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Blanche Kelso Bruce - Historical Marker

b.1 MAR 1841 — d.17 MAR 1898


Shaw, Bruce/Powell Homes

Shaw, Bruce/Powell Homes

A post-Civil War building boom brought grand new houses to this convenient area. By 1881 Blanche Kelso Bruce, the first African American to serve a full term in the U.S. Senate, and Major John Wesley Powell, pioneering director of the U.S. Geological Survey, lived on this block.

Born enslaved in Virginia, Bruce (1841-1898) escaped from slavery, attended Oberlin College, then became rich buying abandoned plantations in Mississippi. The Mississippi Legislature elected Bruce to the U.S. Senate. From 1875 to 1881, Senator Bruce worked to aid destitute blacks and improve government treatment of Native Americans. Later, he served as register of the U.S. Treasury and recorder of deeds for Washington, D.C.

Bruce and his wife, Josephine Willson Bruce (1852-1923), a founder of the National Association of Colored Women (1896), lived in the Second Empire French style house at 909 M Street.

Major John Wesley Powell (1834-1902) and his family moved to 910 M Street (since demolished) in 1881 after he took over the U.S. Geological Survey. Powell, a scientist and war hero, lost his right arm during a Civil War battle. He led the first official survey of the Grand Canyon in 1869, and argued that Native Americans had the right to live according to their own traditions.

Small houses, commercial buildings, and immigrant churches developed here after 1910. By the 1930s the rich had moved on, and landlords divided mansions into rooming houses. In the 1960s, many small buildings across Ninth Street were cleared for urban renewal construction that didn't happen. In 2003 the Washington Convention Center opened on the site.

Related albums • See other albums

Heritage Trails Historical Markers

Related county

DC, Washington

Related people

Blanche Kelso Bruce
John Wesley Powell

Posted By: Ray Gurganus

Updated: 8-10-2020
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