went to Prince George's County. My parents happened to go to the Virginia side. One of my good friends, who also commuted back, moved to McLean. But her dad was, I think he was the superintendent of the Senate.
MCMAHON: Of what?
HIGGINS: Of the Senate. He was like the administrative officer for the Senate. And that was one of the big deals, you know, his aunt, Hattie Caraway had been; took over her husband's term in the Senate [December 1931] and was the first woman in the Senate and I guess her nephew Louie got this job at the Senate. I mean he [Louie Caraway] didn't die at his desk, but nearly so.
MCMAHON: And his name was Caraway?
HIGGINS: Uh huh, yeah. I had a friend who I went to high school with whose father came to work for the Methodist Church and they lived in the Methodist Building there, you know, by the Capitol [First Street and Maryland Avenue NE] and I went to school with mostly working class kids, but we drew from Capitol Hill as well, so there was this intermixing of children of Hill people.
HIGGINS: Sometimes, but I would characterize Eastern [High School] at my time as a working class school but one where you moved on. My perception was that many, many of my friends' parents, including my own, did not go on past high school. But they did. It seemed quite characteristic of the time.
MCMAHON: That there were an expectation at least . . .
HIGGINS: Aspiration I would even call it.
MCMAHON: . . . a large proportion, a small, some proportion, probably not 50 percent though went to college?
HIGGINS: I don't know what numbers were. And often times -- well I'll tell you one wonderful story. I ran into an old college -- and old high school mate, and he was the youngest of a big, big family and he wrote on the newspaper. And he had no thought that he would ever go on to school. He cut grass for Regis Boyle, the journalism teacher, in the summertime. She lived over on Legation Street [NW], had a 1936 Cadillac that had belonged to her father. And he did this yard work and she said, "Bob, I'm not going to pay you. I will pay for your first credits at George Washington U." And she got him a job on the Star, The Evening Star, you know, was the other newspaper in DC. And he went on to a career in journalism. And went to school at night at GW. I guess that happens for kids now, it must.
MCMAHON: The lucky ones.
END OF TAPE 1/SIDE 2
TAPE 2/SIDE 1
MCMAHON: This is Bernadette McMahon, and we are on tape two of an interview with Ann Higgins, November 18, 2011. Ann, you told me before we started that you lived very near the DC Jail and you have some real memories of that.
HIGGINS: Well I really do because it was a block -- I lived a block away from the entrance to the DC Jail and . . .
MCMAHON: And where was that at that time?
HIGGINS: Well I think it was -- faced 19th Street. And it was -- it stretched from -- I guess it stretched from East Capitol. There . . .
MCMAHON: But the Armory was still there.
HIGGINS: On the other side.
MCMAHON: Oh, the jail was on the west side of 19th?
HIGGINS: As you go down -- well no, DC General Hospital was there as well, or Gallinger [Gallinger Municipal Hospital] as the hospital was called when I was a kid. And the jail was sort of set on 19th Street SE. Fenced of course, but behind it there was the hospital.
MCMAHON: Was it south of Independence [Avenue]? Where -- like where St. Coletta's is now?
HIGGINS: Yes, yes.
MCMAHON: So it didn't go all the way to East Capitol.
HIGGINS: Oh that's right, that isn't, that's right. You're absolutely right. I have the wrong street. It's Independence, not East Capitol. It did, I think it went just about as far as St. Coletta's is. But I'm really having to reach for that to remember exactly how the layout was, because the city hospital was there also down behind. And it was kind of an interesting old building that looked like, as jails used to look. And one of the features there that was, you know, titillating to kids was the electric chair. And it was the method of execution in DC for capital crimes. There were actually executions during the time, at least one, that I lived there, with a lot of, you know, jokes about "will the lights dim?". And my one good, good friend who went to Bryan School with me, Mary Lou Oreto's dad was deputy U.S. Marshall, and she actually got to sit in the electric chair. And the rest of us were pretty envious of that for some cockeyed reason, I don't know why [McMahon laughs].
But my claim to fame was that my folks were acquainted with the superintendent of the jail, Colonel [Curtis] Reid. And he and his wife lived in this wonderful house on the jail grounds that had a garden with a fishpond. Just a wonderful, wonderful old house. They had what I guess we call a houseboy or houseman who turned out to be a trustee of the jail; a prisoner trustee. And when my family had dinner with the Reids we learned that this nice fellow was in jail for murder and of course here are these little girls -- we took that one out -- that was, that was a big, big deal for us growing up. My golly.
MCMAHON: Did you tell all your friends?
HIGGINS: Oh I'm sure we did. Oh, of course. How could we resist? Colonel Reid was -- if you were going to make a film and you wanted to have someone be in the role of superintendent of the jail, or the jail warden, he was perfect for it.
MCMAHON: Type cast.
HIGGINS: He just -- yeah -- well obviously he had been in the military and had this sort of Stetson hat he wore. And I didn't have -- although he was a very nice guy, courteous, I wouldn't want to cross him if were -- you know, he looked this -- and, and, and I might mention while I'm mentioning people I wouldn't want to cross, when I was in high school you didn't want to go into John Paul Collins' office. He was the principal of Eastern when I was there. And not quite the same as being in jail you understand, but Miss Egbert was the person who took care of girls' affairs. It was Colonel, someone else, [Woodward] another ex-military person who did boys' affairs. And if you ever ended up past Miss Egbert in Mr. Collins' office which is that -- do you how the Eastern architecture has this little room that's a circular drive and there's a room up above it. Well that was his office, and it had . . .
MCMAHON: Commanding view of the front door.
HIGGINS: Well, it was isolated in a way that you didn't really -- you know, you got to go in there if you'd done something good.
MCMAHON: [laughs] When you won the scholastic awards.
HIGGINS: Yeah, yeah that's right. That was -- I got congratulations in his office, but. And I have no idea what discipline is like in schools now. You hear a lot of stuff, but. There was a higher degree of discipline when -- I mean, I would never have ever considered, you know, being -- I would keep out of that room -- I would keep my toes on the straight lines. But the whole area there around where the National Guard Armory is now and St. Coletta's and . . .
MCMAHON: But the Armory was there when you were?
HIGGINS: Yes, indeed.
MCMAHON: And there was no stadium? [RFK Stadium]
HIGGINS: No, no stadium. But the National Guard Armory was there and it was used as a venue then. I think the International Horse Show was there, and . . .
MCMAHON: They ever have the circus there?
HIGGINS: The circus; the last, one of the last Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey was under tent, they had it down on the flats of the river [Anacostia River]. They would actually come in and rig a tent.
MCMAHON: Now is this the west side of the river, the Anacostia?
HIGGINS: Yes, it was down by the Anacostia. But no, it was down, down in the area of these parking lots now.
MCMAHON: So, on the west side?
MCMAHON: This side of the river.
MCMAHON: Because you talked about the pool and golf course being on the other side.
HIGGINS: That's right. Yeah, my geography is going northwest. You're not saying no it wasn't in northwest. But I remember, because my sister and my dad went to this last time they were going to be under tent and the gorilla Gargantua was, you know, a big part of it. But, yes, and they did in those days, although I really didn't see it very often, have that same parade with the animals. You know they still go down East Capitol Street as you know.
MCMAHON: Yes, yes. We have a photo in one of the interviews of, I think it was camels walking along North Carolina across from what -- well in the street in front of what is now the Rumsey pool, but was then a firehouse.
HIGGINS: Oh, I didn't know that. So I don't remember that at all.
MCMAHON: And there's a house that belonged to one of the interviewees on the other side of that street. So apparently at one time that's where the animals walked.
HIGGINS: So, and the other part thing that I have, you know, a memory of that whole area, other than as you've had other people tell you I'm sure that had been, the city dump was back down there. After that sort of stopped being a dump it was a great place to go to sled ride. Down, yeah down in that whole area.
MCMAHON: When did it stop being a dump?
HIGGINS: You know, I don't know.
MCMAHON: You were still riding sleds though.
HIGGINS: But, and whether we were in a spot that was away from the dump, I mean, I can't remember seeing mounds of refuse to be sure. And maybe they buried it, you know, where sled hills are. But the things we did, bicycle riding -- you know, I started riding a bike, you know, was a little girl. And a lot of sidewalk skating.
HIGGINS: Uh huh. I played marbles when I was a kid. That was another . . .
MCMAHON: It wasn't just a boy's game?
HIGGINS: Well, it was a tomboy's game [McMahon laughs]. And I know that they -- I never participated but they had the soapbox derby in those days too, but it was across the river on the great Pennsylvania Avenue hill going down toward the Anacostia. And I was actually -- my father was in the Masons and I was in an organization called Job's Daughters. And that was a whole another activity for girls that was like a lodge operation. And we ended up having what they were called Bethels -- but our group was in the old Naval Masonic Lodge there on Pennsylvania Avenue [330 Pennsylvania Avenue SE].
MCMAHON: Oh it was. So was your father part of that lodge?
HIGGINS: No, I don't think -- no, he was not part of the Naval Lodge and he was not active. You know he had just become like a Third Degree Mason, or whatever. But we had originally -- there was an apartment building in northeast that was where we were originally and that was sold off, I guess, and turned into apartments.
MCMAHON: Oh, is it on Eighth Street?
HIGGINS: I think it -- yes.
MCMAHON: I know where you mean.
HIGGINS: And we also were great moviegoers. And it was because, for one thing, well it was . . .
MCMAHON: They had air-conditioning.
HIGGINS: Well, and it was what you did on Saturday and it was the Beverly Theater . . .
MCMAHON: Where was that?
HIGGINS: Over in that whole same area. It was walking distance from my house. I can't remember the address. The Atlas was an operating theater in those days.
MCMAHON: On H Street [NE].
HIGGINS: Correct. And then there was one called the Carolina.
MCMAHON: Yes. That was at 11th and Lincoln Park, right?
HIGGINS: Yes. And then of course the two that were on Pennsylvania Avenue. The Avenue Grand and . . .
MCMAHON: The Penn?
HIGGINS: The Penn.
MCMAHON: The Penn is the one that; where the building is still there.
MCMAHON: And is now doctors' offices.
MCMAHON: And you went to all of those?
HIGGINS: Uh huh. Well there was one on the other side of Benning Road across the Anacostia. There was another theater that I went to from time to time. And we were just great moviegoers. A few years back a Chinese restaurant closed that was next to the Penn.
MCMAHON: Uh huh, Sampan?
HIGGINS: Same restaurant that we went to as kids. That was a big night out. If we were just going for a bite and to go to the movies we went to the Little Tavern that was across the street. And because when my folks came here they really -- they had come through the Depression. Well actually, they were not in good times in the 1920s because they were down in Georgia. My grandfather was a cotton farmer; it was like ruined. Both my father and my mother lost parents when they were very young. And so my father went into the Marine Corps -- same thing that is happening now -- when he was a young man. Came out, had $300 put by. Lost that in the bank failures. So by the time they came to Washington -- well and I didn't mention they also had dependent families. They had my father's stepmother and my mother's mother, my mother's sister, my mother's brother.
MCMAHON: Back home?
HIGGINS: Just people they helped take care of.
MCMAHON: But they sent the money back home? Most people . . .
HIGGINS: Well or they lived with them or however the case might be.
MCMAHON: Oh, you mean before they came?
HIGGINS: Before they came here, right. Although my grandmother would come stay for periods. She didn't maintain a residence after a while, so. But, so when they came here they, you know, really did not have very much money. So my father had this job with the Federal government, but he also worked in the warehouse of the old Sears and Roebuck as a pickup job. He worked in a bike shop. He drove a bus for Capital Transit. So, you know, we've laughed about it, about as many jobs as it took. That's what my father did. And, but one of these jobs for Capital Transit was to be -- the old streetcars used to go out to Glen Echo Park [out MacArthur Boulevard along the Potomac River at Glen Echo, Maryland] and he had a job as the fare collector in the booth. The line was owned by Capital Transit, which became DC Transit. So as kids we got to do a lot of free rides at Glen Echo.
MCMAHON: Oh. Now you say he was the fare collector for the streetcar?
HIGGINS: The streetcar. And how they did that, was you rode the streetcar out to Glen Echo, got off and you went in and out of a payment booth more like you would have on the Metro now except -- well it was more like the old New York subways where there was person who took the money. Then you went through the turnstile.
MCMAHON: Oh, so you didn't pay when you got on the streetcar, you paid when you got off?
HIGGINS: Well you paid when you got on at Glen Echo or when you got off at Glen Echo, yeah. Because it was just a special car pretty much that, you know, came up there. I guess it went . . .
MCMAHON: That must have stopped all along the way though didn't it?
HIGGINS: It did. All of the track bed's still there.
MCMAHON: That's a long -- do you have any recollection how long it took to get to Glen Echo?
HIGGINS: I don't. I always thought, I've thought it would be a very, very interesting project to revive, to actually have a streetcar to revive, because most of the track bed I think is still there.
MCMAHON: Well isn't that -- did it go along the boulevard on MacArthur [Boulevard NW]?
HIGGINS: I think; yes it did. And whether they only -- whether they ran Glen Echo specials I don't know. I mean, most often we went in an automobile.
MCMAHON: And I suppose it was only summers.
HIGGINS: Uh huh, yeah, it was. It was only summers. And there was a big swimming pool out there as well. But as far my life in this neighborhood, it was mostly until I graduated from high school. And I, I, you know, I look back at it with a lot of affection really. You know, there were Girl Scout troops, there were just -- we sold seeds for Bolgiano Seed Company. [ed: F.W. Bolgiano and Company] They had a big project. You could [go] door to door and sell seeds. You made some money yourself.
MCMAHON: Was that through Girl Scouts or?
HIGGINS: Well that was actually through the school.
MCMAHON: That was the school, but the school got some of the money and you kept some?
HIGGINS: It really was. Uh huh, well and I guess Bolgiano Seed Company got a little bit, but, yeah. But not; I don't think very much. You know, one of my life experience was to be like fall off my bicycle by riding down the ramp of the Armory and not making the turn and so I had experience of having my head sewn up by, you know, at DC General which was Gallinger then I guess.
MCMAHON: Well we did talk since -- that's a good segue into hospitals. You talked about remembering some of the hospitals around here including Gallinger. Gallinger?
HIGGINS: It was Gallinger in those days and I can't remember when they made the change. It's interesting about it because they had a training service for Howard, Georgetown and GW med students.
MCMAHON: Oh, like a rotation, clinical rotation?
HIGGINS: They did. It was where they would come down and do -- well they would do their internships there and the like. It was part of their medical schools that they used the city hospital. And the city hospital also had a nursing program. And my good friend Mary Lou went into that one. And it was in, you know, the days of what nurses don't look like much anymore, where they wore capes, white uniforms and caps [McMahon laughs] and you know, they would be capped and caped and whatever. She lived in Archibald Hall there.
MCMAHON: Which is a building that's still there.
HIGGINS: Still there.
MCMAHON: And trying to preserve.
HIGGINS: And graduated as a registered nurse from there. And it was an interesting job for my mother who worked at DC General, or Gallinger. Because she worked in a fair number of departments down there I had occasion to be in the emergency room, not lying there having my head sewn up, but -- and she had a job as in interviewer for people who had come to get, to qualify for subsidized medical care and I don't know if you recall it, but there used to be the "man in the house rule."
MCMAHON: I remember reading about that in the 60s.
HIGGINS: Yeah. It had a kind of sad sort of note to me in that it was part of her job to establish that moms who came who need to care for children did not have a man living in their house.
MCMAHON: They didn't qualify unless they were single mothers.
HIGGINS: That's correct. And single mothers -- it didn't have to be a husband. Any man; I mean if she had -- yes. "Man in the house" wasn't "are you married," It was just is there a man living in the house, because the assumption was that person had responsibility I guess, but it, you know, it almost -- I look back at that and think, [makes a noise] things have, some things have changed. But the city hospital was the destination for accident victims sometimes. My grandmother, as a matter of fact, was in isolation there. It was the one isolation hospital in DC because she had spinal meningitis. And so she was quarantined in DC General.
MCMAHON: Any idea of what decade you're talking about?
HIGGINS: I was probably in elementary school.
MCMAHON: So in the 40s.
HIGGINS: Yeah, uh huh. And she was, I think, the oldest patient to that point who'd ever survived it.
MCMAHON: Really. Of course they didn't have antibiotics.
HIGGINS: Well, and one of the things that happened then is, you know, the doctors came to the house. I mean, they actually did a spinal tap on my grandmother at 1828 Burke, you know.
MCMAHON: Oh my goodness.
HIGGINS: Yeah. It was kind of interesting to, you know, think about how times have changed.
MCMAHON: You told me your father had been hospitalized at Providence Hospital [then in the square bounded by Second, Third, D and E Streets SE].
HIGGINS: Yes, he was. He had been in a heating plant accident. By this time he was working at the heating plant in Georgetown that provides steam for government buildings, and had an accident and his hand was crushed. So he was in Providence Hospital for quite a long while. It was run by the Sisters of Charity then, but they wore those lovely Dutch hats, those big starched hats. He was in a great deal of pain and didn't sleep, but he could hear them whispering through the hall. He could hear their hats rustling. Sort of comforting I think for him. And it turned out that my first child was born in the new Providence Hospital on Michigan Avenue [1150 Varnum Street NE]. And my son had to have some pediatric surgery when he was three. And he was one of the last patients in the old Sibley Hospital that was on North Capitol Street. And when I say the "old" Sibley Hospital it was like naked light bulbs with the fixtures; these wonderful old metal baby beds. I could remember him walking down the hall to get on the one elevator to go to the operating room.
MCMAHON: He had to walk to the operating room [laughs].
HIGGINS: Yeah it was sweet. He had on a little hospital gown and his ankle -- you know this little white shoes . . .
MCMAHON: And he was three years old?
HIGGINS: Yeah, and he's holding the hand of the nurse walking down to get in the elevator to go.
MCMAHON: Now, was there no Children's Hospital at that time?
HIGGINS: I think there was. I'm not sure when -- nothing like Children's Hospital now I don't suppose, but I don't remember -- it wasn't any instance where -- my recollection of it, if you went Children's if you had something unusual in those days or maybe I'm just misremembering.
MCMAHON: And your son would have been three what year?
HIGGINS: Well he was born in 1958 -- '59.
MCMAHON: So the early 60s must have been when old Sibley closed.
HIGGINS: Yes, because I -- it was really pretty much -- they weren't even really doing repairs particularly by that time.
MCMAHON: Did they tear it down?
HIGGINS: They did. Yeah it was torn down. And he actually was born at Walter Reed, so that we'll put another hospital to bed [both laugh]. That's three so far, right? Well and DC General for that matter. But that was pretty much -- I'm trying to think if I knew anyone that was hospitalized anywhere else except for, you know, the local hospitals in Southeast. I just don't know.
And for, you know, if we're talking what were the things that were a part of my life. My family went to the Second Baptist Church that's still, not a Second Baptist Church, but it's right there on the corner of I think 16th and East Capitol [actually 17th Street NE]. Still a church. It's right across from Eastern [High School].
MCMAHON: Oh, right, right. But that's a fairly modern looking building.
HIGGINS: It was. And it was built at the time with the notion that there would be another story put on it and then, you know, and then a steeple.
MCMAHON: Was it built during your . . .
HIGGINS: No. It was already -- it was built -- yeah, it was built to the, exactly, almost exactly what it looks like now. The one extra multi-story building was added during my time. They now have a parking lot across the street, but that was an old, sort of store, a small store. And it was really kind of -- they had pinball machines.
MCMAHON: In the store?
HIGGINS: Yeah, they had pinball machines in the store, and young ladies did not play pinball [McMahon laughs].
MCMAHON: No [laughs]. Young ladies probably didn't go in the places that had pinball.
HIGGINS: Well, but this was a little different. You know, you could go in and get a soda. And they were really nice people who ran it. And I was always so envious because, you know, I thought in my heart that I could be a pinball wizard, but, you know, I never really got to do it. But there were a lot of activities for young people in the church. Because it was a Baptist church it was never dancing and we didn't play cards or bingo or anything like that, but they had dinners and they would have a recreation night and of course there were church services from cradle to grave. You know, you could go the Cradle Roll [list of children attending the church nursery] or you know, and -- so I was pretty active in, you know, the church when I was a girl.
END OF TAPE 2/SIDE 1
TAPE 2/SIDE 2
MCMAHON: You mentioned that you were attended a Baptist church. They did not have dances but you had told me previously there were other dances that you went to, so. Teenagers?
HIGGINS: Yes, in fact Jefferson Junior High School over in Southwest used to have evening dances and you reminded me of the name, but there's a Catholic parish right across the Anacostia on Pennsylvania Avenue that
MCMAHON: Saint Francis Xavier.
HIGGINS: Saint Francis Xavier would have dances. I didn't attend those. I was at Jefferson once. And the schools would have dances. You know, there was -- the proms in those days, for like the junior and senior proms, would be at a hotel somewhere, but there were gymnasium dances. And of course jitterbugging and the like. That was a big dance through the time I was in high school. And, you know, regular foxtrot. It wasn't really -- I can't remember if there was a great deal of Latin dancing done or, well of course -- but that was, has been a fairly significant change in the way people social dance since those days. But we did have in junior high school, dancing lessons.
MCMAHON: You did?
HIGGINS: Oh yes. And it was that, you know, I don't know whose knees were knocking more, the girls' or the boys' because we weren't sure we were, you know. So yeah, there was plenty of social dancing that, you know, that took place, and I attended it all even though . . .
MCMAHON: And these were during the school day or after school?
HIGGINS: They would be in the evening.
MCMAHON: The lessons?
HIGGINS: The lessons were part of -- they considered it part of phys ed pretty much, I think how they, you know, how they introduced it. And then there would be evening dances. And during the time when people were graduating from high school there would be maybe that big night went to a nightclub somewhere. But, you know, I didn't do clubbing the way people talk about it. I don't think there was really much of that sort of thing going on when I was growing up here.
MCMAHON: Did you ever hear of any on H Street NE?
HIGGINS: Well, no, no. I went to, you know, the movies, to the Atlas.
MCMAHON: But not to the clubs up there?
HIGGINS: Uh uh, no, I never did. And there was also, that you may not have know about, there was a corner grocery store that -- there was a group of houses that were torn down that were right by the National Guard Armory. And there was a corner grocery, drug store, a tavern actually, you know. A DGS, do you remember, has anyone mentioned those, District Grocery Stores?
HIGGINS: Individually franchised I guess, small grocery store. And I was never inside the door of the tavern at that [laughs].
MCMAHON: Was it down at East Capitol, or at Independence?
HIGGINS: Well it was on Independence side because it was drug store on the corner and then I guess it was the DGS and then the tavern or vice versa.
MCMAHON: Do you remember the name of the tavern?
HIGGINS: I don't, but it was a small right there and of course long . . .
MCMAHON: Just a neighborhood place?
HIGGINS: That's right, yeah. And, you know, my parents didn't drink, so we really didn't have an occasion to be in there. In fact it was kind of considered a place I shouldn't go, you know, yeah. But, well I wouldn't have gone as a kid, but you know what I mean. So I suppose I'll go home and think of 85 more things that I could have told you about this, but . . . [Information was made available subsequent to the interview; the tavern was called Tommy Tucker's.]
MCMAHON: I think we've covered a good bit of ground.
HIGGINS: And I think we've talked about some of the changes, you know, the -- just think of generations of people who live in Washington have no notion of what riding a streetcar on the day to day, which will come back now.
MCMAHON: Right, right. I've been here all my adult life and I -- the streetcars were gone when I got here.
HIGGINS: And there's a probably a whole interesting story there about when did they change over to buses and -- could probably have an interesting history in DC about the whole transit system during the time; certainly as the city developed. And it did get caught up on the giving up of streetcars. That happened all over the place, I think.
MCMAHON: I think so. Well by my count you say you left -- essentially you lived until you finished high school, or you were associated with the neighborhood until then. And then came back in '94. So that's 40 years later. What brought you back?
HIGGINS: Well I had a -- always thought that I would come back to DC. And I had opportunity to -- and I lived out in Howard County -- to get a job working for a facility out there owned by the Smithsonian Institution and I thought, oh this is my ticket to DC. Well, it turned out that -- the people don't move around in the Smithsonian Institution all that much. They worked as a Federal employee maybe, but I worked for the Trust. So, during the time I worked there, the Smithsonian sold the facility to the American Chemical Society. And my -- I had the opportunity in '94 to come to work for the American Chemical Society here.
MCMAHON: At 16th and M [Streets NW]?
HIGGINS: Correct. And I was fairly -- it was like coming home. Now I will say in 1994 when I bought my house on Tenth Street, I had friends who didn't really ever want to come there because it wasn't safe.
MCMAHON: In '94?
HIGGINS: 1994. I was too far away from the Capitol. Tenth Street was too far down, right? I didn't believe it. You know, I -- Mayor B -- well . . .
MCMAHON: Certainly not in '94.
HIGGINS: Well, but if you think about it, the Washington Post was running all these articles at the time about everyone leaving the city. Marion Barry had just been reelected. Property values were really a buyers' market at the time in '94. And I knew -- well, you know, I grew up in Washington under when -- well it was under . . .
HIGGINS: Commissioner government, right. Three appointed men who ran the city. But I knew that the Congress would never allow Washington to go to seed -- to go down the tubes no matter what anybody said. That is, was going to come -- it was going to get better. And indeed it has and as it turned out if -- you know, we live in these kind of annoying financial times but probably that most astute thing I ever did; buying a house there.
HIGGINS: And it was really truly like coming home, like coming home. I don't think there are that many people, unless they stay put for their whole life, who end up living in walking distance from their elementary school.
MCMAHON: That's true, you're right.
HIGGINS: And who -- people who have memories when they walk down the street of times that have gone before.
MCMAHON: Do you feel like there've been dramatic changes? I mean we have the historic district so it doesn't change physically that much.
HIGGINS: Well there is -- an interesting change on East Capitol Street. Back when I was growing up, many, many of those large houses were boarding houses. Not, no they weren't. They were rooming houses.
HIGGINS: They were broken up into bedrooms and I think that, although I was never in one to really look around, they would have a hall bathroom that was shared and the like. It was if the old house had been broken up into, you know, to rental units. And I've seen in the time since 1994 a restoration of Capitol Hill that has repaired some of the damage that I think was done when people did not have the money to spend on them or they bought them cheap, or they, you know, wouldn't take the -- go to the expense to restore them when something needed to be repaired. And it's really wonderful to see -- and now, my golly, I picked up a flyer on North Carolina Avenue there near the pool -- a million, I think it was up -- well it was well over a million dollars that they were asking for this row house on North Carolina Avenue. Now, will they get it? Who knows, but . . .
MCMAHON: Well it very likely. There are certainly plenty of sales over a million.
HIGGINS: You know, so that I guess you say, location, location, location. But believe me in 1994 people thought I was, you know, why wasn't I moving to the suburbs, but, no.
MCMAHON: Were these suburban friends that thought that?
HIGGINS: Well yeah, because I really didn't have, you know, I'd been away from the city for years, yeah. And even it was apparent after I -- that wasn't even true in '94. You know, now there was someone murdered in my front yard, but, you know, but other than that. But that was a fluke, so.
But I noticed at the time, Bernadette, that my neighbors did not want to speak of that because they felt that this was just something that was quite out of the ordinary and they, I guess, had heard enough about this, the lack of safety and the like. So it wasn't anything that people were writing a lot of letters to their friends to talk about.
MCMAHON: Just to kind of clean up, you mentioned your sister several times. Was she your only sibling?
HIGGINS: Yes she was.
MCMAHON: And what's her name?
HIGGINS: Oh her name is June Ellen Cochran. And she went by that professionally. She led a different life than I did. She went through school at Eastern as well. Went to college for a year. She was married to a naval officer graduating from Annapolis. And his first assignment was in the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean. So she was 20 and the Navy decided that the families could live on the economy since the fleet would be in. It turned out that the Suez Crisis came and the fleet did not come in, and so there she was, a 20-year old beautiful young woman living on the Riviera. [McMahon laughs] And she had decided -- she was the one who went house hunting and she ended up by renting this, they called it a villa, but it was really an apartment overlooking the Mediterranean. The previous tenant had been a captain, right, and this is the ensign's wife doing this, right. So she was living in France at 20 and I was back here having children. And then she ended up living in New York City and she went into the Foreign Service as a second career. Took the competitive exam -- second oldest person who ever got in. Now then she served in Manila, Paris, Tunis and Casablanca; then came home and she died. But, oh yeah, we had some good times together and as you might guess, I miss her.
MCMAHON: Well, it sounds like you have very fond memories of your childhood here.
HIGGINS: Well, yeah, we were the Cochran girls. Flaming red hair we had.
MCMAHON: Oh really?
HIGGINS: Yeah, flaming red hair; green eyes and flaming red hair.
MCMAHON: Well thank you very much. Unless you can think of any topics we should cover . . .
HIGGINS: Oh, I think you've heard more than enough to keep you transcriber busy for too many hours, but. [McMahon laughs] It's fun for me to talk about it. I'm a great believer in recording the recollections of people who are not writing books. People who live just an ordinary life.
MCMAHON: Well, that was the idea behind our project, was to -- each one's a snap shot. Altogether it's amazing how often they overlap. One will support another or, you know, an address will show up more than once, but it's been very enlightening to deal with these for the last ten years.
HIGGINS: Oh gosh. It's amazing to me that you've been at it that long. Really amazing to me. It's great. Well the only one oral history project I ever did was one on Columbia, Maryland when GE had a the appliance park there. You might not even remember it. But they build this huge appliance park to make microwaves, ranges and the like, and . . .
HIGGINS: Uh, huh. Yeah, and I was taking a labor history class at the time and the Steelworkers union was attempting to unionize the workers there. And I did an oral history on that project. And it was a hot issue at the time, because of course . . .
MCMAHON: On the unionization?
HIGGINS: On the attempt to do it, yeah.
MCMAHON: Did it fail?
HIGGINS: Yeah. And the appliance park closed as a matter of fact, and probably one of the reasons was there really weren't any places for people to live. There was not affordable housing for anybody who would ever be working in the park. But oh, yeah, I interviewed one fellow who was a member of the American Socialist Labor Party and, well he was a communist actually and he had falsified his application at GE and he got a position at the end of the line and you couldn't work any faster than he would. FBI came and turned him in. You know, this was a great project. I went to the Steelworkers Union in Dundalk and it was just, it was great.
MCMAHON: Very interesting.
HIGGINS: So you know, if you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed that.
MCMAHON: Well let me -- I did think of one more thing I wanted to ask you. What did you do as careers? Did you follow through on the journalism?
HIGGINS: No. Tell you what. I had a friend at the American Chemical Society who always knew what he wanted to do, right. He was going to be a chemist all his life -- I said, "Jim, I just had to get a job," you know, because I married young. I went to college a couple of years and I stayed here and just did an AA at GW. And then I had children and was a housewife. And that -- I was married for 15 years and I finished my degree. I went back to UMBC [University of Maryland, Baltimore County] and finished my degree, and I was going to -- I had been offered half tuition at Catholic University to do a PhD.
My field of interest was medieval studies and it just turned out that was a period of time where there was family turmoil in my family. So my husband and I divorced, and I had the custody of my three children. And I did not think I could come down to Northeast Washington to Catholic U, bury myself in the stacks and rear three teenagers. It just didn't seem like a practical thing to do. So I just sort of turned my back on that, and I ended up working at a conference center that was owned by Smithsonian. And ultimately under the ACS [American Chemical Society] I managed that. And I did stuff along the line. I did a course of study in occupational safety and health. And did collateral safety duty there at the conference center. And then when I came down to Washington I worked on what was the beginning of a history program. A landmark program -- for the landmarks in the history of chemistry. And that's what I . . .
MCMAHON: I've heard of it. I was a chemist.
HIGGINS: Oh great. Well I started out with that program doing it part-time when I was out it Elkridge [Howard County, Maryland], that's where the conference center was. And it was sort of a one-woman managed program right up to the end of the time that I left the ACS. But we did some great stuff, I mean, we did a tribute to Lavoisier [French 18th Century nobleman called the father of modern chemistry], at the Institute of France. We did a penicillin event in London. We, you know, I think during the time I was managing the program we'd done maybe 35. And I got to go a lot of places. The International Chemistry celebration was -- I did not go to Calcutta -- but we did one in India, Paris, one in Toronto, which I did go to, and Germany. So -- I didn't go to that one either. But I -- those were the only ones I didn't attend.
MCMAHON: So you retired from the American Chemical Society?
HIGGINS: I did, I did. Not a chemist as, but I had -- my degree was in history.
MCMAHON: Well you do fit right into this project.
HIGGINS: I beg your pardon?
MCMAHON: You do fit right into this project.
HIGGINS: Yeah, I learned a fair amount about the history of chemistry which I knew little to nothing before. And you know what else, I worked as liaison to a committee -- there was a curator from the science museum in London, one from the Museum of American History -- to a person they were chemists, but they had a -- well one chemical engineer -- but they had a wider range of interest. And you know the president of the Society was on my committee for a couple of times. And I had a lot of autonomy and I mean, I gave dinners like, well, I always thought if the President of ACS was in town you got to do something, so I would always give a dinner. There were some pretty eminent people who sat down to dinner with -- and I mean, don't get me wrong Bernadette, you're talking, I was a staff member. I mean, but I was always sort of included as a colleague which was nice. And, I mean, I went everywhere from Paris to Searcy, Arkansas, you know; just traveled all over the place. It was grueling because we did a plaque for each one. There was a big, special event. We published an eight-page color booklet. And everybody wanted to have them in the fall or the spring. I did ten in a year once. It was exhausting, I tell you. So, I was tired when I retired, I can tell you. But the program's still going on.
MCMAHON: Well retirement on Capitol Hill is ideal. And we get to do things like this.
HIGGINS: Well indeed, and I've gone down to the Library of Congress for stuff that just has blown my mind. One of the bigger jokes was when the first minister of Scotland was kicking off this symposium on Robert Burns and what I know, knew about Robert Burns you could put in a snifter. And, but I learned a lot about it. And the first minister kept referring to Sir Sean, Sir Sean, and it was Sean Connery. [McMahon laughs] Yeah, so it was a real about, you know the -- a little bigger than this room and there's Sean Connery up wondering why in the world he was there. But, you know, he favors independence for Scotland and he'd come to DC with the first minister, but. And this is like common run of the mill stuff.
MCMAHON: Right down the street.
HIGGINS: Yup. It's a marvelous, marvelous place. Everything from that kind of wonderful experience to cheap rides on the Metro. And I really admire the effort to allow older people to stay in town.
MCMAHON: It's a perfect place. I mean, every time they write any articles about Capitol Hill Village -- and there was another national level publication this weekend. They do point out it works better in big cities --
HIGGINS: Well, yeah.
MCMAHON: -- than in places without public transportation and nearby neighbors.
HIGGINS: Well and even though you could have a volunteer pool it's -- it isn't the same, it isn't.
MCMAHON: But this is ideal here.
HIGGINS: Well, I think that probably you're ready to rest your vocal cords. I certainly am.
|END OF INTERVIEW|
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This interview transcript is the property of the Ruth Ann Overbeck