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Kaitlin Calogera was inspired to launch A Tour Of Her Own in 2018—during a time when women were not just asking, but demanding, more representation in their everyday lives. After all, this was the peak of the #MeToo and “Time’s Up” era and a year after the Women’s March took place in D.C. and across the globe.
“When I was going out on tour delivering commentary, I became really mindful of what I was sharing and who I was highlighting,” says Calogera. “It just felt very natural to share women’s history.”
Calogera and Rebecca Grawl are both licensed tour guides who met after Calogera founded TOHO, the first tourism company in D.C. to focus exclusively on women’s history. Grawl is the vice president as well as both a member of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution and alumnae and senior leader with the National Society Children of the American Revolution.
The two decided to co-write 111 Places in Women’s History in Washington D.C. That You Must Not Miss during the pandemic. They envisioned a hard copy extension of the work their tourism company does, which so far has focused on historical tours, special events, consulting, and virtual experiences.
While an accompanying guide to A Tour of Her Own, 111 Places originated as a pivot, or a “pandemic project,” as described in the foreword. “We didn’t know what our future held,” says Grawl. “In many ways, for me, when the opportunity to do this book came along, it felt so personally rewarding and fulfilling because I missed storytelling. I missed connecting. I missed having a chance to be out there, and this felt like a way that we could do that.”
Calogera and Grawl’s razor-sharp reference book is an A-to-Z guide to the many places throughout the city that have been heavily influenced by women, from the AKA Sisterhood Mural to the Zitkala-Ša mural. Accompanying each blurb are color portraits taken by local photographer Cynthia Schiavetto Staliunas.
Across 230 pages, the authors uncover stories for a wide variety of landmarks—parks, gardens, libraries, theaters, markets, restaurants, portraits, call boxes, trees, and more—while not exclusively focusing on those who have passed away. There are many notable, contemporary figures and groups mentioned, such as the Washington Mystics and Carla Hayden, the first Black woman to be the Librarian of Congress.
“Something that we try to do a lot with A Tour of Her Own is really make connections to the past and show how often what is happening right now is history,” says Grawl. “It’s history in the making. We are living history every day, and so much of what’s happening today is directly connected to our mothers, our foremothers.” This is why the cowriters focused on women currently living and changing D.C. They are the ones, says Grawl, who we look back on in thirty years and say: “These are people who revolutionized the restaurant industry, that revolutionized retail, that revolutionized public spaces and public art.”
Originally, the plan for the book was to include sites in Maryland and Virginia as well, but the authors decided to keep it hyper-local after identifying more than 111 places in D.C. proper. During the writing and research process, deciding which of these locations to keep and which to not include was a major challenge.
“It was difficult to pick sites that we felt personally attached to and wanted to write about and also step back from that and see the big picture,” says Calogera. “To make sure that we are representing voices that are not our own, that we are representing diverse histories, intersectional history, and really making the book about the city and its people and the country and American history at large as opposed to maybe what our personal and particular interests are.”
By including restaurants and retailers, Grawl wanted to offer an opportunity for small business owners to have a chance to tell their stories. She adds: “We were not the only people impacted by this pandemic.”
When discussing the woman-owned restaurant Beau Thai, the authors not only offer insight into the journey that owner Aschara Vigsittaboot made when moving to the U.S. from southern Thailand; they also discuss Vigsittaboot’s family, the mural that depicts them, and the curry dish that honors her mother.
Another gem tucked away at 4th and E Streets SW is Hidden Figures Way. As illuminated by Calogera and Grawl, this corridor is dedicated to the forgotten history of three Black women who contributed to American space exploration: Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Katherine Johnson. The street takes its name after Margot Lee Shetterly’s New York Times-bestselling book, Hidden Figures, and the book’s film adaptation of the same name.
Unsurprisingly, there are several houses included, such as Alice Roosevelt’s house, or, as described in the book, “The other Washington Monument.” This home is named after its former owner, Alice, the first child of Theodore and Alice Roosevelt. In 111 Places, the authors delve into Alice’s rambunctious demeanor, and her “wicked sense of humor” that garnered her the status of an “instant celebrity.”
If there is any suspicion from the reader that the authors may have missed a site or two, it’s worth noting that each and every location comes with an additional tip, which may lead to a whole other rabbit hole of interests or even another tour worth trodding.
For instance, the section on Rosedale Community Center—which has the first athletic field in D.C. that the Department of Parks and Recreation named after a woman (specifically, baseball legend Mamie “Peanut” Johnson)—the accompanying tip recommends grabbing a chili half-smoke from Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street NW. The distance between these two locations is roughly three to four miles apart. Regardless, the recommendation is astute as the mural directly outside Ben’s includes a depiction of Johnson along with several other notable figures.
Lovers of history and all things local don’t necessarily have to thumb through 111 Places from cover to cover to delve into the exciting and lesser-known stories of local women. Instead, readers have the option to dip their toes in the water by casually flipping to random pages in a sort of choose-your-own-adventure style.
Maps found at the back of the book offer an easy way for readers to figure out how to navigate the streets of D.C. for their own individual journeys, though the co-authors recommend contacting to A Tour of Her Own for a personalized tour, which may include sites that weren’t able to make it into the book.
With these maps, discerning readers may also notice the general lack of locations east of the Anacostia River. The only locations in Wards 7 and 8 that are written in full detail are the aforementioned Zitkala-Ša (Red Bird) mural at 2027 Martin Luther King Ave. SE and the Mystics facility at 1100 Oak Dr. SE. The tips that accompany both entries also point to St. Elizabeths Hospital and Cedar Hill, or Frederick Douglass’ former home. (Perhaps, a few additional sites that could offer more diversity in location would be the Anacostia Playhouse at 2020 Shannon Pl. SE thanks to Adele Robey’s influence as the venue’s longtime executive director, or Honfleur Gallery for the late Sharon Hughes Gautier’s influence as the originator and funder of the “East of the River Distinguished Artist Award.” For more locations east of the river check out Nikki Peele’s Congress Heights on the Rise blog.)
Meanwhile, flipping through the pages of 111 Places, Calogera and Grawl’s message becomes clear: The influence of women on Washington, D.C. is unmistakable.
111 Places in Women’s History in Washington D.C. That You Must Not Miss is available at A Tour of Her Own’s online store. $30–$45.