Last summer, in honor of the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, the National Trust for Historic Preservation put out a call for Americans to nominate places connected to women’s history. The organization had already identified 838 places and wanted to discover 1,000.
“We not only achieved our initial goal, we surpassed it,” Chris Morris, manager of the National Trust’s campaign for Where Women Made History, tells House Beautiful. They ended up with 1,225 entries from all 50 states, as well as Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. “It was a powerful demonstration of the fact that every place has a woman’s story to tell—from the Gum Moon Women’s Residence in San Francisco’s Chinatown that provided shelter, education, and vocational training for Chinese girls rescued from human trafficking, to the Staten Island home of acclaimed Black lesbian feminist, writer, and activist Audre Lorde, now a New York City LGBTQ+ landmark. It also showed that people everywhere care deeply about ensuring women’s achievements are an essential part of the American narrative.”
Identifying these places is an important first step, but it’s not enough: We need to preserve and protect them. That’s why the National Trust has teamed up with Benjamin Moore to give four historic sites a fresh coat of paint. So far, they have repainted the Women’s Building in San Francisco—a community center offering social services—and the Odd Fellows Building in Astoria, Oregon, a women-owned community center that houses a nonprofit dance studio among other businesses. The final two sites to receive a new paint job will be the McDonough 19 Elementary School in New Orleans and Azurest South on the campus of Virginia State University.
McDonough 19 was one of the first schools in New Orleans to be integrated after Brown v. Board of Education ended the segregation of schools. It now serves as a mixed-use facility founded on anti-racist principles that offers a safe space for the community. Azurest South is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1938 by Amaza Lee Meredith, one of the country’s first Black female architects. “Both buildings are unique and tell such an important story about Black women and their significant and groundbreaking role in American history,” Jeannie West, Benjamin Moore’s senior vice president of human resources, told HB. “We cannot wait to see how these important sites transform.”
Benjamin Moore donates the paint and makes a local representative available to answer any questions, but the decision of what colors to use is left up to each site’s building team. The National Trust and Benjamin Moore worked together to select the sites that would receive paint, ensuring they would be diverse geographically, in their history and the stories of the women involved, and in the partner organizations and their needs. Since 2017, when Benjamin Moore first started working with the National Trust, they have donated 1,500 gallons of their premium paint to National Trust historic sites.
“At Benjamin Moore we know that paint is transformational, but seeing it come to life through these projects, being a part of these communities, has been an awesome experience,” says West.
Morris agrees: “It is nothing less than transformative for these places, particularly during the last year when so many businesses and non-profits have been struggling. The moving videos of the San Francisco Women’s Building and the Astoria Odd Fellow’s Building say it all—a fresh coat of paint completely changes how people see and feel about these places.”
The projects at McDonough 19 Elementary School and Azurest South are slated for completion this summer and the National Trust will be sharing the stories of their transformation on social media. If you want to get involved, you can follow along and consider donating to support this important preservation work.
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