It’s the last day of school for DCPS public schoolkids. For many in our neighborhood, their first days at Murch, Deal and Wilson schools were possible because of this woman, first featured on Forest Hills Connection in this November 2012 article.
by Ann Kessler
Leslie Wright and her husband Clarence moved into their new home at 4620 30th Street in 1917. She said in a Washington Post article on November 21, 1939, “We turned into Albemarle Street and came down a country road to find this place. Pierce Shoemaker was still living and owned much of this area, Joe Gates owned most of the rest of it…. The Shoemaker estate was known as Azadia Park. We tried to have our citizens’ association called Azadia, but the newer name [Forest Hills] won out.”
Mrs. Wright was a native Washingtonian who attended Western High School and then the Washington College of Law. She was one of 10 women in a class of 151 who were admitted to the bar from American University’s law school class of 1917. In 1916, before graduation, she married Dr. Clarence Wright, who would become an organic chemist with the Food and Drug Administration. Mrs. Wright raised four children while practicing immigration, naturalization and aviation law from her home.
Mrs. Wright appeared before Congress “with pictures of the children sitting in their classes under umbrellas.”
Because of her commitment to improving the neighborhood for her children, and possibly because of her native stubbornness, Mrs. Wright was a natural leader. When her children were old enough to go to school, she became an activist parent. In 1928 the neighborhood children went to school in four portable buildings on the site of the former Grant Road School at Davenport and 36th Streets NW. These portable buildings were a branch of the local elementary school, E.V. Brown School, located at Connecticut Avenue and McKinley Street NW. Mrs. Wright was appalled that these portable buildings had no electric lights, poor heating and leaked badly in the rain.
She became president of the Grant Road Portables Home and School Association in 1928 and actively appealed to Congress for funds to build the promised permanent building. Another mother later remembered Mrs. Wright appearing before Congressional committees with pictures of the children sitting in their classes under umbrellas. This mother, Mrs. John M. Kerr, said when Mrs. Wright went before congressional committees with those pictures, “they knew they were going to give her what she wanted.” According to an Evening Star article on April 6, 1941, “Mrs. Wright is a frequent visitor to the halls of Congress, where one Senator jokingly described her as “the most popular lobbyist on Capitol Hill.”
Mrs. Wright was elected the first president of the Murch Home and School Association (1929-1930). With her activist spirit she set an example for following HSA presidents. In 1931 she spoke before the Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee opposing the Board of Education’s plan to build a new elementary school near 39th and Fessenden and urging that additional funds be dedicated to enlarge Murch instead. The new Murch wing was completed in 1931.As her children grew older, Mrs. Wright and the Forest Hills Citizens Association would be instrumental in the building of Alice Deal Junior High School and Woodrow Wilson Senior High School. Mrs. Wright served on the boards of both of these schools, probably working hardest at Wilson. Along with the Citizens Association she urged that this new neighborhood high school be named after the former president. She also advocated for the improvement of the school’s stadium, for the addition of more teachers to relieve the overcrowded classrooms, and for a study on the advisability of reopening the school’s rifle range.
In 1940 it was said of Mrs. Wright that “Her life has been one civic fight after another.” All of Forest Hills benefited from Mrs. Wright’s talents, enthusiasm, energy and persistence in founding our neighborhood schools.
The history blog Ghosts of DC recently wrote about how Hearst Elementary came by its name.