Born in the 1930s, the youngest in a large family, Rosetta recalls a childhood in which the U.S Capitol served as a playground and her family watched as parades formed nearly in front of their house. Her descriptions of Washington in her early life include references to segregated seating in the rear of St. Peter’s Church, where she later became an active member. Among her many jobs, Rosetta operated elevators at Kann’s and Garfinkels department stores where she was able to circumvent restrictions on whites-only dressing rooms. Rosetta has rich memories of neighborhood stores and activities near her home, on First Street SE and Pennyslvania Avenue SE, as well as the streecar system she used to get to stores and entertainment on U Street NW.
Interview with Rosetta Hall Hamm
Interview Date: April 12, 2019
Interviewer: Mary Ann Wyrsch
Transcriber: David MacKinnon
photo by Judith May
START OF INTERVIEW
WYRSCH: Today is an interview of Rosetta Hall Hamm of Washington DC. Today is April 12, 2019. It is 3:00 in the afternoon. Rosetta is being interviewed at my home on South Carolina Avenue. My name is Mary Ann Wyrsch. I am the interviewer.
HAMM: Thank you.
WYRSCH: Rosetta let’s start at the beginning. Where were you born and in what year?
HAMM: I was born in Washington DC June 21st 1932.
WYRSCH: Where were you born? Do you remember the hospital?
HAMM: No, I do not remember the hospital. I don’t know where it was. I think was a women’s hospital, but I don’t know the name of it.
WYRSCH: Can you tell me a little about your family? Who were your parents and where did they come from?
HAMM: My parents were Robert and Beatrice Hall. My mother’s maiden name was Brown. My father was born in Maryland and my mother was born in Washington, DC.
WYRSCH: How did they meet?
HAMM: I have no idea.
WYRSCH: Where were you in the family? Do you have brothers and sisters?
HAMM: I was the eighth child of my parents. The sister before me passed before I was born.
WYRSCH: How many boys, how many girls?
HAMM: Three boys and three girls.
WYRSCH: And you were the last one?
WYRSCH: I see, Okay.
HAMM: I was the youngest.
WYRSCH: Where did your parents live when you were born?
HAMM: At 406 South Capitol Street SE.
WYRSCH: How long did you live there?
HAMM: I lived there until I was 13 years old.
WYRSCH: Tell me a little bit about what your father did for a living.
HAMM: My father worked at the Navy Yard for 47 years. He never worked any other place.
WYRSCH: What did he do there?
HAMM: He was a laborer and then he became an assistant to the commandant as a delivery person.
WYRSCH: Tell me a little bit about your mom.
HAMM: My mom; the first job that I knew that she had was a housekeeper for the band master at the Army War College. His name was Hubner.
WYRSCH: She was a housekeeper in addition to raising seven children?
HAMM: Yes, seven children. Actually, when she got that job most of her children were grown with the exception of maybe three of us.
WYRSCH: So, you lived at 406 South Capitol Street SE and you lived there until you were 13. Did your parents own their home or were you renting the home?
HAMM: No, they rented their home.
WYRSCH: When did you move to Capitol Hill?
HAMM: We lived on Capitol Hill all our lives.
WYRSCH: I mean, when did you move from South Capitol Street and where did you move?
HAMM: I was still on Capitol Hill. I moved from there to 107 E Street SE.
WYRSCH: You have lived at 107 E Street since you were 13?
HAMM: I was 13—until the time I got married which was in 1956 for about two years. And then I came back to 107 E Street. Right.
WYRSCH: So, you’ve been on E Street a long time.
WYRSCH: Why did your parents move to 107 E Street?
HAMM: Because the rental agency wanted his home, which he wanted to sell.
WYRSCH: So then your parents moved to 107 E Street.
WYRSCH: Were you one of the only children that moved with them, or did the whole family move?
HAMM: No. My sister who was about six years older than me, we moved to that residence.
WYRSCH: And your father was still working at the Navy Yard and your mother was working then too?
HAMM: Yes. But she was working for the government at that time. She was a supervisor and she worked at several buildings. Her headquarters were in the State Department. She was a supervisor of four other buildings in that area.
WYRSCH: What kind of work did she do?
HAMM: She was a supervisor of industrial cleaners.
WYRSCH: I see, but she was involved in a number of buildings.
HAMM: Which came under the agency which she worked for.
WYRSCH: What was life like on E Street when you moved there as a 13 year old?
HAMM: When I moved it was predominately black, African American, when we moved on E Street. As a matter of fact, most of the area was African American with the exception, maybe, of a couple of blocks which were sort of integrated.
WYRSCH: Where did you go to school when you were in grade school and then in high school?
HAMM: I went to Bell grade school, which now is a government building. It was in the Southwest area, where I cannot remember. [George Bell School originally at First Street SW, between B and C Streets, then Second and D Street SW in 1933; named for co-founder, in 1807, of the first school in the District for free black students]. Then I went to …
WYRSCH: When you were in high school where did you go?
HAMM: I want to narrate to you that I went to several schools. I went to Saint Vincent de Paul, which was a Catholic school. I went to Saint Francis Academy in Baltimore. I went to Randall Junior High in DC, and I graduated from Margaret Murray Washington in Northwest Washington in 1951.
WYRSCH: Was that an African American school, that school, Margaret Murray Washington School?
WYRSCH: Where was it in Northwest?
HAMM: It’s on, off of North Capitol Street, but I can’t remember exactly the street.
WYRSCH: Is it still there now?
HAMM: Yes, but it’s not a school. I don’t know. It’s something else now. I don’t know what it is.
[The Wikipedia entry for the school says the main block of the school was opened in 1912 as the O Street Vocational School, at 27 O Street NW. It was it was designed by District of Columbia Municipal Architect Snowden Ashford. The school was renamed for Margaret Murray Washington, the wife of Booker T. Washington, in 1926. She had been a leader of several black feminist organizations and the anti-lynching movement. The curriculum provided “manual training for boys and domestic science and art for girls.” Nursing was added during World War II and it was accredited afterwards. The school offered instruction to students at area elementary schools as well as high-school-age students who made up its student body. The building was one of many schools closed in 2008 as part of budget cutting measure. In 2012, work began to turn the school into a senior housing which opened in 2013 as the 82 apartment House of Lebanon.]
WYRSCH: So you went to Saint Francis Academy in Baltimore, which other interviewees have discussed that as a Catholic School for African-American girls. So you went there for a little while?
HAMM: I went there for about four years. Then when I came back I went back to Saint Vincent de Paul. And I graduated from there. I went to Randall for one year, graduated from there.
WYRSCH: That was a middle school, Randall.
HAMM: Right, right. And then I went to Margaret Murray Washington, which I graduated from there.
WYRSCH: The whole time, like when you graduated from high school, you were on E Street, so you were always on E Street …
HAMM: Right, right
WYRSCH: going to schools in Baltimore, wherever?
HAMM: No, when I was going to Saint Francis I was on South Capitol Street.
WYRSCH: As you were younger.
HAMM: When I moved to E Street, 107 E Street, I was going to Randall Junior High. Then when I graduated from there that’s when I went to Margaret Washington. I was going there for the whole time that I lived on E Street SE.
WYRSCH: What did you study in high school?
HAMM: We didn’t have anything specific, but my trade was household operation. It was like household management. It was a trade school.
WYRSCH: It was a trade school. Was it only for girls or were boys there?
HAMM: No, it was for students, it was a high school as well as a trade school for grownups, or adults, let’s put it that way.
WYRSCH: Your focus was home operations management?
HAMM: Yes, yes.
WYRSCH: What did you do after that?
HAMM: While I was there they had a program where students that were in household management had an opportunity to try other jobs, which I did. It was a job in a tearoom on 17th Street NW. I went there in 1950. And from 1950 off and on, I worked there for like 20 years as a waitress. I had other jobs, but I would go back and work, like on weekends for them because where I worked I didn’t work on Saturdays and Sundays, so I would work at the tea room.
WYRSCH: Tell me where was it on 17th Street?
HAMM: It was on 1716 17th Street NW.
WYRSCH: What was the name of it?
HAMM: It was Mrs. Connelly’s Tea Room
WYRSCH: Tell me what other kinds of jobs you did.
HAMM: I worked at three different department stores as an elevator operator. I worked at Kann’s, Lansburgh’s, and Garfinkel’s.
WYRSCH: Kann’s would be K-A-N-N-S?
HAMM: Which is no longer there. None of them are there anymore.
WYRSCH: Like Lansburgh’s and Garfinkel’s.
HAMM: Well, Lansburgh’s was the first one. Then in went to Kann’s and then I went to Garfinkel’s. When I left there, as I’ve said, I’ve had many jobs. I’ve worked in two office buildings. One was a medical building and one was called the Albemarle Office Building; as an elevator operator in all of those buildings.
WYRSCH: We’ll talk about jobs in a minute, but what I want to ask you is, you married and had children, when was that? When did you marry?
HAMM: I got married in 1956.
WYRSCH: How did you meet your husband?
HAMM: We worked at the same store together, department store together.
WYRSCH: Kann’s, Lansburgh’s?
WYRSCH: What did he do?
HAMM: He did odd jobs of things in the building.
WYRSCH: Then you had children.
WYRSCH: Tell me about your children.
HAMM: My oldest son is Derrick. My daughter, my younger one, is Angela.
WYRSCH: How far apart in age are they?
HAMM: Thirteen years between the two of them.
WYRSCH: What did your husband’s family do?
HAMM: I didn’t know too much about his family. I knew his mother, but I didn’t really know them that well. When we got married we lived with an aunt of his.
WYRSCH: Where did you live?
HAMM: On Randolph Street NW. I don’t remember too much about that because that was so many years back and we lived with her for a while. Then I lived with my brother for a while because after, because we only had that one room. Later we found an apartment off of Benning Road NE. We were there for eight or nine years.
WYRSCH: And with your son.
HAMM: Right. And then we lived with another aunt of his and then Angela was born. Then not long after that we separated.
WYRSCH: So, you were married 15 years?
HAMM: Or more, right.
WYRSCH: You mentioned that you lived at 107 E Street and then went back to 107 E Street. When did you go back?
HAMM: I guess it was back in—Angela was born in ’70, about ’72. Seventy one or ’72.
WYRSCH: So you moved back into your parents’ home.
HAMM: That’s right.
WYRSCH: And have been there ever since.
HAMM: Ever since, yes.
WYRSCH: The entire time that you were married, after you got out of high school then you married, you were working all these jobs. The elevator operator jobs and so on and so forth. Did you ever stay at home or were you always working?
HAMM: Always working. We had to work to make ends meet.
WYRSCH: Of all the jobs you had, what was most memorable to you? You told me at one time you worked at the Government Printing Office.
HAMM: That particular period that you asked me about which was my married period. When I worked at these other places, that was after my divorce. That’s when I worked at various other jobs. In 1969 I worked at Craftsman Press which was a bindery in Maryland. After that, I worked there for six years, and then I went to the Government Printing Office. I worked there for 11 years as a bindery worker.
WYRSCH: You were off of Capitol Hill and then back on Capitol Hill, but what are your memories of what Capitol Hill was like, sort of changing from the 50s, 60s, because your parents still lived in the same house there at 107 E Street.
HAMM: Right. That was until they passed. As I said, when I moved, I don’t know, even though there was a lot of integration, it was segregation, let’s put it this way on Capitol Hill. But, not as much as a lot of people would think that it was because when I lived on South Capitol Street; I was born in ’32, and we moved there in 1945 around on E Street. In that area where I lived there was African American. The street that I lived on, the roundabout area, was African American. When I lived one block from New Jersey Avenue, which was an integrated neighborhood.
WYRSCH: So, one block it was different?
HAMM: Right. It was integrated neighborhood. When we moved from there we moved on E Street and it was, like I said, African-American, which was blocks around me; one block used to be called Heckman Street and years later on it became Duddington Place. That when it became integrated.
WYRSCH: Let’s talk a little bit about church. You and I have been talking about an award that you got from the Catholic Diocese of Washington DC. I’d like to mention that in a minute, but let me ask you, where did you go to church?
HAMM: My home church was Saint Vincent de Paul, which is on South Capitol Street, South Capitol and M. I was there for many years. I belonged to the choir, the auxiliary and other organizations there at the church. When Derrick was born, I was still at Saint Vincent’s, but when the time came for him to go to school, Saint Vincent’s no longer had a school, so I had to join Saint Peter’s Church in order for him to go to school at Saint Peter’s.
WYRSCH: What year was that?
HAMM: He went there for six years. He was born in ’57.
WYRSCH: So in the ‘60s.
HAMM: Yeah, it was still in the ‘60s. He went to Saint Peter’s and he was an altar boy there. He was a Boy Scout there. He graduated from Saint Peter’s school.
WYRSCH: Where did he go to high school?
HAMM: He went to Saint Anthony’s for a while and then he went to Western, which now is Duke Ellington School of the Arts. During that time, Angela was born. When she was ready for school, she went to Saint Peter’s school. She graduated from Saint Peter’s.
WYRSCH: So, you were an active member of that parish and a parent in the school. At that point all the churches would have been integrated, right?
HAMM: At the time Derrick was going; Derrick was a little boy. By the time he went to Saint Peter’s he was a little [undecipherable], but Saint Peter’s was segregated when he was a younger boy. We only had four seats in the back of the church to sit in.
WYRSCH: Even in those days?
HAMM: Even in those days in the 50s, right.
WYRSCH: When did that change?
HAMM: It changed, I guess, in the early 60s, I guess it changed. I think the school changed then because I think the school was integrated also for a while. By the time Derrick went to Saint Peter’s it was integrated by that time.
WYRSCH: But you recalled before he was in the school, that when you would go to Saint Peter’s, African Americans had to sit in the back.
HAMM: Right, right. We had like four seats in the back that we would sit in which was like on the left hand side of the church. Eventually, you know, once things changed in, my guess was like in middle 60s, things changed. That’s when the church integrated.
WYRSCH: You’ve become an active member of Saint Peter’s.
HAMM: Yes, I have been.
WYRSCH: You’re an usher.
HAMM: I’m an usher, and a Eucharistic minister.
WYRSCH: Were you on the parish Council?
HAMM: Parish Council, yes.
WYRSCH: So you became very active.
HAMM: Very active and I think that’s one of the reasons why I received that award because I was so active in Saint Peter’s. When they had me to all different affairs I was always there. I was always active in helping, you know.
WYRSCH: I know that you were very proud of this award. You’ve shown me this letter from the Vicar General and Moderator of the diocese, dated December 2010 in which they let you know that they have established, as a diocese, an award called the Manifesting the Kingdom Award.
HAMM: Manifestation of the Kingdom.
WYRSCH: Right. In recognition of outstanding service to the church, a Catholic church in Washington, DC. And that each pastor was invited to nominate an individual to receive the award. And that the pastor of Saint Peter’s, Father Byrne, nominated you. You received this award in January 2011 at the Basilica [Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception]. So, congratulations. I know that was a wonderful …
HAMM: It was. It was a beautiful affair. When we were given our awards, each person that received the award had a picture taken with Cardinal [Donald] Wuerl at the time. Unbeknowing to me, Father Byrne had a picture made and presented it me maybe about a few Sundays later.
WYRSCH: I see. So, you have that picture in your house?
HAMM: I have that picture at the house of the award, right.
WYRSCH: Something to be very, very proud of.
HAMM: I’m very, very proud of it. I was more proud to know that I was well thought of in the parish to receive that award. You know, sometimes you don’t think anybody pays any attention to you, but I was paid attention and not realizing. That’s why I always try to be kind and thoughtful to people, you know.
WYRSCH: Congratulations, that’s good. I want to change the subject and ask you a little bit about historic events. You were just a young girl when World War II was going on. You have made comments about the March on Washington in ’63 that you were caring for your parents and couldn’t go.
HAMM: Yeah, both of them, right.
WYRSCH: What about other historic events? What about 1968 and the unrest after the Martin Luther King assassination?
HAMM: At that particular time, oh it was a horrible time. I was at work in the bindery in Maryland. They wouldn’t let us off.
WYRSCH: The Government Printing Office bindery?
HAMM: No, no, no. I was at the bindery, private bindery. Where we were located we could see H Street [NE] and we could see the flames in the air. Our supervisor wouldn’t let us off because of the turmoil. When I did, able to get off, I couldn’t get home for some reason or other I had to go a roundabout way and I got off at the Marine Barracks. I had to walk home from there. I seemed to me that every one step I took forward, I was taken four steps backwards.
WYRSCH: Very slow.
HAMM: Very slow. At that particular area there wasn’t anything going on. Everything was quiet. I believe it was because of the area that nothing was going on. If you remember anything on Pennsylvania Avenue, nothing was going on. There was no rioting, no looting or anything like that. It was very quiet, but everybody seemed to be aware of everybody else. They seemed to be aware. When I got home I was concerned about my parents, you know, because, like I said, both of them were up in the bedroom and weren’t well. When I got home and I saw that they were well, but they were looking on television and they could see everything that was going on. I was worried about Derrick for a while because I didn’t know where he was. Fortunately he wasn’t out there getting in trouble, so when he got home I was very glad to see him, you know. Other than that things were calm in my area. It was calm in our area. We didn’t go out of the way to try to find trouble, so we just stayed in.
WYRSCH: What about other historical events that you recall? You were living on Capitol Hill.
HAMM: Some of the other historical events was more or less when Kennedy was elected. We went to his inauguration and at that particular time now; let’s go back a little bit. When they would have parades like Armed Forces Day parades and things like that, before Kennedy. In my area we didn’t even have to go down on Constitution Avenue because everybody was lining up on my street, on South Capitol Street, on D Street, all of those places like that.
WYRSCH: So, you saw the parade before the parade.
HAMM: Before the parade, right. And see at that particular time the Capitol wasn’t closed off. They would go up New Jersey Avenue or South Capitol Street and go through the Capitol down Constitution. So we would see all of that before they ever went out. The only thing we didn’t see is like the bands or the floats or something like that.
WYRSCH: You didn’t even have to go to the parade. You saw it.
HAMM: My father would sit in the window and look as the parade marches by here. It was very amusing at the time. A lot of times we would give them water or something like that, you know, if they were thirsty or something, because we had children in that area there. Naturally we were out there talking to soldiers and whatnot, but it was a very illuminating experience when you think that and to see things as they are today. It’s horrible.
WYRSCH: The security. So much security you can’t get close. What else was it like? You live five blocks from the Capitol. Lots going on. You saw the parades. What did you see?
HAMM: If you want to go back. I don’t know if you want to go back to my childhood.
WYRSCH: Of course. Is there something you’d like to say?
HAMM: When I was a child I had two cousins that lived like a block up from me. We would always go roller skating. Then at that particular time you could go skate all over. You could skate all in the Capitol. At night if you wanted to go to sleep you laid on the Capitol grounds and went to sleep. Nobody ever bothered you.
WYRSCH: Was it because it was warm that you did that?
HAMM: Yes. I mean in the summer time, I mean people; and you didn’t have any police coming around making you get up. It was just; everybody was just sociable. I mean, it was just a quiet area.
WYRSCH: So, the Capitol grounds were sort of like a park for all of you.
HAMM: Well, yeah, because we would, like Easter time, we would go up on our hill and roll eggs and things like that. People don’t believe me when I tell them that when I was younger we would roller skate. We would go down in the House office building and ride the trains to the Capitol.
WYRSCH: They would let you do that?
HAMM: When I was younger. We would ride the trains back and forth to the Capitol.
WYRSCH: The underground trains?
HAMM: Yeah, but the funny thing about it, we never went upstairs in the Capitol. I never went upstairs in the Capitol until Derrick was like six years old, before I went upstairs.
WYRSCH: But you knew how to navigate the underground.
HAMM: Oh yeah. We knew how to navigate the underground. We were just children and we would roller skate or bicycle ride around there.
WYRSCH: Did you know some of the people you were going by? Did you know policemen you were seeing?
HAMM: Children, no children we were.
WYRSCH: They just thought you were children and they said just move on.
HAMM: We were just children, but even the grownups. We never had any problem with the people at the House office building or the Capitol because now with the Capitol, that was long before the Rayburn Building we built. Long time before that happened.
WYRSCH: So there were houses there?
HAMM: Yeah, there were houses all around there for all the …
WYRSCH: There were houses there where the Rayburn Office Building is now?
HAMM: No, it wasn’t houses. It was open space or stores or something like that. I don’t think there were any houses down that far because it was right across the street from the Capitol and across from the—not the Arboretum, what is it?
WYRSCH: The Botanical Gardens.
HAMM: Botanical Gardens there. That was right across the street from that. Then they had a little park there where they had part of the Botanical Gardens. But it wasn’t any buildings there. And later when they built the Rayburn Building there.
WYRSCH: Tell me about where you shopped when you were little. Where would you go for groceries and where would you go; you worked at department stores …
HAMM: When I was younger we shopped—we had little corner stores. On South Capitol Street was a store called Goldberg’s. We used to shop there. On the far corner near D Street and New Jersey Avenue there was a store on that corner. On First Street we had—at that particular time people don’t know about this, maybe older people do, but the Safeway was not always called the Safeway. It was called the Sanitary. It was called the Sanitary.
WYRSCH: And it was there on First Street?
HAMM: And it was there where that Mexican restaurant is on that corner [First and D Streets SE]. That’s where the Safeway was. Next to that was a barber shop. Then there was a liquor store. Then next to that where Bullfeather’s is was a carryout shop. Across from that where the buildings are now, those were houses up on a hill. When they sold all of that property, some of the people moved across the street on First Street. On the far corner right there at First and North Carolina Avenue was as drug store. Up the street from that was a doctor’s office, a carryout store and the old Aristo Cleaners.
WYRSCH: So you had everything you needed like a block away.
HAMM: Everything we needed was right in that area. Then we went up on Pennsylvania Avenue, we had Kresge’s five and ten. Next door to that was a Kresge’s dress shop.
WYRSCH: That’s at Seventh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue?
HAMM: Between Sixth and Seventh on Pennsylvania Avenue on the northeast side. Where Sizzler’s is [Sizzling Express, closed during 2019].
WYRSCH: That’s the northwest side, right.
HAMM: Before that, you see the big blue building that used to be the Penn Theater. And right across the street there used to be Capitol Hill Theater where you go down a walkway through.
WYRSCH: That was the Capitol Hill Theater. So you didn’t have any trouble going in and out of …
HAMM: Oh, none whatsoever.
HAMM: Everybody. A couple of blocks up they had a men’s shop. And then there were beauty shops around. Then you had carryout stores, and I think it was other places around there where you could go shopping. Then when you went downtown, it was still segregated, but you couldn’t go in like the front door, something, maybe go in the side.
WYRSCH: What did you do?
HAMM: The thing about it is it didn’t matter, because I worked in there.
WYRSCH: You were working in that elevator job.
HAMM: Yeah I was working the elevator.
WYRSCH: So, could you buy things as in …
HAMM: We could buy them but we couldn’t try them on. We could buy them.
WYRSCH: How did that seems to you at the time?
HAMM: At that particular area didn’t really bother us. It didn’t bother us because we knew if went to our locker room we could try it on. If it didn’t fit or something we would just bring it back. And we didn’t squawk because we’d get 20 percent discount [laughs]. We weren’t all that concerned.
WYRSCH: As an employee you could take merchandise, try it on in the locker room and maybe buy it and so on. Or if you were not an employee, you could pick something up and buy it but you could not try it on.
HAMM: No because when I worked at Garfinkel’s my sister’s children were all little. They would have sales in Garfinkel’s, plus I had the sale price plus the 20 percent discount price. And when her children were growing up they looked like little rich children. [laughs]
WYRSCH: You got things for them.
HAMM: Right, things for them. I’ll be honest with you, just like people would tell me about had a hard time, and I’d tell them, I didn’t go through that. I didn’t go through that.
WYRSCH: You were living your life, it didn’t seem …
WYRSCH: No, because even though the theaters and the restaurants were segregated, we had places we could go. Up on U Street [NW] we had the Lincoln, the Howard, Rayfield [?], the different restaurants and everything like that. We had places and we had things to do.
WYRSCH: So you couldn’t even sit in the balcony or in the back of the Penn Theater, the Capitol …
HAMM: Oh, we could sit anywhere in the Penn Theater. It wasn’t segregated.
WYRSCH: It wasn’t segregated?
HAMM: Uh huh Penn wasn’t segregated, neither was the Capitol Hill. It wasn’t segregated.
WYRSCH: But downtown they were?
HAMM: Downtown they were.
WYRSCH: So you would get on the streetcar and go up to U Street or how would you go up there?
HAMM: We’d go on the streetcar because years ago streetcars used to come down New Jersey Avenue and go up South Capitol.
WYRSCH: So, you were like a half a block from the streetcar.
HAMM: It didn’t bother us, you know. And then we would maybe walk up on First Street and catch the streetcar that went up New Jersey Avenue. Things like that. We had good transportation.
WYRSCH: Those are most of the questions I have. Are there some things that you’d like to tell me that I haven’t asked you that you’d like to add to the interview?
HAMM: My older sister, she was a WAC. She was a little short, bow-legged little girl. [laughs] Very sweet, and she became a sergeant. She went to France, Germany, Rome, and I don’t know where else she went. But, I was in school in Baltimore when she was in the service. A lot of times when they would come home on furlough or something, they came through Baltimore.
You know, you asked me about organizations.
WYRSCH: Yes, but before we go any further, you were telling me about your sister.
HAMM: She would come home on furlough and would come through Baltimore when I was still in boarding school. She stopped off one night and asked the nuns if she could possibly see her sister Rosetta. She said, “I know it late.” This is like 12:00 at night. They looked at her in her uniform and said, “Yes.” So she came in and they came up and got me out of bed and said, “Your sister’s downstairs to see you. You go down and see her.” I don’t remember going in, not one step. I don’t remember touching. When I went down, here was this beautiful lady in this uniform and I just hugged and hugged her. We used to call her Aunt Sissy all the time. Her name was Gertrude. She was more like a mother, you know, more than a sister because she was the oldest one and we and the nuns just fell in love with her. They told her no matter what time she came through Baltimore she was more than welcome to come to see me. That was such a beautiful tribute to her. I had another brother. He was in the Army. They met each other over in France along with a cousin, all in the same area. Then I had another brother. He was in the Navy.
WYRSCH: So, all those older siblings, they were in the Army during the war but then they stayed in the Washington area?
WYRSCH: So you have a fairly large family in Washington area.
HAMM: Right. They all stayed in the Washington area.
WYRSCH: Did they stay on Capitol Hill?
HAMM: No, no. They went to various parts of the city.
WYRSCH: I see. You were the only one who stayed on Capitol Hill.
HAMM: And two other sisters. They stayed on Capitol Hill. The other ones, they moved in various areas of the city. Only one moved in Maryland. But the rest of us were in the city.
WYRSCH: What other things would you like to tell me about your childhood, your high school years? What I had asked you about your favorite job. Of all the jobs you’ve had in your life.
HAMM: I guess I would say the job that I had at Mrs. Connelly’s.
WYRSCH: At the tea room. When you were just out of high school.
HAMM: Right, at the tea room. Yes because I’ve met so many reputable people. I’ve met Judge Scott. He was a judge. As a matter of fact, they have a plaque of his down at the courthouse. He was one of my—used to come to the tea room. Then was Doctor Evans. He was in charge of dental division at Howard University. I met Mary Church Terrell.
WYRSCH: Let me ask you this. You’re mentioning people who were African-American?
WYRSCH: Was it an African-American tea room?
WYRSCH: I see. So Mrs. Connelly served African-Americans.
HAMM: Right. They had other people. They came in, but you couldn’t come off the street and come in. You had to be connected, more or less with the tea room or someone. It wasn’t a public space.
WYRSCH: Would you say that it was a tea room set up because there was lack of integration in restaurants?
HAMM: No, no.
WYRSCH: That’s not the reason?
HAMM: As it started out it was a rooming house.
WYRSCH: On 17th Street.
HAMM: It was a rooming …
WYRSCH: What was the cross street at 17th?
HAMM: R and S. It was another little divided street. I can’t remember the name of it right now. [Likely Riggs Place, NW] As I said, it used to be …
WYRSCH: But near Connecticut Avenue?
HAMM: Oh, no, no, no, no, no. It wasn’t there It was near Seven and T. In that area.
WYRSCH: Oh, Seventh Street.
HAMM: Seventeenth Street.
WYRSCH: Seventeenth Street and T, I see.
HAMM: Seventeenth and T between R and S on 17th. But it wasn’t anywhere near Connecticut Avenue anywhere. It was about two blocks up you would have been at U Street.
WYRSCH: That was your favorite job at Mrs. Connelly’s.
HAMM: Oh yes, yes, yes. That was my favorite job. And as I said the people that I met, Mary Church Terrell, Mary Bethune, Doctor Evans, there was another doctor, I can’t think of his name. Then there was so many school teachers that I met. As I said, I was there off and on for like 20 years, off and on. A couple of my brothers came up. At one time a little fellow I was going with, I had him come up to dinner. The other girls that worked with me, I said, “Hands off.” [laughs]
WYRSCH: Hands off, hands off.
HAMM: And a lot of times, Momma and Poppa, when they were ill, Mr. Joseph—Joe, he was a cook there—he would fix dinner for them and send it home to them in a taxi cab. They would be sure that they had their dinner.
WYRSCH: You met Mary McLeod Bethune there. And now you see her statue in Lincoln Park.
HAMM: Then Mary Church Terrell. Well her husband has a school named after him out in Southeast. [Mary Church Terrell elementary school was at 3301 Wheeler Road SE; a school named after her husband, Robert H. Terrell JHS is located at 155 L Street NW.] The funny thing about Mary Church Terrell when she would come in—you know she be all bent over. But when she got to the door, she straightened up. [laughs] We’d all, you know, enjoy the look of that. It was just a beautiful bunch of people. Beautiful people.
WYRSCH: That’s about all the questions I have. So we can bring the interview to an end unless there is something else that I should have asked you about.
HAMM: I just happened to notice this with a different organization affiliations that I belonged to.
WYRSCH: Oh, tell me about it. Please tell me about it.
HAMM: I belonged Auxiliary 299 at Saint Vincent de Paul as a guard. I belonged to the Knights of Saint John’s Bowling League for over 20 some years.
WYRSCH: Did you really?
WYRSCH: And that was also at …
HAMM: The Knights of Saint John’s was a black organization of knights, you know, like we had the Knight of Columbus, but the Knights of Saint John’s.
WYRSCH: Exactly, the Knights of Saint John’s. Where did they meet? Did they meet at a church or …
HAMM: They met at various churches. I was talking to Pat one day and she was saying that she didn’t realize it was as many black parishioners in Washington. I said, “Do you realize how many black churches there are in Washington?” And I was naming some of them and she said. “Had no idea.”
WYRSCH: So, you would be like Saint Cyprian’s or Saint Augustine’s?
HAMM: It was Saint Cyprian’s before it became Holy Comforter.
WYRSCH: That’s right. So that’s where you—the Knights of Saint John’s, it was a black …
HAMM: Yes. They had at Saint Cyprian’s, Saint Vincent de Paul, Holy Name. All of the churches had Knights of Saint John’s organizations. Members of the Knights of Saint John’s.
WYRSCH: Because they predominantly were African-American churches.
HAMM: Right. In Maryland we used to bowl with the Knights from Maryland. I have a book at home of the big meeting that we had here in Washington, DC, that was back in—I looked at it the other day. I can’t remember. It had to be in 1950s when they paraded up on Pennsylvania Avenue and they had Mass at the Shrine [of the Immaculate Conception] and what not.
WYRSCH: But a totally African-American …
HAMM: No, this was the whole auxiliary worldwide.
WYRSCH: Of the Knights of Saint John’s.
HAMM: Of the Knights of Saint John’s and we had white Knights of Saint John’s. And we had white Lady’s Auxiliary. But we had some members of the Council were black. Some members of the Knights Council were black. In a way it was still integrated.
WYRSCH: Tell me about other organizations.
HAMM: I belonged to Club 55—which was a bowling league. That was for seniors. Which is still in progress. The only reason why I’m not bowling with them is because I had an arm injury and I couldn’t bowl. The usher at Saint Peter’s as a head usher, which was at that 12:30 Mass we had. Then the Manifestation of the Kingdom Award. Various organizations when they would have, you know, the March for Life. I always volunteered. I volunteered for Saint Patrick’s and also for the church picnics and things like that.
WYRSCH: So, you are never unbusy. Always busy.
HAMM: Now I’ve got to the point where I said, “I’ve paid my dues.”
WYRSCH: You’ve paid your dues.
HAMM: I’ve paid my dues.
WYRSCH: I want to thank you very much for you time today. I very much appreciate it. This will bring the interview with Rosetta Hall Hamm to an end and we thank you. We’re going to have one more remembrance by Rosetta Hamm.
HAMM: The year I was born until now, the Presidents I have been under: Herbert Hoover, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
WYRSCH: Thank you very much.
HAMM: It’s 15 presidents.
WYRSCH: Fifteen presidents in your life,
HAMM: In my life. And more to come I hope. [laughs]
WYRSCH: I hope so as well.
END OF INTERVIEW