Florence's story exemplifies the approach to life of the generation brought up during the Depression. With the help of a friendly neighbor, she and her husband bought 672 Maryland Avenue NE in 1944 for $7000, but he died six months later. To keep the house, she did private duty nursing, then got a job with a nearby specialty hospital. That required additional training, so she sent her son to live with her mother in Kansas. She later worked for the health unit of the Postal Service headquarters for 32 years. She lived in a her home's basement apartment and took in roomers until the mortgage was paid, and continued to have one roomer at the time of the interview. Her memories include involvement with the Northeast Washington Citizens Association and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. The hospital called Casualty, Rogers Memorial, and MedLink at different times, is mentioned frequently.
Interview with Florence McGee
Interview Date: September 26, 2003
Interviewer: Dee Atwell
Transcriber: Patt Westfield
photo by Gayle Krughoff
This transcript was edited to eliminate certain statements that were made multiple times.
TAPE 1/SIDE 1
MCGEE: My name is Florence Luten McGee. I was born in Wood River, Nebraska, September the 16th, 1912 [birthdate stated with great emphasis]. We lived in Nebraska until I was six years old and then we moved to Colorado. And I went to country school, a one-room country school, for eight years. One teacher and all eight grades. The teacher had the 7th and 8th grade girls teaching the 1st and 2nd [laughs] year students. And after I graduated from grade school, country school, I went to Holyoke, Colorado, to high school. And my family lived on a farm. My father didn’t have very much money.
And I was able to live with a wealthy family and work for my board and room. They had two children and I had to help the children with their schoolwork. And I got to go home every Saturday night but I had to come back Sunday night. My father was so thrilled to think that I could go to high school when he didn’t have enough money. We lived in the country 18 miles from Holyoke. And [there] would’ve been no way that I could commute back and forth so I had to stay in town. I stayed with this particular family three years. My freshman year, my sophomore year, my junior year.
But when I was a junior my father was killed in an automobile accident. My mother didn’t have any means of support and I had a younger brother who was only 10 months old when my father died. So mother moved us to Kansas where her father and two brothers lived. Grandpa Hefty had a great big house and lovely big farm. I’ve forgotten how many acres—I think—like 250 acres on the farm. I think that’s right. And I went to Valley Falls High School my senior year. And after I graduated from high school, I wanted to teach school. And at that time all you had to be was a high school graduate and apply for a certificate to teach school. Well I got my teaching certificate and applied for two different schools. But neither school board would hire me because I hadn’t had Kansas history. So, I had to do something and there was very little work for women at that time. You could be a clerk in a store or a schoolteacher but there was very little work.
And so I applied for nurse’s training and I was accepted at Stormount Hospital in Topeka, Kansas. And the course was three years—36 months. We went 12 months a year with one week’s vacation in the summer. And after I graduated from nurses training, I decided I wanted extra training. So I took a post-graduate course at Chicago Lying-In Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, in obstetrics. And, I tell you, I didn’t want to do obstetrics so I got a job as a general duty nurse at Horton, Kansas. There were three doctors that owned the hospital and I did general duty. And they’d let us work like from 7:00 in the morning until 7:00 in the evening—or we worked 12-hour night duty. If we worked day duty, we got three hours off during the day. And we had classes. We had to take classes during those three hours and when we worked night duty we worked from 7:00 at night until 7:00 in the morning.
I met my late husband when I was a freshman nurse at Stormount Hospital in Topeka, and I never went with anyone else the entire—until we got married. Over three years I dated Lawrence. He got a chance to get a job as a—let’s see. I can’t remember—he was a lawyer. He got a job as a legal clerk for the law school, law department in Washington, D.C.
ATWELL: Was it the Justice Department?
MCGEE: I am not sure which one of the Government agencies it was but he was a legal clerk. No, wait a minute. It was Homeowner’s Loan Corporation—Homeowner’s Loan Corporation. That is what it was. And after he came to Washington, D.C., and found an apartment, we got married. He came to Covington, Kentucky. No, to Cincinnati, Ohio, and that’s where I met him and we went to Covington, Kentucky, and got married because if we stayed in Cincinnati or the state of Ohio we had to wait three days after we applied for a wedding license. So we went over—there’s a river between Cincinnati and Covington, Kentucky, so we went over into Kentucky in the morning and got our marriage license and went back in the afternoon and got married. And Lawrence had one friend he had worked with in Washington, D.C. that had transferred to Cincinnati, Ohio. and he was one of the witnesses and the minister’s wife was the other witness cause we didn’t know anyone. So there was just the minister and his wife and Mr. Webb and Lawrence and myself, the five of us there for the marriage. And we stayed at the—I thought I could think of the name of the hotel. I can remember the room number—1624. The hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio, that’s where we spent our honeymoon. And then we came back to Washington, D.C. by Greyhound bus [emphasized Grey-hound bus]. I don’t know if they had airplanes running at that time but if they did, we couldn’t have afforded it probably so we came by bus. And Lawrence had rented an apartment at 666 Maryland Avenue NE.
ATWELL: And what year was this?
MCGEE: The year we got married.
ATWELL: ’35 did you say?
MCGEE: Yeah—1935. And when I got pregnant, we had a third floor furnished apartment. And when I got pregnant I developed a heart condition and the doctor told me I could not walk up and down stairs. So we had to move. We moved northwest to the Tremont Apartments.
ATWELL: What do you remember about the neighborhood around here at 666?
MCGEE: Well Ringo Hart was the lawyer; he lived at 660. And there wasn’t too much going on.
ATWELL: Were there the mom and pop stores on every corner like you see now?
MCGEE: No. No.
ATWELL: Do you remember where the closest store was?
MCGEE: The Safeway at Eighth Street and F Street NE, the Safeway grocery store and there was a delicatessen right down here at Eighth and Maryland Avenue—delicatessen. And there was a dry cleaning store there. Let me think. There wasn’t too many stores or things around; it was almost strictly residential. Of course, the park down here, Stanton Park. There were a lot of unemployed men that hung out around there. And we had a lot of beggars [spoken with emphasis]. They’d come to the door and they’d say, “Lady, I’m hungry. Would you give me something to eat?” I think what they really wanted was money. And one man came and he said he was hungry. So, I said well, I had a nice bench on the porch and I said, sit down. I’ll fix you something to eat. I went downstairs and I had a nice chicken and fixed him a nice chicken sandwich and brought him up a glass of milk and he drank the milk and he walked across the street and threw the sandwich down. So after he was gone I went over and got the sandwich (I had it wrapped up in Reynolds wrap) and I took it down to the park and fed it to the birds or whatever was down there would eat it. I didn’t want it laying out there wrapped up in Reynolds wrap or cellophane or whatever you want to call it.
ATWELL: Was there one other family at 666 and you had the top floor?
MCGEE: Oh yes. Dr. and Mrs. Morris. Dr. Willis Brown Morris. On the first floor he had his office and he practiced medicine. And then he and his wife lived on the second floor and they rented the third floor. That’s right down here at 666. He had a nice nurse, Mrs. LeChristian and she fell and broke her arm. And she couldn’t work so, he asked me if I’d be his office nurse until she could come back to work. Well, my husband wasn’t very happy about me working. He thought it was a husband’s duty to support a wife. But I worked for Dr. Morris for three or four weeks until Mrs. LeChristian could come back to work. And I really wanted to go to work, but Lawrence didn’t want me to work. So, I stayed home.
And after I got pregnant, I developed a heart condition. I couldn’t walk up to the third floor. So we moved northwest to an apartment building that had an elevator. And after Bill was born I stayed at home, naturally, and Lawrence was a legal clerk for the Homeowner’s Loan Corporation so I really didn’t need to work. We rented an apartment on the second floor of a 45 unit apartment building. And the resident manager that was there had two little boys and a husband. And she collected all the rent for a whole month and her husband took the money and left her. Deserted her and these two little boys. Well, the real estate lady told her she had to move because she didn’t have a husband or anybody to help her out. So, after she left, she went to her family somewhere in Ohio.
And so, I knew the resident manager’s job was vacant. So I thought, well, gee, I have to stay home and take care of my child, I’ll just go apply for this job. So I called Mrs. Engle and asked her if I could come down and talk to her and that I’d like to apply for the resident manager’s job. And every question she asked me I had to answer “Have you had any experience as a resident manager?” “Have you had any dealings with collecting money?” She asked me numerous questions and every one was [undecipherable]. When the interview was over, I just sat there and sat there and sat there. I felt sure she wasn’t going to hire me, but I wasn’t going to leave until she told me she wasn’t going to hire me. So after about half an hour she said, “Well, I’m going to give you a temporary appointment of six months. At the end of six months if you’re not happy, you can leave and if I’m not happy, you will leave.” [Said with emphasis.] So I got the job of resident manager and I was there eight years and I got free rent and $10 a month and every time I got that $10 I’d rush to the bank and deposit it. I lived without it before I got it and I was not going to spend it.
One day the telephone rang and it was Mrs. Morris [from 666 Maryland Avenue NE] and she said, “Florence, have you got any money?” I said, “Well, yes I’ve got a little money.” She said, “Well, there’s a house for sale at 672 Maryland Avenue NE, and every young couple should own their own home.” So, she said, “Meet me Saturday morning at 10:00 and we’ll go to the HL Rusk Company and I’ll see that you can buy that house.” So, she knew one of the real estate men and so she told him that she wanted Mrs. McGee to be able to buy 672 Maryland Avenue NE, and said, “Now, she’s got a thousand dollars to put down and I’ll co-sign for her.” So, we moved in here and I rented rooms.
ATWELL: Do you remember what year it was now? Let’s see—would it be ’44—’43?
MCGEE: My husband died in ’44 so it was ’44. Because we were here and we had the house six months and one day when he died. We moved in March the 30th and he died October 31, 1944.
ATWELL: Do you remember who you bought it from? Was it a single family house when you bought it?
MCGEE: Oh yes, the HL Rusk Company owned it and a single family lived here. And the woman’s husband died and she rented rooms and she rented a room to a man. And she didn’t know him but about six months in he asked her to marry him and they got married and they went on their honeymoon. The police came and found the car in the ditch and the woman with a broken neck. They were only married like—well; they were on their honeymoon.
ATWELL: They were married days.
MCGEE: Yeah, well days, and here she was dead in the ditch—in a car in a ditch. But it wasn’t a deep ditch and there wasn’t any damage to the car or anything. But the police they made a report but, two weeks later this man married another women [Atwell gasps]—a schoolteacher that he had been going with in New York. Well, when Mrs. Shacklett’s, that was her name, sister found out that her husband married another woman two weeks after his first wife died, then they started an investigation. But, he had had her body cremated and there was no way they could do an autopsy and prove that she wasn’t killed in this automobile accident. Oh, he was something.
ATWELL: He was a slick one.
MCGEE: He was a slick one. He was something. He was a slick one. But, do you know they didn’t let him have the house. They told him that he’d only been married two weeks and the house was still in her name and they moved him out. They wanted to prosecute him but there was no way they could prove that he had broken her neck, you know. But anyway, he didn’t get to live here.
So, the house was furnished when I bought it. It was furnished. And I had had an apartment full of furniture over Northwest before I moved in here so I took the best pieces that I had of the furniture and kept them. The other pieces that I didn’t want I sent to auction and, of course, you don’t get anything for furniture at auction. But, the house was furnished and there was no way I could keep my furniture and keep the furniture that was here at the house. And I had a good bedroom set and I had this davenport right here. I kept maybe one or two chairs that I had and I kept the ones here. And so, I have been here ever since and haven’t gotten any new furniture or anything since I moved in. I have too much. I have one roomer and that’s his television and that other one is my television. And, as I say, Stanley moved in here and lived here two days before I ever met him. He had met this girl who lived in my house and was a waitress. He had met her at Hogate’s. I don’t know what he was doing there—eating I guess. She told him where she lived and he moved in here two days before I ever met him and he’s just stayed all these years.
ATWELL: Do you remember what year it was when he moved in?
MCGEE: Probably 1935.
ATWELL: No, you didn’t buy this house until ’44.
MCGEE: Then it had to be ’44. Shortly after I had the house—’44 or ’45.
ATWELL: Now, did, you and your husband and son live here just as a family and it wasn’t until after he died that you took in roomers?
MCGEE: Oh, yes, that’s right.
ATWELL: And tell me again about the conversation with the woman at the church after your husband died.
MCGEE: She said, “Florence, you’ll lose your home!” Her name was Miriam Jefferson. And I said, “Miriam Jefferson, I would rather have a roof over my head and be hungry then walk the streets with a full stomach.” I remember that very well. Well, I had to take in roomers because I had hospital bills, doctor bills, funeral expenses, house payments. I had a first trust and second trust. The house was furnished. I had a chattel mortgage on the furniture.
ATWELL: What’s chattel mortgage?
MCGEE: Well, in other words, the furniture was mortgaged and if I didn’t pay for it, they would have taken it and that’s why I had a mortgage on it. It was called a chattel mortgage because it was furniture but it was just like any other mortgage that you would owe. And so I had the opportunity to pay for the furniture first and to pay interest on the first trust and the second trust. And when the furniture was paid for, then I started paying on the second trust, but I still had to pay interest on the first trust. And when I got the second trust paid, then I could start paying on the first trust and I wished I had kept track of the amount of interest I had to pay, because I didn’t.
ATWELL: You didn’t deduct it?
MCGEE: I’ve got records, probably downstairs. I’ve got a lot of legal papers and things in the closet.
ATWELL: Do you remember what you paid for the house?
MCGEE: No. I don’t remember. It was cheap. I think it was $7,000. I think, but that included the furniture. That was complete. I know it was $7,000. And do you know recently, there was a knock at the door. I went to the door and this man handed me a card and he was a real estate man and he said, “I’d like to buy your house. He said, “I’ll give you $100,000 dollars for your house,” and I said, “Well, thank you very much, but I don’t have any place[else] to live.” “Oh, you can go and rent an apartment.” And do you know I got the classified papers the next day and went and looked at two or three apartments and the only one that I would consider was $750 a month and it wasn’t luxurious.
ATWELL: I know it wasn’t.
MCGEE: Well, it was one in the neighborhood; the only one in the neighborhood and I didn’t want to really get out of Northeast Washington—$750.
ATWELL: That’s this year? It could be $800 next year.
MCGEE: Oh, yes. Oh, definitely. So, I said, “Nope, I’m not going to sell my house.” And somebody said when you sell it, if you sell your house for $100,000, it’s worth a lot more than that the way the real estate, you know, is going. I mean I don’t need this big house, but I’m comfortable. I have everything I need, you know, plenty of furniture, plenty of trash and treasures. I had planned to go back to Kansas, that’s where I’m from. That’s where I took my nurse’s training and my brother begged every time I went to Kansas to visit, “Florence, move back to Kansas. You don’t have to live in Valley Falls; you can live in Topeka.” So, I had been there and I told him, I’d said, “All right, I’ll find out about selling my house and make arrangements to come back because I’m getting older.” You know I’m 91 years old and I felt, well, I should be with some of my family. Do you know that he was in an automobile accident and was killed? He lived three days after the accident. He had a broken arm and a broken leg and a crushed chest.
ATWELL: This is your brother?
MCGEE: My brother. And he was in the hospital in Topeka. The one I trained in, Stormount Hospital, and died three days later. Well, I wasn’t going back to Kansas without my brother. So, here I am. And I’m happy here, you know. And I don’t rent rooms, cause I like peace and quiet. I have one roomer, and he has his own room and bath on the first floor and I have my room and bath on the second floor. The third floor is vacant and he does at lot. He always does all the grocery shopping and he does a lot of the cooking. When he moved here, he couldn’t even boil water. Now, he’s a real good cook.
ATWELL: Well most men couldn’t in those days. Couldn’t cook.
MCGEE: But, he’s real good and that’s his television and this is mine. We don’t need two televisions, but I am not going to get rid of mine and he probably won’t get rid of his.
ATWELL: Now, let’s go back. Your husband died in 1944.
MCGEE: That’s right.
ATWELL: And were you working when he died? Or, you had just moved in here and you were getting everything straightened out with this house?
MCGEE: No, he didn’t want me to work.
ATWELL: Still didn’t want you to work.
MCGEE: He said, “My wife will never work.” [EMPHASIZED] And do you know, I had to go to work after he died. The house wasn’t paid for. [NOISE]
ATWELL: That’s the mail.
MCGEE: I almost jumped. I couldn’t imagine what that was. I always lock my door. And, let me see, where was I?
ATWELL: You had to go to work because of the bills.
MCGEE: Oh yeah. I had to go to work and I hadn’t worked in over five years. And so, you have to get reciprocity if you didn’t train in the District of Columbia. So I went to … the Episcopal Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital was very close. It’s been torn down. There’s a filling station down there where it was. So I went down there.
ATWELL: Down Maryland Avenue here? OK.
MCGEE: On Maryland Avenue. And I went to see the Superintendent of Nurses and I told her that I was a graduate nurse, that I was a widow and that I had a small son that I had to take care of and could I please get a job as a general duty nurse cause I knew that I couldn’t do private duty until I’ve had some experience in the District of Columbia. And she said, “Well, the only way that I’ll let you do general duty is if you take our other course.” No, I forgot what it’s called now.
ATWELL: It was a nursing course?
MCGEE: But anyway, I had to do general duty and she said that if I passed the six-months training course in the hospital then she would hire me as a general duty nurse. So, I knew nursing and I went to work. That was at the Episcopal Eye, Ear Nose and Throat Hospital. I went to work. I didn’t know exactly how to do their routine just for the eyes, ears, nose and throat because it wasn’t general duty nursing but I learned fast. I took their post graduate course. That was six months, but while I was doing post graduate work, she let me do general duty because I was already a graduate nurse and I made $75 dollars a month! Think of that.
ATWELL: That was good money.
MCGEE: I guess it was because someone I was talking to said they made $35 dollars a month but I forgot what they were doing.
ATWELL: Who took care of your son while you were working?
MCGEE: Oh. He went to Kansas and lived with my mother after my husband died because I had to pay for my house. And so when school was out, Bill was just six, I think. No, he was going to nursery school; he wasn’t six years old yet, no. But, he could only go to nursery school five days a week and I didn’t have anybody to take care of him on Saturdays and Sundays and I had to work seven days a week. I was doing private duty.
I was on one case lasted 11 weeks. Seventy-seven straight days without a day off—77 days, and I always thought that young man would write to me. He lived in Pennsylvania and he was an apprentice learning to do carpentry work. And there was a stack of ply-board four feet by six feet, and his boss told him to go get two sheets of plywood and bring it, and he went to get the plywood and when he took the two sheets, the whole thing shifted and he was underneath all this great big stack of plywood. His hands were mashed and, oh, he was in a awful condition and I was called to take care of him. They had to put wires in his fingers because the bones were crushed and they couldn’t put casts on hands. So, I had to feed him and bathe him and …
ATWELL: Was he in Washington when that happened?
MCGEE: Oh yeah.
ATWELL: And what hospital was he in? Or, was he at home?
MCGEE: There was a hospital right over here called Casualty Hospital. It’s still there but it’s not a hospital anymore. Something different now.
ATWELL: It’s called MedLink.
MCGEE: Yeah. MedLink. You’re right. I had to do everything for him. Except, of course, I’d fix the urinal and I’d go out of the room and then I had to go get an orderly to come get the urinal. I wouldn’t take it away from him or anything. I mean, I wanted to, you know, let him have some privacy. But he didn’t mind if I fixed it so he could go, but he didn’t want me to take it away. If I had waited for an orderly to come to give him a urinal, he might have had to wait too long. So anyway, I took care of him for 11 weeks—77 days without a day off and he went home—back to Pennsylvania. And I always thought he sure would send me a Christmas card or even just a little card to say hello or something. Never heard a word from him.
ATWELL: Now, you went out to the Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital and took their senior course for nursing.
ATWELL: And so then you were able to pass the test and you were licensed here in the District and you could practice anywhere?
MCGEE: That’s right. I hadn’t worked in five years and I had to have recent experience or they wouldn’t, you know, let me work in the District of Columbia. So, the easiest thing for me to do was to take this postgraduate course. It was run by deaconesses and the superintendent of the hospital’s name was Deaconess Bateman. And I told her my sad story [laughter], you know, that my husband was dead and I had a small child and I’d a house that I’d only had six months and one day when husband died. I told her all these things. And she said, “Well, I’ll make an exception. I don’t hire anyone unless they’ve had our postgraduate course in eye, ear, nose and throat.” But, she said, “Since you are a graduate nurse,” she said, “I’m going to hire you and let you take the postgraduate course at the same time.”
Well, that meant that I was away from home from like 7:00 in the morning until 7:00 at night. Seven days a week because I had to put in a certain number of hours to get paid; there were no 40-hour weeks. And I had to do general duty and then I had to take the postgraduate course at the same time. And of course you didn’t get paid for taking postgraduate work. You weren’t benefiting from it and I could have gotten board and room. They had a nurses dormitory and I could have had board and room, but I had my own home so I didn’t want the room but I did take the meals when I was on duty. Oh, in fact, I went and had my breakfast there, and my husband was sick but he was able to fix his own breakfast and take care of Bill for a little while and then I sent him to live with my mother and he never did come back to Washington. Never did.
When he was old enough to go to school, I said, “Bill, now I can make arrangements for you to go to school,” and I said, “There’s a young girl that’s a neighbor.” (I would have to be at work at 7:00 in the morning.) I said, “There’s a young girl I’ve talked to and she’ll come and get your breakfast and take you to school,” and I said, “She’ll pick you up at 3:30 when school’s over.” And he looked at me and I’ll try to remember what he said. He said, “Mother, I don’t want to go back to Washington, D.C., without my father.” And he said, “Besides,” (what did he call himself? I believe he called himself a frog) “I’d rather be a big frog in a little pond in Kansas, than a little frog in a big pond in Washington, D.C.” So my mother kept him. When he graduated from high school, he went in the Marine Corps and he got married, had a lovely wife and they had three children. and then he died with massive heart attack. But, Katherine—that’s his wife—she still lives on the same farm that she and Bill bought together.
ATWELL: She was able to keep it.
MCGEE: Oh yes, she was able to keep it. She rented it out on shares. I think that she got a third and the man got two-thirds of the crops cause he furnished the seeds and did all the work and I think she got a third of the profit. She still runs the farm and she has a lovely pasture, about 80 acres of pastureland, and she rents that out to a man. I have a letter here from her—just got it this week—and she’s telling me that he has 120 cattle.
END OF TAPE 1/SIDE 1
TAPE 1/SIDE 2
MCGEE: No. He had cancer. It really was sad. Inoperable and incurable. Being a nurse, I wanted him to have the very best care he could possibly have. So, I got in touch with Johns Hopkins Hospital for a complete physical exam and we went over to Baltimore and were there two days at Johns Hopkins and they did every imaginable test and when the test was over, we went for an interview. And I could just hear my husband saying, “I’m a lawyer and I want to know the prognosis and the diagnosis,” and the doctor looked at him, shook his head and said, “Mr. McGee, you have inoperable and incurable cancer and I don’t think you have more than six months to live.” He died six months and one day later. And that was terrible because he was young.
ATWELL: So, he got the diagnosis shortly after you moved in.
MCGEE: Oh yes, Oh yes. And I didn’t have enough equity in the house to sell it. In fact, I called the real estate man and told him I’d like to sell my house and go back to Kansas. He said, “Mrs. McGee, you don’t have enough equity in that house. If you sold it, by the time you paid your commission for selling it, you wouldn’t have a penny.”
ATWELL: He was right.
MCGEE: And I said, well, thank you for telling me. I won’t sell. And that’s why I stayed here because I would have lost everything, you know, everything. The six months that we had paid in for payments and the original down payment, which of course wasn’t that much, but I mean the furniture belonged to me and everything ([unintelligible] so I won’t sell. So I’ve been here all these years.
ATWELL: How did you get to the Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital out on Maryland Avenue? Did you walk or did you take the bus?
MCGEE: I walked. Walked. And that closed and moved with the Washington Hospital Center.
ATWELL: Okay. That’s where I went to school.
MCGEE: At the Washington Hospital Center? That’s a good hospital.
ATWELL: How long did you wind up working at the Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital? Do you remember? Where did you go after that? Where did you work after that?
MCGEE: Oh. I did private duty. I resigned from doing general duty to do private duty because you could make more money. Of course I had to work seven days a week.
And I took care of a little boy that had had a tonsillectomy and he hemorrhaged and the father had not planned to have private duty nurses. But when the child hemorrhaged, he didn’t want him left alone. So I was called to work from 3:00 to 11:00 as private duty. And at 10:00 Mr. Fascell called up and he said, “What’s the night nurse’s name that’s coming on with my son?” I said, “Mr. Fascell, I’m so sorry there’s no one on call for night duty.” He said, “Would you please stay another eight hours?” And he said, “I’ll come and get my son at 7:00 in the morning, and I’ll pay you.” But he said, “I can’t come tonight because I got to go to work at the Post Office and he said, “I couldn’t leave him alone. If he woke up in the middle of night and found out he was alone, he’d be hysterical.” So he’d been so good and I thought, well heck, I could pull up a chair at the foot of the bed and lay my head over on the bed and get some sleep. So, I stayed for 16 hours with him.
And two or three weeks later on a Friday afternoon the telephone rang and it was Mr. Fascell and he said, “Mrs. McGee, are you working?” And I said, “No. I just came off a case yesterday and I am not going back on call till Sunday.” And he said, “Would you come to work at the Post Office in the Health Unit on Monday?” He said, “Our nurse always takes the whole month of August off and she goes to a church camp and takes care of the work at the camp and she gets her board and room and that’s her vacation for the year.” So, I thought, well gee, that sounds pretty good working at the United States Postal Service headquarters.
ATWELL: And just eight hours a day.
MCGEE: So, I asked what the pay was and he said we’ll pay the same as private duty. Well, I was working seven days a week doing private duty. So, working five days a week I was taking a big cut. Two days off—two days pay. So, I thought that would look good on resume working relief for the Post Office. So, I worked a month. I took a contract for a month and at the end of the month—let me see. Can’t think—Mrs. Sheets, her name was, Virginia Sheets. Her husband was transferred to New Orleans. So, Mr. Fascell said, “Would you take a six-month temporary appointment until we can get somebody permanent to work for the Post Office?” I thought, gee that would look good six months relief work at the United States Postal Service headquarters. So, I said, sure I’d be glad to, although, as I say, I was making more money doing private duty.
ATWELL: Where was it located? Where was the office?
MCGEE: Right down here where it is now.
ATWELL: Oh, next to Union Station.
MCGEE: Yeah. Yeah. Right there.
ATWELL: Oh good. Good.
MCGEE: Then later on we moved to 12th and Pennsylvania Avenue [NW]. They needed more space. So, we moved out from city Post Office, which is at Massachusetts, to 12th and Pennsylvania Avenue in the big building called the Post Office Department. And we had (gosh) six floors there at 12th and Pennsylvania Avenue and they had the seventh and eighth floor was rented to the FCC, Federal Communications Commission, and they had a nice Health Unit. A great big, nice Health Unit. We even had a sleeping room if people were sick. We had two—one for the women and one for the men. If they were sick,you know, with a headache or something, they had to lay down, why we’d keep them. We could keep them, I think it was only two hours, and if they weren’t able to go back in two hours, they had to make arrangements to get home. Yes.
ATWELL: How did you get there? How did you get to 12th and Pennsylvania Avenue?
MCGEE: Streetcars were running at that time. But then, later on they took the streetcars off.
ATWELL: Now, was there a streetcar here on Maryland Avenue?
MCGEE: No, it was on F Street. They turned around down on F Street and went back.
ATWELL: Because I know they were on Eighth Street. But, I didn’t realize they had run on F Street.
MCGEE: Well, this was streetcars. But, I didn’t know they were on Eighth Street. That was when they changed over to busses, wasn’t it? Or, was there streetcars on Eighth Street, too?
ATWELL: I thought someone had told me there were streetcars on Eighth Street. But, anyway there was a streetcar on F Street.
MCGEE: Very definitely.
ATWELL: OK. Do you remember where it started from? OK. It came along F Street. Now, was there also one on H? Was there a streetcar on H Street?
MCGEE: Oh yes. Down on H Street. And then they took the streetcars off and put on busses and I don’t remember what year that was or anything.
ATWELL: So you’d walk down to F Street and take the streetcar in.
MCGEE: Sometimes I’d walk to Union Station and get the bus there. Well, that was after we moved from 12th and Pennsylvania Avenue. We moved to L’EnFant Plaza and that’s when I would take the bus.[This is the gist of interrupted thoughts and statements.]
ATWELL: So how long did you work for the Post Office?
ATWELL: Six months turned into 32 years.
MCGEE[BMcM2]: I tell you. We got a new Postmaster General and he was old “Carving Marvin.” That what we called him. His first name was Marvin but I don’t remember his last name. And do you know, I wanted to retire on my 75th birthday and do you know Carving Marvin came in there and the Board of Governors told him he had to cut expenses. The very first thing he did was close every Health Unit and fire every single nurse. To cut expenses. [Atwell gasps.] But I think—someone told me—that they had nurses again at city Post Offices, but I’m not sure. Well, I thought maybe one day, one nice sunshiny day I’d walk down to find out and just tell them that I used to work for the Postal Service.
ATWELL: Actually, I don’t think there’s any postal offices in there anymore.
MCGEE: Oh, there aren’t?
ATWELL: Yeah. It’s all moved out to Brentwood. Yeah. And that building is actually Bureau of Labor Statistics having the office space above.
MCGEE: Nobody told me that.
ATWELL: There’s still a postal facility because I was just there. I had to pick up a package.
MCGEE: [Something about the basement.]
ATWELL: And the postal museum is there too.
MCGEE: Yeah. Well, I knew that.
ATWELL: But upstairs is all another Government agency.
MCGEE: Oh really. Well, see, I didn’t know that. Well, I am not in touch with anybody anymore that works for the Post Office. I didn’t know although my friend, Fran Wells, took me out to lunch on my birthday and there was two Black men that worked at the Post Office when I worked there. And this one guy came over and he put his arm around me and he kissed me. And he said, “Mrs. McGee, you’re better looking than you were when you worked for the Post Office.” I said, “You want a dollar?” He was so funny. They were both Black but they were nice guys. You know I had good relationships with everybody. Fran Wells said (after he left), she said “He kissed you.” I said, “On the cheek and I wasn’t going to fuss.” My gosh! I was shocked, but I wasn’t going to fuss. They said they both still work for the Postal Service.
ATWELL: Tell me about this house across the street. The one that’s now the Sasha Bruce. The one here—catty-corner. The big house on the corner here. What was that?
MCGEE: That was an apartment house and the woman that owned it died and the people that bought it turned it into, well, the Sasha Bruce house. I don’t know if there’s people that live there.
ATWELL: Well, there’s kids, there’s juveniles that board there.
MCGEE: But when I came here …
ATWELL: It was an apartment house?
MCGEE: Yeah. It was an apartment house when I first moved here. And then whoever owned it sold it and they turned it into this place for those kids. Juveniles or whatever.
ATWELL: I had heard the story that the man that lived in Bill’s house at 700 Maryland …
MCGEE: Mr. Williams.
ATWELL: … cured meat.
MCGEE: Oh no. No. Let’s go outside and I’ll show you.
ATWELL: No. We’re hooked up to the microphones.
MCGEE: All right. Well, I’ll show you later on.
ATWELL: The house behind Bill’s …
MCGEE: The people that lived there, their names were Schroth. The house that’s behind them now was the smokehouse and they smoked hams and sold them. This was during World War II. And then after the war was over, they didn’t have any reason to be smoking hams and selling them or something. I don’t know why they stopped; maybe they got old or something and then they turned the smokehouse into living quarters. Their names were Norman Schroth and then they had a house next to them where John Schroth and his wife Odell Schroth lived. And then when Norman got married, Norman Schroth, he bought a house here at 660 and he and Sue Schroth lived there at 660.
ATWELL: Maryland or D?
MCGEE: Maryland. Maryland and D. Right down here.
ATWELL: Right by where you used to live.
MCGEE: Yeah at 660.
ATWELL: But you were at 666. The story I had heard was that the original owner’s daughter lived in the house …
MCGEE: Bess Schroth, yes.
ATWELL: … and that she came back as a married woman.
MCGEE: Oh no. She never got married.
ATWELL: Oh. OK. So she stayed in the house.
MCGEE: She stayed in the house. But Bess never got married; she was a spinster. She and I were very good friends. Bess took sick—her name was Elizabeth Schroth but she went by the name of Bess—and she wasn’t able to go anyplace. Stanley, my friend, did her grocery shopping and he’d go over there and cook her breakfast and carry it to her on the second floor. And at 10:00 (she had a maid that came in) and the maid would wash the dishes and cook her lunch and she’d fix food for her for dinner right before she left. And, oh, Stanley waited on her hand and foot and I really thought that she’d give him some money. She had money. I don’t know if he hardly got a thank you, but he’s really a good guy.
ATWELL: Well, I want to do one of these interviews with him soon, too, because he has spent all of these years in the neighborhood too. So I want to talk to him too. So Bill and Beverly bought the house from Bess’ estate. Right?
MCGEE: I assume. Bill Williams, yes? I’m pretty sure they did. Because Bess died and then her brother, John Schroth, lived just two doors down from her on Maryland Avenue.
ATWELL: OK. 704.
MCGEE: Yes. Something like that. I don’t know. I could show you the house, but I don’t know the number.
ATWELL: Well you say two doors down.
MCGEE: John, that was her brother, and he was married to a woman by the name of Odell. And Odell was a nice woman but apparently hadn’t had much education. But you know she got a job as a waitress and she waited tables somewhere in a restaurant for years before she died and John didn’t work.
ATWELL: He didn’t work?
MCGEE: I don’t know how he lived, but he never worked.
MCGEE: But his brother Norman worked and Norman had the smokehouse. And then he and Sue, his wife, bought 660. Sue and I were the best friends. We had a Northeast Washington Citizens Association. You know they didn’t have any Mayor in the District of Columbia then. And they had all these citizens association meeting over the city and if we wanted anything we wrote letters to the [federally appointed] Commissioners and (I have to tell you a joke about that). We had this Northeast Washington Citizens Association and I was elected president. I was president for 10 years.
ATWELL: When was that now?
MCGEE: Oh, gosh. A long time ago.
ATWELL: Was it the 50s or the 60s?
MCGEE: It was probably in the 50s or 60s. It was after my husband died. And there was a vacant building across the street from Capitol Hill Hospital and they had applied for a liquor license. Well, Miss Rogers, who was the superintendent of Casualty Hospital, she called me up and she said, “Mrs. McGee,” she said, “do you think you could get your citizens association to go before the Board of Governors and prevent a liquor license from being across from Capitol Hill Hospital?” So I went to the District Building and told them the situation, that I wanted to get signatures to oppose the liquor license in the neighborhood and so they gave me a …
MCGEE: … drawing of exactly how many feet I could get signatures. You could only go a certain length but around the hospital there to protest this liquor store. I went and knocked on one door and asked this lady. I knew she was a person in the Women’s Christian Temperance Association. I asked her if she would go to the hearing with me. There’s three or four churches and I went and got the ministers and asked them if they would go to the hearing and I had over 20 people there opposing this liquor license. So, they had the cutest little lawyer. He was as short as I was and he got up and said, “Don’t pay any attention to Mrs. McGee. She’s an over enthusiastic, vocal female.” [Both laugh]. I thought I’d never forget that. And, do you know, we kept them from getting the liquor license? And I said that was one thing that I did when I was president of the Northeast Washington Citizens Association. One good thing. I did a lot of things.
And another time, Sue Schroth and I was out walking and we looked up and we saw this little kid. Blood running all down his face. And I said, my land, we got to go see about this child (being a nurse). I went in and I said (there was another little boy there) and I [said], “Where is your mother?” Well, he was about five or six years old. The little boy was maybe two or three—a big gash in his head, bleeding. So, the mother wasn’t there. So I said to Sue, I said, “Sue, we got to take this child for sutures.” I said, “You can’t wait to put sutures in because if you do, they won’t work.” So we took him to the emergency room.
ATWELL: Here at Casualty?
MCGEE: Yeah. Casualty. When we got there they said you have to pay in advance. Well, fortunately I had my pocketbook with me. So, I paid to have sutures put in. Then they said, “Now, you bring him back in seven days.” You don’t pay to have the sutures out, but you pay to have them in. So I went ahead and paid.
ATWELL: Because he had to have them.
MCGEE: He had to have them. Yes.
ATWELL: Did you leave the other kid at the house?
MCGEE: Oh yeah.
ATWELL: OK. The older one.
MCGEE: The older one. Yeah. I went next door and there was somebody there and I asked them if they’d look out for this child until the mother got home and they did. But I don’t remember now the names or anything. They did the older child but we took the little one—the littlest boy to the hospital.
ATWELL: Did you ever find out what happened?
MCGEE: He fell downstairs and there was a radiator at the bottom of the steps and he hit the radiator and cut his head open. The mother had gone off and left the two kids alone and so, I had to pay because they wasn’t going to take the sutures and I couldn’t have the kid bleeding to death. So we took him home and by that time the mother was home. So I told her that he had to go back to have the sutures out in a week and that I had paid $10 to get the sutures in. She said, “Well, you can just come and take him back and have the sutures taken out.” I said I would like you to reimburse me for the $10. “Well, I didn’t tell you to do it.” She said, “You pay for it.” She don’t give me a penny. So, I went in a week and took him back to the hospital and had the sutures out. But I was furious to think it was her child …
MCGEE: … and I was doing this out of the goodness of my heart and that she let me pay for it. Well, that was all right. Cast your bread upon the waters and it will return ten-fold. And I thought it was terrible. Now if that would been my child I would have at least paid for the sutures.
ATWELL: Absolutely. Or, if, you know, you didn’t have $10 in your pocket, pay it over time, you know, but make good on that kind of debt.
MCGEE: Didn’t give me a penny. Not even a thank you, you might say. And so when the week was up I went back and got him and took him over to the hospital had the sutures taken out. I don’t know if they still live down there. I really don’t know.
ATWELL: Was it on Maryland?
MCGEE: Yeah, on Maryland Avenue but I don’t go walking that way. When I walk, I walk toward Stanton Park. That was a long time ago. Probably the child’s grown up and even married moved away. I don’t know. She never tried to thank me or reimburse me or anything. But I didn’t mind because I couldn’t see that child bleeding.
ATWELL: You did it for the kid.
MCGEE: I did it for the child and for my own welfare because I’m a nurse and I know how important it is to get sutures in a hurry. And I don’t know if she would have even taken him to the hospital for sutures. She’d a probably slapped a band aid on there and just let the scar …
ATWELL: I hope it clotted.
MCGEE: I hope he didn’t bleed to death. Oh yeah, I’ve had a lot of experiences.
ATWELL: But what got you involved in the Northeast Citizens Association?
MCGEE: Well, I think I was interested in the welfare of the neighborhood. And somebody came here that knew that [laughs] I was always doing things in the neighborhood and they asked me to join the Northeast Washington Citizens Association. And we met at 1010 Massachusetts Avenue NE. There was a Mrs. Barnes that lived there and she had a full basement under her house and a outside entrance and the basement she fixed up like party rooms and she rented it out if people wanted to rent it for, you know, any reason. But she let the citizens association group meet there free of charge. And so—I don’t how it happened. But anyway, they decided to have an election and have a president and a vice-president and a treasurer and a secretary. And somebody said—oh, I nominated a man by the name of Mr. Weaver, Mr. Weaver—and then somebody else jumped up an said, “I nominate Florence McGee.” And I thought, well that’s all right, he’ll be elected.
ATWELL: Yep, Yeah. Fooled you. [both laugh]
MCGEE: I got every vote but one. I had voted for Mr. Weaver and everybody else voted for me and I was President of the Northeast Washington Citizens Association for 10 years and we did a lot of good. We got a stop sign put up at one of the streets where there wasn’t any stop sign and we did a lot of good.
ATWELL: Now, was that across Massachusetts Avenue from Casualty?
MCGEE: Catty-corner across on Massachusetts Avenue. There’s a dry cleaning store there now.
ATWELL: Yes. That’s what I thought so. That’s what I thought.
MCGEE: That’s where they wanted to put the liquor store.
ATWELL: What other kinds of things did the Citizens Association do? Anything with building permits or anything like that?
MCGEE: Oh yes. I wanted to keep this liquor store out from across the street from Capitol Hill Hospital. It was called Casualty at that time. I said do you know they have a ten-bed men’s ward there and I said that most of those ten men that are in that ward are there because they’ve been drinking. They’ve fallen down stairs or they have been hit crossing the street or they’ve been in automobile accidents. I said three-fourths of those men would not be in that men’s ward if they hadn’t been drinking and I said I certainly don’t want a liquor store across the street from the hospital. I said the men would bribe the orderlies to buy liquor and bring it to them. I said I don’t want that. They told me where I could go to get petitions you now they give me a map. And I started out early in the morning at 8:00 knocking on doors to get petitions and I worked in the evenings. When I didn’t get people in the morning I’d go back in the afternoon and even in the evening.
And they had a delicatessen across the street there. It was called Cormbus [?] Delicatessen.
ATWELL: Is that where the barbecue place is now?
MCGEE: Probably. I’m sure it is.
ATWELL: What was it called?
MCGEE: Cormbus. That was the man’s name. I think it was C-O-R-M-B-U-S. I think was the way you spelled it. And so I wore out a pair of shoes. I went to every house that was in the area that I could get petitions and most of the people were very happy to sign the petition. I went to this one house and I knocked on the door. The woman came to the door and I said, “Good evening, I’m Florence McGee. I’m President of the Northeast Washington Citizens Association and,” I said, “I’m asking people to sign a petition to keep a liquor store out from across Capitol Hill Hospital.” She slammed the door in my face and so, I went next door to get the petition signed. And the man next door said, [whispered] “Don’t go next door, the woman is an alcoholic.” [laughter] I said “Well I should have come to you first. I’ve just had the door slammed in my face.”
At so at that same time I was getting petitions, I was at a house where they have a vestibule and you went in the vestibule and then you knocked on the door. And I was coming out of the house and this man put a piece of paper in my hand. I said, “What’s that?” And he said, “Well that’s a summons … to court.” And I said, “Well, I don’t live here.” He said, “You don’t live there? I just saw you come out of the house.” He said, “a good excuse, you don’t live there.” He said, “But you have that petition.” I said, “BUT I DON’T LIVE HERE!” And he said, “Well where do you live?” And I said, “672 Maryland Avenue, Northeast.” “Well, prove it.” So I tell you (I wouldn’t do it today), I brought him down here and unlocked the door and brought him in the house. Now I said, “I you think I don’t live here” I said, “just think again.” Well, he apologized. And two days later here he comes with a live chicken and he said, “Mrs. McGee, I want to make a peace offering.” He said, “I’m giving you a chicken because I falsely accused you.” Well, I said, “How am I going to kill that chicken?” Ha, Ha. Do you know what I did?
ATWELL: Go ahead.
MCGEE: I rung its neck. I’d seen my brother do that many times. Only time in my life, I ever killed a chicken. But that was a good chicken.
ATWELL: I bet it was, I bet it was.
MCGEE: I’ve done an awful lot of crazy things in my life. Stupid things some of them. Sue Schroth, she and I was always doing something, like taking this little kid to the hospital. Always doing things. And they got to the place where they was calling us the Sin Sisters. S-I-N sisters. And poor Sue died. I tell you she was just like a sister. I’m telling you. We did so many things together. We were both married. She was the Treasurer of the Northeast Washington Citizens Association and I was the President. And we used to take turns baking cupcakes. We’d treat everybody every week. One week she would treat them and the next week I’d treat them and we had a lot of things that we did.
ATWELL: Now when did you start working at Casualty?
MCGEE: I did private duty there after my husband died, before I went to work for the Government. Angela Winters was the Superintendent of the Nurses and one day she came to me (It was a Saturday, I was working), I was doing general duty. And she came to me and she said, “Mrs. McGee, you can come to work late”—this was Saturday. She said, “You can come to work late tomorrow after you’ve been to Mass.” I said, Mrs. Winters, I’m not Catholic, I’m Baptist. She never treated me nice after that when she found out I was a Baptist and not a Catholic. She said, “Well, I never new a McGee that wasn’t Catholic.” But I thought it was terrible for her to discriminate against me because I was a Baptist. Oh, Angela Winters was something; she was the Superintendent of Nurses for many, many years.
ATWELL: Did they have nursing school there? At Casualty?
MCGEE: Yeah. Well, for Practical Nurses. Ms. Winters had it.
ATWELL: But they didn’t have a dormitory? Or …?
MCGEE: No, no. Well, yes, they did. They had a dormitory down here at Stanton Park where those town houses are now. They had a big nurses’ home there.
ATWELL: OK. The new town houses there at Fifth?
MCGEE: Yeah. At Stanton Park and they had a nurses’ home there and they had nurses that lived there and worked at the hospital and Ms.Winters had classes that had trained Practical Nurses. They didn’t have very many Registered Nurses. They had mostly Practical Nurses and one nurse (I can’t think of her name, I haven’t thought about this for a long time), she was crossing the street on a Sunday morning and this car came along and hit her. Killed her. Well, if you don’t think that was a confusion, she was supposed to be at duty at 7:00. Here she was dead and it was so sad to think that she was killed right there in front of the hospital and that she had the right-of-way. And the police came and they gave this guy a ticket, but what good is that going to do when they’ve killed somebody? I don’t know whatever happened about it that she was killed. But she was the nicest woman—the nicest nurse. See I did private duty here for a long, long time and I knew all the nurses and I, of course, knew Miss Rogers, she was Miss Rogers.
END OF TAPE 1, SIDE 2
TAPE 2, SIDE 1
MCGEE: My morals are high. I don’t have to tell people because they can more or less watch. Stanley is Catholic and he’s got high morals. If he didn’t have I couldn’t have him living here. He had a friend that came to visit him one day and he said, “Stanley, why in the world don’t you and Mrs. McGee get married?” Stanley looked at him (I was in the other room and they didn’t know that I could hear them) and he said, “Oh I couldn’t marry Florence. People would say I was marrying her for her money.” [laughter] Like as if I got money.
ATWELL: But, you were telling me that Casualty Hospital became Rogers Memorial.
MCGEE: Yes, after Miss Elizabeth Rogers took over and she changed the name from—let’s see—from Casualty to Rogers Memorial. Her name was Rogers and she had adopted a son and she kept the Rogers. But she knew who his mother was; his mother’s name was Young. But his mother and father never got married but they named him—she adopted him—Joseph Rogers Young—that’s it.
ATWELL: Now, she was married, Mrs. Rogers was married?
MCGEE: No. She never got married, but she adopted Dr. Joseph Rogers Young. She raised him.
ATWELL: And he became a doctor.
MCGEE: Oh Yes. She educated him well, yes.
ATWELL: Now, what gave her her money to be able to buy the hospital? Do you know?
MCGEE: I don’t have the slightest idea. But she had money. She owned property at [Purcellville], Virginia. She had a lovely big place up there. One time she took all the nurses that weren’t on duty up to her house and she had a beautiful picnic supper for us. Oh, we had watermelon and I don’t know what else we had but I thought it was so wonderful. Oh, we had weenies, and roasted them outside, and hamburgers. Yeah. She had a big spread for us. She had all these great big watermelons and everything to treat the nurses.
ATWELL: Now, how long did it stay as Rogers? Did the adopted son keep the hospital after she died?
MCGEE: Oh yeah. Well wait a minute. Yes. It was Rogers Memorial until it changed to Medlink. It was still Rogers Memorial until MedLink took over.
ATWELL: I had missed that part of the puzzle. I had heard about Casualty and of course I know MedLink but I had didn’t know about the Rogers.
MCGEE: You didn’t know about the Rogers Memorial Hospital? Well, I’m telling you the truth.
ATWELL: Oh, I know you are.
MCGEE: Now, there was a grocery store on Eighth Street that’s now the dialysis center? Kind of the backside of the hospital or down from church. Yeah. Oh, now wait a minute. What’s across the street? A delicatessen? Is that across the street now?
ATWELL: There’s a mom and pop grocery store on the southeast corner.
MCGEE: OK. You’re right about the other situation.
ATWELL: Do you remember what kind of a grocery store it was?
MCGEE: A&P. Atlantic and Pacific was to begin with. You know there’s a church there in the same block and a rectory. And I don’t know what else is there right now. A parking lot.
ATWELL: Yes, yes. That’s the block just north of Massachusetts Avenue.
MCGEE: And they tore down houses and made a parking lot. They were little houses like one-story houses. The ones they tore down.
ATWELL: Oh really.
MCGEE: Yea. Before the parking lot. Oh, they demolished a lot of houses to make that parking lot. There was a hardware store over there too. I forgot what the name of that hardware store was. That was not on H Street, but that other street.
ATWELL: C or D?
MCGEE: Uh huh. Hardware store.
ATWELL: That would be Eighth and maybe C.
MCGEE: Massachusetts or C. It’s probably Eighth and C Street. I’d have to go over there and look to see. I haven’t thought about that for years.
ATWELL: Now when did Blacks start moving into the neighborhood? Do you remember?
MCGEE: No. There weren’t any here when I came here. But, I don’t remember when they started moving in but, they’ve been all nice, refined people. People that you’d be happy to associate with. We haven’t had any bad neighbors.
ATWELL: How did you feel when the riots happened? Did you feel safe here?
MCGEE: Well, I tell you. I came inside of my house and locked the doors and I felt safe inside but I wouldn’t have been safe outside. Oh, those riots were terrible.
ATWELL: Yeah. They were. They were. Was there any burning around here?
MCGEE: No. Not to my knowledge. But it was bad.
ATWELL: Because a lot of people that have been interviewed as part of this project said that they were afraid just because of what was going on but that they didn’t feel threatened in their own homes.
MCGEE: I didn’t feel threatened. No. I came in and locked my doors and I did not feel threatened at all because I felt like I was safe here, you know.
ATWELL: And you were working for the Post Office then, right?
MCGEE: I worked for the United States Post Office Headquarters for 32 years. I get a nice pension.
ATWELL: What have you done since you’ve retired?
MCGEE: What have I done since I retired? Mostly nothing. Not anything that I can think of.
ATWELL: What do you think the biggest change in the neighborhood has been since you’ve been here?
MCGEE: Well, that everybody that lives in the neighborhood works, and it’s not friendly like it was when I first came here when people were staying at home, like Ringo Hart and his sister-in-law that lived there and Sue Schroth. And Dr. and Mrs. Morris lived at 666 and he had a practice there and there were two old women that lived next door to me. Yeah, in Steve’s house and they were not very friendly.
But one time the younger sister came and knocked on my door and she said, “Mrs. McGee, could I ask a favor?” And I said, well yes. And she said, “You know that my sister hasn’t had her hair washed or COMBED in two years’ and she said, “Would you please come over and wash my sister’s hair and comb her hair?” And I thought, my great-day-in-the-morning, what am I going to find? But, you know, she must have combed it because it wasn’t in that terrible, bad shape. She didn’t want her hair washed. I said, “Wait a minute, your sister told me to wash your hair,” and I said, “I told her I would.” So I said, “Don’t fuss at me because I’m going to wash your hair.”
ATWELL: Why didn’t her sister do it?
MCGEE: She wouldn’t LET her. Her sister wouldn’t let her wash her hair. She wasn’t going to let me wash her hair. But I told her your sister asked me to wash your hair and it hasn’t been washed in over two years or combed. And I said I’m going to wash your hair and I’m going to comb it. Well, when it was wet—I could take a few strands at a time—I think I spent two hours washing and combing that woman’s hair. And the woman thanked me—her sister thanked me but she never offered to give me any money. Well I wouldn’t have taken any anyway. But, she did thank me, you know. They lived there for a long time these two older ladies. They were sisters and then the one sister got sick and the other sister couldn’t take care of her. So her brother, lived out in Virginia, so he came in and moved the two sisters in his home in Virginia and he had a moving truck come and get their furniture out. I don’t know if they sold it or what they did with it, but they vacated the house. And then they rented it to two Black men. I wasn’t too really happy about that—not that I have anything against Black, but I really just didn’t want them living right next door to me. And they had a lot of people coming and going, but they were quiet. They were nice and I always spoke to them. They had a dog and one day I was out on my porch and I heard him saying, “MCGEE, MCGEE, MCGEE.” And so, I walked over there and I said, ”Did you want me?” He said, “No, I am calling my dog.” And I said, “My name is Mrs. McGee and I thought you were calling me,” so I said, “so excuse me.” And he said, “Oh, I didn’t know that you were McGee.”
ATWELL: Now, Joe lives about four doors down …
MCGEE: Joe Logan?
ATWELL: Right at the corner.
MCGEE: Yes. 660.
ATWELL: … And he told me that there used to be a speakeasy in the basement of his house?
MCGEE: Now, that I didn’t know.
ATWELL: So, Prohibition was back in the 20s, right? But, if you go down there, what he has done is he’s kept the walls that are this horrible, tacky red and it used to be like a speakeasy club.
MCGEE: Now, see I didn’t even know that. Here I’ve lived here …
ATWELL: Well this was before you moved in.
MCGEE: Oh, Oh. All right.
ATWELL: It was either during the 20s or 30s.
MCGEE: Oh. Well, yeah, that was before I was here, definitely.
ATWELL: I had heard too that the family here on the corner at 700 Maryland … Was it Schrouse?
ATWELL: … had owned like this whole block too at one point. I guess it would have been Bess’ father had all these houses built. [See the transcript of the 1974 interview with Mr. and Mrs. Norman Schroth on the Overbeck Project website.]
MCGEE: Could have been.
ATWELL: Had you haven’t heard that?
MCGEE. No. But, you see, when I came here. Their daughter, Elizabeth called Bess, was living there by herself, you know.
ATWELL: OK. OK. So, they both had passed when you came.
MCGEE: Apparently, they had because Bess was there by herself. And then her brother, Norman, and Sue lived at 660 and Bess lived over there. Oh, Bess was a character. She got to the place where she wasn’t able to leave the house and Stanley would do her grocery shopping for her. She’d give him a list and he’d go grocery shopping and as far as I know, she never gave him any money but he grocery shopped for her every week. She’d have the list made out. He’s a good fellow; he really is good.
ATWELL: What else has been a change in the neighborhood in addition to the people not being around and not being as friendly?
MCGEE: Well, most of the people, you know, work now. I’m the only one in this block that’s home during the week. It’s funny the postman will come knock on the door, “Miss McGee, I have a package for 660 or whatever.” And one day he came and he had two packages—they were both for different addresses and he said, “Don’t know what I’d do if you wasn’t here.” Because, he said, “You’re the only one that’s home in this block.” I said, “Well, don’t tell people.”
ATWELL: That’s right. Keep it quiet. That’s right. That’s right.
MCGEE: And so, I take packages in for the neighbors. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t get one or two packages for the neighbors, you know and I got a real nice neighbor next door, Steve. He is really a wonderful neighbor. He came over today, rang the doorbell and said, “Mrs. McGee, I’m going to the country.” He said, “Kind of look out for my place for me.” He owns a home somewhere. I don’t know where.
ATWELL: He has offered to let me go down there if I want to and I have not gone. But other neighbors that you would recognize, but you may not know their name because they walk by here all the time with the dog. Well, Jackson, Jackson was Simone’s best friend.
MCGEE: Oh yes! I know Jackson, the dog.
ATWELL: Right, Well, it’s Jackson’s parents that have gone down there to the country place.
MCGEE: Oh good, good. Well, Steve is a wonderful neighbor. I am telling you. You couldn’t ask for a nicer neighbor than Steve Balcolm. I tell you, at Christmas time he always gives me a fruitcake or, you know, something really nice. I said to Steve, why do you do that? ‘Because you take my mail in and my packages when I’m not here and you look out for my place for me when I go to the shore and you do this and you do that.” I said, “Well I’m glad you think I do a lot for you.” But, he is a wonderful neighbor. I’m telling you you couldn’t ask for a better neighbor than Steve Balcolm and I’ve met his mother.
ATWELL: She was here just a couple of months ago.
MCGEE: Yes, I know, and she’s not as old as I am. But, do you know that Steve said, “I wish my mother was active as you are.” She doesn’t get around too well. I don’t know what’s wrong but it must be something because she doesn’t really get around too well.
ATWELL: That’s what I heard. I haven’t seen her. Do you remember when they built the new house next to the smokehouse?
ATWELL: What had been there? Had that been a lot?
MCGEE: Yes, it was a lot. It was a lot, yes, a lot next to the smokehouse and then, you know, they turned the smokehouse into a residence.
ATWELL: Right. Deb lives there. Because the story I heard … I think the first people that moved into the new house was Donnie Denton.
MCGEE: Yes and his wife and little girl.
ATWELL: And the story goes that Marion Barry lived next door with his wife, Mary Treadwell, and they didn’t want that house to be built and that they would pour water on the foundation to keep it wet so they …
MCGEE: I hadn’t heard that. I could believe it. Yeah, Marion Barry and what was his wife’s name?
ATWELL: Mary Treadwell.
MCGEE: I knew it one time, but I just kind of forgot. Marion Barry didn’t live there very long. He built or bought a big house. I did know where it was, but I can’t remember right now.
ATWELL: The house he had as Mayor was out in Southeast. But I don’t know … But, see, there was a wife in between there because he divorced her and then married Effie. So, he has to have had some other place to have lived in the meantime, yeah. Do you remember how long Mary Treadwell had the house?
MCGEE: I haven’t the slightest idea. But I don’t think it was too long, like maybe four or five years. I know it wasn’t any longer than that. It might not have been quite that long.
ATWELL: Further down towards E—well, he was old when I came into the neighborhood—there was a man named Jesse.
MCGEE: Named what? Didn’t meet him.
ATWELL: I’m trying to think what else. Did you ever get a car? When did you get your first car?
MCGEE: Oh. I had a Dodge Royal and I bought it brand new. It had two miles on the odometer when I took it out of the lot and it really didn’t do me much good because there was no place at 12th & Pennsylvania Avenue to park cars. I had to go on the bus or streetcar. Originally it was the streetcar then bus and I had that car sitting out in front of my house with the doors locked and the keys in the house. Somebody broke in the car and started the motor and stole it. It disappeared. I called the police and they never found it. And I had it insured but every year that I had it insured, the valuation of the car went down and I got $750. I was a one car owner, had very little mileage. The only place I drove it was to church.
ATWELL: What year was it when you bought it?
MCGEE: Nineteen, I think, thirty-seven??
ATWELL: No, no. It couldn’t be.
MCGEE: Couldn’t have been ’37?
ATWELL: You had this house, right? You moved in here in ’44.
MCGEE: Oh, that’s right. And I worked at the Post Office when I bought the car and didn’t drive it to work because there was no place to park. Now, I am confused.
ATWELL: Do you remember where the dealership was? Where did you buy it?
MCGEE: In Anacostia, at a Dodge dealer in Anacostia. But I don’t know if they would still be there or not. But I remember I bought it in Anacostia.
ATWELL: Did you have a car when you moved in here?
MCGEE: No. No. That was the first car I had, a Dodge Royal. It was blue and white and it was a nice car, a four-door car. Yeah, a four-door car. And it was a nice car. I don’t know why I bought that car. I guess I just wanted one; I guess to go to church, probably.
ATWELL: Where did you do your grocery shopping?
MCGEE: There was a little grocery store down here at Eighth and F. Then down on H Street was a Safeway grocery store.
ATWELL: I’m sorry, on H Street there was a grocery store? Well, you had the A&P on Eighth. Right? By the hospital.
MCGEE: Oh yeah. I didn’t buy a lot of food for myself. I really didn’t buy a lot of food. I have to take that back. On Saturdays I always bought a nice big roast and made the roast Sunday when I came home from church. Or, sometimes I’d put it in the oven with a little flame and leave my roast in the oven and have potatoes and carrots and onions and different things that I’d put in a big roaster pan and then I’d have roast for the week. I’d have roast beef sandwiches and I’d make hash with potatoes and onions.
MCGEE: Yeah. Leftovers. I’d get a big enough roast to last me all week long. I just wonder I got healthy with eating as much beef as I ate. But I had sliced roast beef for sandwiches and when the roast was getting down toward the end, I’d cut it up and put potatoes and onions and make a hash. I only allowed myself a certain amount of money for groceries and I planned my menu and I’d have a list when I went to the grocery store because I didn’t want to go without a list because I was afraid I’d buy things I didn’t really plan on buying. Oh yeah, I had to be economical because my salary wasn’t that big. When I went to work for the Government, I got $1620 a year. That was my starting salary—$135 a month. Of course, I got a raise every year—two percent every year and when I left the Post Office I was making $39,000 a year. And I wanted to stay until I was making $40,000, but we got this new Postmaster General, Carving Marvin, he closed the Health Unit and eliminated the nurses staff that fast.
ATWELL: What did you think of the women’s liberation movement?
MCGEE: I never paid any attention to it. I never paid any attention to it. I ignored it completely. That’s terrible to say. I ignored it completely because I was working and I was happy going to church and I rented rooms and I strictly stayed away from anything. I was asked to join, but I said I’m awfully sorry. I said I work full time and I cannot join anything because I wouldn’t want to join and not be able to attend. And I was asked to join the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Did I tell you this? Let me see how did this come about?
ATWELL: Well, you had gone to them with a petition.
MCGEE: Oh yes. That’s right. They came and testified. Miss Sutherland and several other members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Association. So then, they asked me to join. No. That’s not true. Miss Sutherland came knocked on my door and she said, “Mrs. McGee, I have a beautiful gift for you.” She handed me this envelope. And she had paid $100 for me—a lifetime membership—in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and I was shocked. But I said thank you. And, you know, they’d call me up and they asked me to speak on different things—nursing subjects. I went to two or three of the meetings and talked, to tell them what they wanted to know. I’d have to do research and sit down and right out a big speech. I wasn’t a speaker but I’d go.
And after, I think, three times I went to Miss Sutherland and I said you know I would like to resign from the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. I said, now I know that you paid $100 for lifetime membership. But I said, I work and I said when they call me and ask to work I said one time I had to hire somebody to work in my place so that I could speak. And I said, “I’m not a speaker and I have to take time to sit down and research because I’m not going to get up and make a fool of myself.” I said, “I’ve either given three speeches on different things. One was on nutrition, well that wasn’t hard, and, let’s see, on contagious diseases. I can’t remember what the other.” I gave three different speeches and of course, I didn’t know everything from the top of my head. I had to do research. So after I gave the third speech I went to Miss Sutherland and I said I’d like to resign. I said I just cannot afford to belong to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Because they wanted me to talk and they wanted me to do this and they wanted me to do that. I went to I guess it was the District Building to keep a liquor store out from across from Capitol Hill Hospital and I took three weeks off from work getting petitions on that. We kept the liquor store out and it was just too costly for me to belong to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. I mean if I had been retired well that would have been a different story. But I had no income. My husband was dead and I had expenses. You know when you’ve got the gas bill every month and electricity and telephone. You got taxes.
ATWELL: Now when did you stop taking roomers, boarders?
MCGEE: When I got the house paid for.
ATWELL: OK. When was that? Ballpark? Do you remember? Were you working for the Post Office?
MCGEE: Yeah. I was working for the Post Office.
ATWELL: All right. So it had to be sometime after 1950—1960?
MCGEE: I expect it was probably 1960.
ATWELL: What did you have, a 20-year note on the house? If you got it in ’44, the note would have been good til ’64.
MCGEE: It was in the 60s and I never asked anyone to move but I never took any new roomers after the house was paid. I had an elderly man. We called him Uncle Harvey. And he had been a lawyer but he was up in age. He was getting a little bit feeble and he moved in here. I didn’t give him any meals. He had to go somewhere to get his meals. But once in a while, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, if he was here, and I’d cooked a big meal, well then I would always invite him to eat. But, otherwise, I didn’t invite him to eat. And my mother came from Kansas to spend the winter with me.
ATWELL: Was this in the 60s or 70s?
MCGEE: Probably the 60s. And poor Harvey. He was running around with his elbows out of his sweater, you know. And she took the pockets, ripped them off the front of his sweater and appliqued them on his elbows. He was so proud of that sweater with those appliqued pockets on his elbows. When my mother got ready to go back to Kansas, he said, “Mrs. Luten, I would like to have your address and come and visit you.” My mother said, “Well, I don’t have a permanent address.” She said, “I spend time with my son in Colorado and I go here and I go there.” She visits but does really live with them, but she wouldn’t give him her address. But he would’ve never gone to visit her. He never had any money. He didn’t have enough money to go to Kansas. But my mother was funny. She said “That old fool.” I can just hear her now say that old fool.
Mother had a neighbor that had been married and had a nice wife, Bertha Senn. And Bertha and my mother were real good friends. Bertha died. And do you know Bertha’s husband tried the hardest way in the world to go with my mother. And he said, “Anna, why won’t you marry me?” And mother said, “I told him I had been happily married and that I only believed in one marriage.” Oh, she was so mad. His name was Senn. S-E-N-N.
ATWELL: I know what I wanted to ask you. When you bought the house, was the kitchen in the basement?
MCGEE: Oh no. The kitchen was right here. The dining room was in the next bedroom and the bathroom that’s there now was the back porch. Well, boy, I tell you we lived here. We had rooms on the second floor, two rooms. There’s a door between the one bedroom and the other bedroom. Our son had the one room and we had the other room.
ATWELL: And the basement was a basement.
MCGEE: The basement was a basement. And, I’m telling you when my husband died, we’d only had the house six months and one day. Mrs. Jefferson said, “Florence, you’ll lose your home.” I said Miriam Jefferson, I’d rather have a roof over my head and be hungry than walk the streets with a full stomach. I will not lose my home! And I think that was the one thing that made me determined to keep it was her telling me I was going to lose it. When my husband and I were here, we didn’t rent rooms but we had two rooms on the second floor. The room that I have now was my son’s room and I don’t rent rooms anymore.
ATWELL: How many rooms on the third floor?
MCGEE: There’s three. There’s three rooms on the third floor and three rooms on the second floor and two rooms on the first floor. Eight rooms all together. The basement was just an open basement when I moved here. Well I had a partition put in and I built a bedroom and I put a bath in the basement and I put a kitchen in the basement and a dining room. And I moved to the basement and rented rooms. I rented eight rooms.
ATWELL: OK. And you rented up here.
MCGEE: Yes, I rented rooms, yes. I rented eight rooms.
ATWELL: That’s good cause you had your privacy down there.
MCGEE: Oh yes. And I rented eight rooms. But you know I never changed any money. Eight and $10 a week is all I ever charged for room rent. Of course, I guess that’s what rooms were renting for. But I had one man that lived here 18 years—Oscar Trent. Then I had a Roland Babbs that lived here 20 years. I never asked anybody to move.
ATWELL: You’re lucky you didn’t have to. But people were good enough you didn’t have to ask them to …
MCGEE: Oh yeah. They were good enough I didn’t have too. And I only got stuck with one roomer and he moved out owing a week’s rent. I wanted them to pay in advance. But he’d been paying. His name was Johnny Savoy and he moved out and when I got my telephone bill here was a long distance telephone call and charged for one dozen roses. He had wired them to his girlfriend in Philadelphia and charged them on my telephone bill. I didn’t know you could do that. But he did. And of course I didn’t have his address when he moved. So, he owed me a week’s rent and for a dozen roses. But that’s the only time …
ATWELL: Yeah. Knock that wood.
MCGEE: … that I got cheated in any way, shape or form. As far as I can remember.
ATWELL: Did you have like women living on one floor and men on another?
MCGEE: Well, I took mostly women. I had this Mr. Babbs and Oscar Trent were the only two men I ever had and it was during the war time. The women came here from all over and I had women from Pennsylvania. You know, I had all my rooms rented. I had a sign “Room Rentals” and then had “Vacancies” under that. Then when the rooms were filled I just took both of the signs down. I didn’t want people to know I was renting rooms. I never had any trouble keeping my rooms rented because I never charged a lot of rent. And, um, oh I’ve had opportunities.
END OF TAPE 2/SIDE 1
END OF INTERVIEW