Photo by Louise Fenner

Margaret Hollister

Margaret Hollister moved with her sons from mostly white Montgomery County to Ninth Street SE around 1970 to find a "more authentic place to live". 

In this interview Margaret recounts in vivid detail the challenges she faced making her "little tar paper shack" into a functioning house. Other topics in the interview are her son's activism in anti-Vietnam War efforts, her years as a social worker, and her involvement with Friends of the Southeast Library. Margaret and her son Paul both spoke at a 2012 event about attending the 1963 March on Washington; see p 11 in the linked document about that event.

Read Transcript
Interview Date
June 30, 2014
Patricia Driscoll
Louise Fenner

Full Directory

[Note: Bernadette McMahon was also present during this interview and speaks when questioned or to provide other information. Her voice is heard on the tape from a distance (no microphone).]


DRISCOLL: This is Pat Taffe Driscoll. I’m interviewing Mrs. Margaret Hollister at 505 Ninth Street SE in Washington, DC. She’s lived here since 1969 or 1970. And maybe we can start with some of your impressions about what life was like on the block or in the area then. There’s a lot of history here and Miss Hollister has written a memoir called Inheriting China, and it was published in 2010, and I’ll give the information so that it can be looked up. [See addendum.] So Margaret, where would you like to start?

HOLLISTER: I don’t want to start at all [both laugh].

We moved, my sons and I moved here because we had been in Montgomery County, and both of them and I were interested in a less segregated society. In those days Montgomery Country was largely white, and we just wanted a more authentic place to live. Also, I was working in the District Department of Mental Health Services. It has had various names over all these years, but that’s basically what it turned out to be. And I was based at DC General [Hospital], and therefore I was looking for something that would be close to DC General. [Note: District of Columbia Hospital was closed in 2001; in 2012, it became a family homeless shelter.] At DC General then, there was a social worker called Irv Levin, who married a French psychiatrist and, reasonably, decided he wanted to move to Paris. So he was looking around for someone to rent his house here. In those days it was really important to have control over where you lived. These were close to Vietnam [War] days, and life was pretty, um, in turmoil, and I wanted a place where I could control the entrance, so I offered to rent the house here for $125 a month.

DRISCOLL: What a bargain!

HOLLISTER: I know [chuckles]. Wait until you hear what it cost! So when he decided he wanted to move to Paris, he wanted to sell the house, not surprisingly. And there was no way I could possibly manage to buy the house, even though it was listed at $29,000. Period.


HOLLISTER: I know. So it was a hard time because I had at last found a place that my sons and I could control the entrance to, and I really did want to buy it. Fortunately, my sons have a great person who is their [paternal] grandmother—or was their grandmother—and she was an Ohio resident who didn’t want to ... was ready to give out their, what do you call it ...

DRISCOLL: Inheritance?

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Margaret Hollister Interview, June 30, 2014

HOLLISTER: ... inheritance, right. But she didn’t want to give anything directly to my son [Paul], because he was, frankly, somewhat to the left [politically] of her ...

DRISCOLL: [Chuckles]
HOLLISTER: [Chuckles] ... and she didn’t want to give him anything that he could use to overthrow

the United States government.

DRISCOLL: [Laughs]

HOLLISTER: [Chuckles] So she said, “Oh, Margaret, that’s fine, this is a real relief for me. I can give you this money.” She then promised us the money, $29,000. Fine, so we got that. Then, it needed work; in fact it didn’t really have a functioning kitchen or bathroom. It was just sort of like a little tar paper shack, actually. Somebody [Dana Danielson] came along who was interested in doing it over, doing it again, as a wooden house. He was from New England, and he was interested in having it be an authentic wooden house. And I said I’d love to do that, and so we approached Mrs. Hollister again. And she said, “Great! That will remove the money even further from my son.” [Note: Margaret means her son, Paul.] She said she would send it the following Monday. This was now Friday, and he and his wife and I gutted the house completely. It all came apart in our hands. Put it in the back yard, as it were, and waited for the money so that he could—Mr. Danielson—could start. She [Mrs. Hollister] died on Sunday night, and the money never came.

DRISCOLL: Oh. [expression of sympathy].HOLLISTER: So ...
DRISCOLL: Wow, what did you do?

HOLLISTER: Well, first of all I told Dana I was from China and I could put up a tent in the back yard, it was no problem at all. We had kept the front of the house intact, because we wanted to make it quite clear that we could come and go by the front door and all that. But the rest of it was just a shambles, I have pictures I can show you.

DRISCOLL: That would be great.
HOLLISTER: So, Dana being a total prince—and by the way, he is the husband of Deborah Danielson,

who runs ...
MCMAHON: The Forecast.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Margaret Hollister Interview, June 30, 2014

HOLLISTER: That’s right. The Forecast [women’s clothing store at 218 Seventh Street SE]. They worked on that after they finished my house. They and some friends of theirs and some friends of mine and I put the house together by our hands. It took five years.

Just to finish up this part of the story, it came finally to the point where we needed some money, not just hands and willingness and so on, but money. And Dana decided to offer it for a mortgage. The bank man came over, and at that time there was a—we were going up and down by ladder, because—well, just because, there weren’t any stairs. So I was working, and the bank man asked me, “Mrs. Hollister, I notice your house has no stairs.” I said, “That’s true. It hasn’t had [stairs] for a long time.” And he said, “Well, you know we have to have a house in trim condition in order to give a mortgage.” And I said, “Fine, yes.” He said, “Are willing to say that your house is in trim condition, without stairs?” And I said, “Yes, we’ve been using it for a long time.” And he said, “Fine.” And we got the mortgage. [Laughs]

DRISCOLL: [Laughs] That is just great.

HOLLISTER: Yeah. That’s the story, now, of the house.

DRISCOLL: How old were your boys at that time? Were they high school?

HOLLISTER: Well, I was born in 1917, let’s work it out. I would have been 40, 50, somewhere around there.

DRISCOLL: So you were around 50 and your sons were ...
HOLLISTER: They were born in 1949 and 50, so they would be near 18 around that time—high school


DRISCOLL: Uh huh. So they were helping you.

HOLLISTER: No. They were in school.

DRISCOLL: But they were helping with the carpentry on weekends?

HOLLISTER: Oh, no, no, no.


HOLLISTER: I’m afraid I came of the generation that says the children, they have to make the name for themselves in academics; we’ll do all the work. [Chuckles]


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HOLLISTER: I was working.

DRISCOLL: And you were where?

HOLLISTER: Here. That’s one reason why I know so little about the neighborhood in an intimate way, is because I worked until I was 83. And I loved it, so I really poured myself into my work rather than into the neighborhood. But there was a lot—the neighborhood when I moved in was mostly black. The Fourcades, Henriette’s family that lived next door, and I, and I think somebody over here [Margaret gestures] were the only white folks that I knew of. But the rest were all African-American I think—I’m pretty sure.

DRISCOLL: And how were relationships then?

HOLLISTER: Oh, we had neighborhood parties. My son would take the kids out to the playgrounds and play with them when he was here. It was totally different, totally different. It was a community; somebody got sick, we’d all get together. Chuck Brown, the musician, lived in a gunshot house that’s on the alley [unintelligible word.] Aretha Franklin lived a block away.


HOLLISTER: It was a whole milieu that just was ... we had not only block parties; if somebody died we all got together and went to the funeral. It has changed so much you wouldn’t believe it. You just wouldn’t believe it. I hardly know anybody anymore, and it’s mostly white now. There is a block of half- ... I don’t even like to speak in these terms, but across the alley here, that part has remained, I think, largely African-American. But we no longer ...

DRISCOLL: There aren’t the big parties.
HOLLISTER: A street party takes kids, and a lot of the kids have grown up and moved out. So, but

that’s [the reason] that we no longer have street parties. Am I responding to you?DRISCOLL: Yes, I think [unintelligible]
HOLLISTER: Am I giving you what you want?
DRISCOLL: Uh huh. What schools did your boys attend?

HOLLISTER: Wilson High School. Well, Donald was autistic, and when we first moved to this area from ... his father was a college professor and taught at Whitman College [Walla Walla, Washington]

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Margaret Hollister Interview, June 30, 2014

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Margaret Hollister Interview, June 30, 2014

way back, way back, right after the war [World War II]. And in order to get help for Donald and me, we moved East, because there wasn’t a whole lot of psychiatric help back across the mountains.

And there wasn’t a Picasso painting either.

DRISCOLL: [Chuckles]

HOLLISTER: But Donald went mostly to private school. The person who diagnosed him—and this tells you something—the person who diagnosed him was Hannah Colm when he was about two years old. She was on the board of most of the elementary schools, and she denied him entrance to the elementary schools that we applied to.

DRISCOLL: Aw [expression of sympathy]

HOLLISTER: But there was a teacher in one of them who had been a friend of my parents out on the mission field in China, and she admitted him to her school. You asked what schools, and this is the answer.


HOLLISTER: Finally he got some help and attended Woodrow Wilson [High School]. Graduated from Woodrow Wilson. Then Paul also went to Woodrow Wilson, graduated barefoot—I think it was 1968. Everybody was barefoot then.

DRISCOLL: [Chuckles] I remember I had a son who ...HOLLISTER: You remember those days.DRISCOLL: I do.

HOLLISTER: How did we survive? How did we survive? Anyway, therefore they graduated and then Donald went to Oberlin and graduated there in 1972. Paul—well, I can’t say he went to college, he went to Antioch. [Laughs] [Coughs]

DRISCOLL: Do you want to take a break?

HOLLISTER: It’s going to continue, I’m sorry. [Note: referring to her coughing] I decided to keep this [interview appointment] anyway because we’ve been back and forth so many times. Sorry. Oh, that came on the tape, didn’t it?

DRISCOLL: It’s okay. That’s okay.

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HOLLISTER: I’ll try to be more aware.

DRISCOLL: Please ... [Please don’t worry.] So you didn’t know much about the schools around here then. [Note: Woodrow Wilson High School in the northwest quadrant of the District.] But you got involved with the library?

HOLLISTER: Oh, at that time Woodrow Wilson was a feeder school for the Ivy League.


HOLLISTER: It really was. And it was excellent, an excellent school. So I never even gave it a thought. We were in the northwest section of the city, because I had started out in Bethesda [unintelligible] and we moved into DC again because we preferred the less-segregated society.

DRISCOLL: So your sons have grown up with a strong commitment towards inter-racial justice?HOLLISTER: Not Donald, the autistic one. He voted for Nixon. Twice.
DRISCOLL: [Laughs]

HOLLISTER: [Laughs] Paul, on the other hand, was way over to the left. You can’t get ... Mrs. Hollister was quite right. Ah, he was with the, I can’t remember the name of it now, one of the far left groups.

DRISCOLL: Student Nonviolent Coordinating ...?HOLLISTER: Pardon me?
DRISCOLL: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee?HOLLISTER: Oh no. Continue left.

[Both laugh]
DRISCOLL: Wow. Okay.
HOLLISTER: What was it? It was the RCP–Revolutionary Communist Party.DRISCOLL: Oh, wow.

HOLLISTER: But he wasn’t a communist. I used to go to their meetings and they were really like Quaker-led meetings. They were very, very ... “We’re all going to do this, we’re going to do it together, da da da.” He and his then-wife were strongly committed to all sorts of justice. They were in a scary time,

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Margaret Hollister Interview, June 30, 2014

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Margaret Hollister Interview, June 30, 2014

when they made a march on Washington and they were caught in Lafayette Park. He came to my front door all battered up and bloody. I said, “Go on to the hospital.” He said, “If I go to the hospital, I’ll be arrested.” These were different days. Sarah [Paul’s daughter] by that time was already born; they parked the child with me. Sarah was nursing her—her mother was nursing her. And I just kept on hoping they would be okay, because, you know ... Anyway, that’s not what you asked. But it was part of the atmosphere of being here.

DRISCOLL: Absolutely.
HOLLISTER: That atmosphere was repeated, of course, when the Martin Luther King thing

[assassination] happened ...DRISCOLL: Um hm.

HOLLISTER: ... and we had to drive with our lights on and all that stuff. I was by that time working at DC General. Are we still ... ?

DRISCOLL: Yeah. This is, this is just fine. It’s important to know those were tense days, and to know about the tensions but also about the release from the tension and what was going well.

HOLLISTER: I don’t remember anything going very well. [Chuckles]DRISCOLL: Well, what were the other things going wrong?

HOLLISTER: I do think we were much more aware ... Of course, [for] those of us who’ve been raised overseas, international news is prime. It’s really, it’s on a level with local news as far as impact is concerned and necessity is concerned. Those were really, really upsetting days. 1968, Chicago [Democratic National Convention]. I don’t need to say anything anymore about that. But the neighborhood was really electric. Now, when I first moved here and decided to buy here, there were—the real estate person told me that there was a murder a year on Eighth Street and did I want to move into that neighborhood. Sure! You know, that’s where social workers belong. [Chuckles] But then on the four corners of Eighth and E [Streets SE] there were four bars. I think three of them were gay ... oh, you know this. Maybe four ...

DRISCOLL: I don’t know.

HOLLISTER: ... and the push in the neighborhood was to close them down, because they were wild. Just at night it was really wild. And slowly they closed. When 7-11 moved in, that stabilized the neighborhood. [Chuckles] But mostly it was a case of just things happening. There wasn’t any particular

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Margaret Hollister Interview, June 30, 2014

move to have white folks move in or black folks move out. It was just, people moved and then somebody else moved in. I can’t explain it, it was just pedestrian.

HOLLISTER: It was what life was, and you didn’t bother with any great movements, at least in this

DRISCOLL: And you were pretty much comfortable here with the boys? Did you feel safe?HOLLISTER: I’m never sure you’re comfortable with teenage boys.
DRISCOLL: [Chuckles] Well, apart from that.

HOLLISTER: But I know what you mean. I had gotten what I thought was most important, I had control of my front door. That was what was really important. During the Vietnam War years, partly because of my sons and partly because of my own interest, I was a safe house for medical supplies and also for protestors. The FBI had a little stand right across the way where that house is now and kept a watch on my front door, I was told by various people. At one point when the protestors were really kind of having a hard time—a lot of them were jailed—I put the house up as security for them to get out of jail.

HOLLISTER: It was a fluid time, when what mattered was ... [Voice in background, maybe McMahon’s, says something inaudible.]

HOLLISTER: That’s a good question, I shouldn’t have started that out. What mattered was justice, and where you were going, and how did you live. And of course I was all this time a social worker for the District. And oh man, how I loved that position. I miss it every minute.

DRISCOLL: What especially did you love about being a social worker? What things attracted you especially?

HOLLISTER: Well, my folks were missionaries and I had turned away from that early on. I never did, probably, believe in that way of life. What did I love about being a social worker? You know, I don’t think anybody’s ever asked me that.

DRISCOLL: It’s a tough question. I know for myself, being able to help people find a way around their problems, or to solve them and to get back on a better footing, is one of the things; to feel useful.

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HOLLISTER: I didn’t have anything as noble as that.DRISCOLL: [Laughs]

HOLLISTER: I didn’t! Originally I wanted to be a psychologist because of the power, I wanted power ...

HOLLISTER: ... and social workers don’t have ... in those days, did not have power.DRISCOLL: [Chuckles] They still don’t.

HOLLISTER: I guess not. And then I found out that the psych labs were all in the afternoon, and I had to be home for Donald, because nobody else could be there when ... He wasn’t wildly autistic, he just was not there. So let me see, you asked that question. What I liked about it was just being able to respect people, I think that’s what it was.


HOLLISTER: It was always my contention that their problems were their property—that you could not steal anything from them by taking over their problems and saying, “You should do this, you should do that.” Never.

DRISCOLL: I agree.

HOLLISTER: I thought I would ... I always felt that it was, uh, it was who they were, not who I was, that was the issue when they walked in. It made them furious, it made them furious. They’d say, “You’re supposed to tell me—I’m in trouble—you’re supposed to tell me ...” And I said, “Look, you know, you’ve lived this so far, it would be arrogant in the extreme for me, knowing you for five minutes, to tell you anything.” I, I got along well, mostly, with that sort of thinking.

DRISCOLL: Um hm. I would think.

HOLLISTER: Then I worked in Georgetown for a long time. First at DC General, then when DC set up its mental health clinics, one was in Georgetown, and the doctor I worked with asked me to come with him to Georgetown. And I was there for about 20 years. Then I had really apotheosis; he left, and a lot of us left with him, but I moved over to Spring Road. You remember Spring Road?

DRISCOLL: That’s a fancy, classic DC mental hospital [mental health clinic].

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Margaret Hollister Interview, June 30, 2014

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HOLLISTER: Inner-city stuff.

DRISCOLL: Inner-city DC mental health clinic that had the best of the staffing and the best services.

HOLLISTER: Spring Road?

DRISCOLL: Yeah. From Georgetown child psychiatry, if we couldn’t treat the family or the person, we would refer to Spring Road.

HOLLISTER: It had lost that gloss by the time I went over there.DRISCOLL: It had been really, really great.

HOLLISTER: I guess perhaps the reason I love social work was that you dealt with real things. You didn’t deal with just concepts or power stations or tables of organization or something. You simply dealt with people who might have been dispossessed half an hour before you saw them. You know, it was just exhilarating.

HOLLISTER: But there’s always a problem: Why should other people be in trouble for you to feel

good? I had a lot of trouble with that.

DRISCOLL: That’s, that’s a real issue for any social worker worth her salt.

HOLLISTER: Pardon me?

DRISCOLL: That’s a real issue for any social worker who’s going to be a good one. You have to consider that, and come to some conclusions.

HOLLISTER: Yeah, well, it’s not a very firm basis for service.DRISCOLL: No.

HOLLISTER: I mean, “You’ll be in trouble and I’m dandy, I’m doing what I want to do.” I’ve never just resolved that, really. Except I’ve assumed that the mental health clinics, which have a strong emphasis on privacy and respect now, I think they were the cutting edge of that a little bit. In other words, people ask for the services on their own, they don’t have to be referred.

HOLLISTER: Now about the neighborhood.

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Margaret Hollister Interview, June 30, 2014

page 11


HOLLISTER: The thing that I think has happened—and I’ve given it a good deal of thought, because lately, after finishing that [her book?], I’ve been extremely lonely, very lonely, living in a house. What I would love to have—to belong to is a commune—you know, where several older folks would get together—and people have, including Nicky [Cymrot] have suggested, you know, one should join ... what is it called?

DRISCOLL: Capitol Hill Village.
HOLLISTER: Capitol Hill Village. I won’t do it. And the reason is that that it costs $800 a year ...DRISCOLL: I don’t think that ...
HOLLISTER: ... for a single person.
DRISCOLL: I don’t think it costs quite that much for a single person.
DRISCOLL: I don’t think so. I think that’s for a couple.
HOLLISTER: How much would it be for single person?
MCMAHON: Maybe $550.

HOLLISTER: Well, that makes it a little bit more reasonable. I was told $800. And it just seemed to me that almost all the work that’s done in it is volunteer. So why would you be paying $800 for what volunteers are doing?

DRISCOLL: Well, I think there are staff social workers, and there’s a staff executive director; and they are raising money to help poor people have scholarship memberships so that’s it’s a more integrated group. It’s not all well-off white people, it’s pretty reasonably integrated. I know several people from our parish who belong and who are very happily there. And there’s no discrimination; nobody knows who’s on scholarship and who isn’t. I think the services are really good that they provide. They also have student interns, both from Catholic University School of Social Work and University of Maryland School of Social Work. I have been, as my contribution to the Village, I’ve been supervising ...


Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Margaret Hollister Interview, June 30, 2014

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Margaret Hollister Interview, June 30, 2014


DRISCOLL: I think the Village has been helpful to us. We’re full members. And it also gives young people a chance to help their elders. We had a very sturdy young man come and help dig out a fig tree in our back yard that was starting to take over. It had lovely figs, when the squirrels didn’t get them; but we couldn’t get it up, it was ruining all the other plantings. We tried. And this young man came with his strong arms, and he brought some tools and used ours and had it out of there in an hour and a half. We had been working on it and made very small progress. And he was so grateful to be able to help. I think that’s a good thing. And we had somebody’s grandson who was home from college come and do some light fixtures up high outside that we couldn’t get to. And he was so happy to help.

And then I think of the social work interns who are working there. They’re working with tough people who have real needs; it may be alcohol or health or movement or mental health stuff, and they’re doing really important work for those people. And then there are people at a different level who don’t need that intense work, but there are volunteers whom the social work staff train to do sort of intermediate services. As part of the training, I give a little talk on confidentiality, which people—because that really worries me in a small closed group.


DRISCOLL: I really jump up and down about the need for confidentiality. And people who have taken the course have afterwards come up to me and said, “Thank you, that was really, really helpful.” So I think they’re trying to do the right thing, and they’re trying to get the right level of care for the people who need more than we do at this point. So I think they’re trying to do the right thing, and I think it’s worth it. But I can understand ...

HOLLISTER: That $500 a year times 300—I understand there are about 300 members—that comes up to $150,000 a year.

HOLLISTER: That’s what gets me.
DRISCOLL: Yeah. Well, rent and reasonable salaries, and ...HOLLISTER: Well, I don’t mean to be such a down person on it, it’s just ...DRISCOLL: Yeah.

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HOLLISTER: ... it doesn’t seem fair. But at one level it is, and I—but it’s a personal decision, that’s all.DRISCOLL: Yeah. And I agree some [unintelligible]

HOLLISTER: But you’re right, loneliness goes with it, that kind of stand. However—was there something else that ...?

DRISCOLL: Well, about the [Southeast] library. I understand you got very involved with the ...HOLLISTER: Well, I was president ...
DRISCOLL: You were president?
HOLLISTER: ... of the Friends of the Library.

DRISCOLL: Oh, when did that happen?

HOLLISTER: I came here in the 70s and immediately started to volunteer at the library. We didn’t have libraries in China, and I just couldn’t believe the wealth of it and all the excitement of it, and all of that. And at college [Wellesley] I had been a volunteer for the college library and ended up as a cataloguer. So I really have always, it’s been a Magnetic North for me, a library. So I started volunteering and then, at that time the Library Board was very powerful, very powerful, and it met once a month. And slowly I began to attend wherever it met. It met in different libraries around the place. Our library had just one person who was running it. She was someone who finally killed herself.


HOLLISTER: She was very intense, very interested, but didn’t want anybody else working with her. So finally it didn’t work out that she was going to be able to do it, and Janet McGregor, who was still the treasurer of the Friends, and somebody whose name I absolutely cannot remember—I meant to call Janet before you came and ask. [These statements most likely refer to Bill DeCosta, who was a librarian at SE Library at the time being discussed.] He was a courtly man who married a much younger wife, and he was always over there, and we, the three of us, actually—I speak immodestly, I know, but it’s true—we sort of kept it going, running, you know, with the book sales and the representation at the board, and the Friends of Martin Luther King [Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, the DC library system’s central facility]. I was chairman simply because Janet had a job and—what was his name?—had a wife, and I was still sort of freelancing around the place. I had a job, but I had had energy, that’s what I had. So, we kept it going for about three or four years, five years maybe, just the three of us. And then Janet, who is nothing if not the kind of friend who will say the truth when it needs to be said, approached Neil

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[Gregory], who by that time was also a volunteer, and said, “You know, we need somebody who knows what he’s, what she’s doing; will you become the president please? [Laughs] I loved that, I just loved that. So he became the president. Since that time it’s ... different groups take different goals, and it has greatly increased. There are about 150 members, at least, now—


HOLLISTER: ... in the Friends of the Southeast [Library], and they’re doing a lot of exciting stuff. Classes for infants, they read to infants. My, my heart seems to be in a different place, so although ... and I can’t hear anymore. In a group, you know, you look to see who’s speaking, you know. [Chuckles]

HOLLISTER: And Neil has been a perfect host, he’s always kept me informed and everything. But

there’s a different direction now. So I don’t really go over there that much. I go over there to ...DRISCOLL: But didn’t you achieve some kind of accomplishment?
HOLLISTER: Well, to the extent that there’s a toilet that flushes. [Laughs]
DRISCOLL: That’s pretty big!

HOLLISTER: What happened was that we were still marching along in this 1922 building, and the bathrooms were rotting and they were redolent. In fact, it got to the point where patrons were not coming to this library because they couldn’t go to the bathroom. They weren’t bringing their children because they would not take their children to the bathroom.

HOLLISTER: The stench was terrible, you could see the boards rotting underneath.DRISCOLL: Ugh.
HOLLISTER: Yeah. I went to the Board every single meeting.
DRISCOLL: To the big Library Board downtown.

HOLLISTER: Yeah. At one point I said, “You know, I’m urging Friends of the various libraries, any Friend who’s planning to come to the Friends of the Library at Southeast, to invite their Friends to have a lot of coffee before they come. I did. I did, at the Board.

DRISCOLL: [Laughs]

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Margaret Hollister Interview, June 30, 2014

HOLLISTER: Then it got to the point where the president of the board was pretty angry with me and she said—I would get up to speak and she’d say, “I’ll recognize you if you have anything worth saying.”

DRISCOLL: Ooo [expression of sympathy]. But that didn’t stop you.HOLLISTER: Well, no, because the bathrooms still smelled.
[Both laugh]

HOLLISTER: In China, the smell of a bathroom is with you everywhere, so it was ironic. It was ironic. I’m not sure, I guess I have that reputation now. But what we did, what we did do was to ... one of the things I was after—I guess you’re catching something of a trend in this—the Friends of the Library are almost entirely white and they’re almost entirely older. Where are all these young folks? What’s happening is that people are bringing their children there, they’re bringing it for the children—which is good—but they’re not building, you know, for the people who are teaching the children, who are living with them, who are bringing them up, who are doing all these things. It’s almost entirely white. And it’s not that I’m anti-white, I mean ... [Laughs]

DRISCOLL: No, that’s hardly—

HOLLISTER: We’ve been useful in our time, but ... I’m not sure what you do, without being patronizing. Now, of course the staff in the library are black. I don’t mean, I don’t want to come over as this sort of one-note kind of person. I guess I am. You look around in any given group you’re in and look around and see whether or not there are black folks in there.

DRISCOLL: I think a lot of people of a certain age do that.HOLLISTER: Really?
HOLLISTER: What do you mean by that?

DRISCOLL: I certainly notice the racial composition of things, of groups.HOLLISTER: Do you? [addressed to McMahon]

HOLLISTER: May I ask you why? You’re not a social worker. May I ask you why it’s important? That’s not fair, that’s not fair. This is a public tape. I’m sorry. I withdraw it.

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DRISCOLL: [Chuckles]
HOLLISTER: I’m sorry.
DRISCOLL: We can discuss that afterwards.MCMAHON: I’m not part of the [interview].

DRISCOLL: We can talk about that after. But I think, I think people of our generation, and I count myself with you—there are only 10 years’ difference, or 12—and I think it was very important to us that there be justice, inter-racial justice. It was part of what was important, and I think we’ve passed ...

HOLLISTER: Well, it was dramatic.
DRISCOLL: And I think we’ve passed that on to our kids, because I think they notice and they’re doing

what they can where they can.
HOLLISTER: Well, part of it was that it was all around us.
HOLLISTER: You know, now it’s not quite so visible. But there it was so visible.DRISCOLL: Yeah. Yeah.
HOLLISTER: They couldn’t go to movies, they couldn’t ...
DRISCOLL: Yeah, or to the theater, they had to be in the upstairs balcony.HOLLISTER: If they got in at all.

DRISCOLL: I remember interviewing an older black woman who described having to go to the up, up, up balcony at the National Theater and how awful that made her feel, that she was not allowed to go in and be closer to the stage. She was a teacher, and certainly was literate and knew about the plays but—she felt awful.

HOLLISTER: The problem I have with this is the virtue of it. There’s no virtue in it. There’s absolutely no virtue. You should not be accumulating, you know, credits for feeling this way, and yet it creeps in.


Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Margaret Hollister Interview, June 30, 2014

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Margaret Hollister Interview, June 30, 2014

HOLLISTER: It creeps in. You feel better because you feel this way. Shit [strikes table with hand], that’s not where it’s at at all. You know, it’s ... it even feels virtuous to say what it is, which is [that] we’re simply all here by accident, and to get it ... I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

DRISCOLL: No, I think you’re right on target and that’s important, that’s an important issue that you’ve lived your life around.

HOLLISTER: Yes, but you shouldn’t feel virtuous.DRISCOLL: No, I understand that.
HOLLISTER: There should be no credit for it.DRISCOLL: Um hm.

HOLLISTER: And I run into this credit thing all the time. It’s just, why can’t you just be an ordinary person and feel that this ...

DRISCOLL: And be just?
HOLLISTER: ... is where it’s at. Okay, that’s fine, I’ve ... my sermon is over.

DRISCOLL: [Laughs] Could you tell us more about what it’s like living so close to what is now the Hill Center, that was the war and the veterans, state warden ... [Old Naval Hospital, half a block from Margaret’s home]

HOLLISTER: Well, it was a number of things. It also became, you know—what was it called, WIC? Women and something?

DRISCOLL: Women and Children?
HOLLISTER: Yes, Women and Children. [Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women,

Infants, and Children]. I’m not sure I should get into that [issue of the Hill Center].DRISCOLL: Why?

HOLLISTER: I attended all the neighborhood meetings, the ANC [Advisory Neighborhood Commission] meetings, and to be utterly truthful with you, they were an arrogant bunch. It took 10 years before they sort of became accepted, but they used to come to the meetings and they would sit with their backs to the rest of us, testifying to the commissioners, which is okay. But the rest of us had concerns— parking, safety, what was going to happen to the businesses that were already here.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Margaret Hollister Interview, June 30, 2014

The parking is wild, because the wait staff for all these restaurants, they come and they come during, when the restaurants are opening up, around noon, around 11:30 or noon. By that time all the parking is taken up by people working for the Hill Center, and all the various classes and the students that are coming in—which is good, but these people have been parking here for years and they don’t know [no?] place.

But I think the main thing I experienced, along with a number of other people who live around here, was nobody talked to us. I went and talked to Diana [Ingraham, executive director of the Hill Center] about it; I went in and asked her for an interview and told her, you know, what my neighbors and I had experienced when they first came in. She was very sweet about it, but she said, “We didn’t know that.”

I think that’s as far as I want to go with that. There was a lot of, “Hell, why didn’t they talk to us?” kind of feeling. All we needed was, “We have this in mind; we understand there’s going to be a problem with parking. We’re sorry about it. If you have any ideas, we’ll gladly listen to them.” There wasn’t any of that, you know. I don’t have a car, and so I’m not ... But you’d be surprised at how angry people were around here when they found out what the Hill Center was planning to do.


HOLLISTER: But I’m only, you asked me for what I know, and that is only what I know. On the other hand, I’m sure there are a lot of people here who are happy to have the classes and, as you point out, the community feeling about it. I wish that they would have more things outside so there would be people around there and there wouldn’t be just this tall, elegant building. Maybe when they open the restaurant, there will be more people milling around.

DRISCOLL: Yeah. I hope. But that’ll be ...
HOLLISTER: You remember, I’m only one person, and I am not an engaged person because I’ve been

working until, until my early 80s—so I didn’t really invest in the neighborhood a lot.

DRISCOLL: You invested enough to get a working toilet in the library. That’s pretty invested.

HOLLISTER: A working bathroom?

DRISCOLL: Um hm. How did you finally get them to provide the funding or whatever to make the bathrooms?

HOLLISTER: I think I just irritated them. They just wanted to shut me up. Every time—you know, every board meeting I would get up. Somehow I’ve acquired a reputation I really don’t want.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Margaret Hollister Interview, June 30, 2014

DRISCOLL: [Laughs]
HOLLISTER: My own bathroom is no model of cleanliness upstairs. I don’t care about bathrooms. [Both laugh]

HOLLISTER: It’s just [that] people stopped coming to the library because they couldn’t go to the bathroom. And now I think it’s probably they’re stars of the library, these two bathrooms are. They’re gorgeous.

DRISCOLL: I don’t think I’ve been in; I’ll have to go check. [Chuckles]HOLLISTER: Go check, yeah.
DRISCOLL: I will, and think of you. Are there any other things that you’d like to ...HOLLISTER: Get us a vote!

HOLLISTER: Get us a vote. It just riles me. Anybody who comes here to stay—you know, people came

and stay with you if you’re in the District ...DRISCOLL: Yes.

HOLLISTER: ... and they have to go back and get in touch with their representative. God, how wealthy they are, that they have a representative who can talk!

DRISCOLL: Who can speak.
HOLLISTER: And you’re right, none of them acknowledge knowing that this is the case.DRISCOLL: Um hm. Yeah.

HOLLISTER: Which just shows the depth of [unintelligible - possibly “idiocy”]. I guess I’m still ... I love the city. I just plain love the city. So ... I loved Peking, that I grew up in, and maybe I’m just tender about capital cities. They get blamed for so much that goes on in the country, and we’re just an ordinary city, basically.

DRISCOLL: That’s true.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Margaret Hollister Interview, June 30, 2014

HOLLISTER: You know, we’re just ... We have dry cleaners, we have people who have the dry cleaning, and we have cops, we... I remember my pride, enormous pride –the first black policeman. You remember?

HOLLISTER: I was driving, and he told me to turn left. I turned left!
DRISCOLL: [Laughs]
HOLLISTER: Really exciting.
DRISCOLL: Great. Great.
HOLLISTER: I’m sorry, I’m really not giving you, I think, what you might look for.DRISCOLL: No, I think this is, this is really interesting.
HOLLISTER: It is what it is.

DRISCOLL: Uh huh. I think I have a memory, an early memory, of a black policeman too. I was ... a thousand years ago I was—in 1955—I was in The Skin of Our Teeth, which was a Thornton Wilder play at the National [Theater], and we had gone to Paris with Helen Hayes and Mary Martin, George Abbott. I was the Baby Mammoth [Wooly Mammoth], and the Dinosaur—we got put out into the Ice Age to make room for Moses and the Prophets—and so I was in first act, really, and then ... I was in this mammoth suit and had to be helped in it and zipped in, and—it was hard to get into—and here in Washington they do extras for the second act. And one guy was helping me and he said, “You know, Pat, I’ve got this friend, he’s short and he’s Irish and he’s Catholic and you’ll really like him.” And I said, “Some other time.” He had a party that the lowly members of the cast went, not the stars, and coming back at 2:00 or 3:00 am—we were leaving for Chicago to put on the play the next morning—and the Dinosaur, the woman who played the Dinosaur, was a black woman named Viney Burrows, with whom we’ve kept in touch. And we were driving from Virginia by Lincoln Memorial, and she said, “I’ve never seen it. I really would like to.” So at 2:30 [am] we park in front of the Lincoln Memorial and start walking up the steps, and this black guard comes down. He must have been the only black Park Service guy in town. He said, “No, no, it’s closed.” And Viney said, “Oh, but the Great Emancipator, I’ve never seen this and we’re leaving early tomorrow morning and I’ll never—”. He said, “Ditch the car,” and he turned the lights on for us for about a minute and a half or two minutes—it was amazing—probably at risk of his job. And then he said, “Get out of here!” [laughs] and we left. And that’s the man I ended up marrying, who was driving, driving us home. So I have positive memories about the Park Police.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Margaret Hollister Interview, June 30, 2014

HOLLISTER: I didn’t mention to you my part in music. I joined, I joined the—MCMAHON: We’re about five minutes from the end of the tape.HOLLISTER: Oh, never mind then.
MCMAHON: No, please, we can always start—we’ve got more tape.DRISCOLL: Lots more tapes. Do, do.

HOLLISTER: It’s not worth it.
HOLLISTER: I played for the DC Community Orchestra, a cello for many years ...DRISCOLL: Oh really.
HOLLISTER: ... and I learned that at age 62. I just wanted people to know that they can do that.DRISCOLL: That’s important.

HOLLISTER: They can do that. You can just turn around and get a member of the DC—of the National Symphony to give you lessons; the next thing you know, you’re in the Washington, DC, Community Orchestra.

HOLLISTER: It’s right there, the cello’s right there. [Gestures]DRISCOLL: That’s amazing.

HOLLISTER: I know. So that’s part of what being part of this neighborhood meant, that you could just do anything and being part of ... I don’t know, I guess what you’ve reminded me of is how much I love this city—the city, not the country, the city.

DRISCOLL: And that’s a good way to end.HOLLISTER: Thank you so much for doing this.DRISCOLL: Thank you.


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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Margaret Hollister Interview, June 30, 2014


Inheriting China, Margaret Hollister’s book about her early life in China as the daughter of missionary parents, is available as a paperback from,,, Search those sites by title or author for purchasing information.

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