By Frank Leone
In honor of Women’s History month, we profile just a few of the women citizen activists who provided leadership to the Foggy Bottom/West End Community over the years. We remain grateful to them for their vision and energy.
Eleonor M. “Ellie” Becker (1932-2015) - a Foggy Bottom resident since 1963, Becker served as FBA president, vice president, treasurer, secretary, and board member. But she was best known as the editor (and copy-setter) of the Foggy Bottom News from 1984 to 2004, also penning the “Foggy Bottom Folks” column. The FB News, in its tabloid edition, folded in 2004 with Becker’s retirement. She was a tireless advocate for Foggy Bottom residents in response to the expansion into neighborhoods of GWU and other institutions. But especially GWU, and she carried on a spirted personal correspondence with President Steven Trachtenberg. Becker’s FBA files are available for review at the D.C. History Center. She also provided a donation to the FBA to host a spring party, which it did for the first time in 2022, with her nieces in attendance.
Becker worked for the Nonprescription Drug Manufacturers Association from 1963 until retiring as director of member services in 1997. The Foggy Bottom community was dear to Becker, and she volunteered there in many capacities. She was well known at DC Fire Department Engine Company 23, where she stopped frequently to visit and deliver food to the firefighters. Becker lived in the Historic District at 2530 I Street, where she maintained her collection of penguins, which took over the sofa and chairs of her house. The Penguin is the school mascot for the School Without Walls, where Becker volunteered in the library. She donated her collection of penguins to the school and also endowed a college scholarship fund for graduates of the School. She also endowed a fund for training of West End Library staff.
Mary Healy (1914-2001), known as the “Mayor of Foggy Bottom,” was a long time FBA board member. She fought for issues from neighborhood preservation (she hated the Howard Johnson’s orange roof) to the establishment of St. Mary’s Court. She penned a delightful series of articles for the Foggy Bottom News recounting her history in the area, as well as the “Seen Around the Bottom” column. She was one of the first residents of Potomac Plaza at its opening in 1957 – at the time she moved in, she wrote that she “saw the ugliness of decay and desertion” of the Foggy Bottom neighborhood, but fortunately, “I knew what could be done with old things to make them beautiful and interesting once again.” Potomac Plaza was the first building in Washington to be designed as a cooperative and it spurred neighborhood redevelopment. Healy was a long-time federal government employee, politically active as an ally to Councilmember John Wilson, a board member of many community organizations including Columbia Hospital for Women, and a member of Foggy Bottom’s St. Stephen Martyr Catholic Church.
Maria Tyler (d. 2006), “the Miracle Maker,” represented Foggy Bottom on the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC 2A) for a number of years and was a strong preservation advocate. Most notably, she led the fight to designate the Foggy Bottom Historic District (1987) and lower the zoning classification for neighborhood. Tyler also led efforts to establish the continuing ban on tour buses in the Historic District, save the Cooper Houses (2523 K St., the oldest buildings in Foggy Bottom, 1843 & 1868), manage Whitehurst Freeway renovations to mitigate community impact, improve the appearance of the 7-11 and prevent a dry cleaner from moving in next door, and install red brick sidewalks in the Historic District . She also fought to protect the neighborhood from GWU expansion and advocated for more on-grounds student housing, sometimes in very forceful terms. She moved into 949 25th St. NW in 1974, converting that historic building from apartments to a single family home. A native of Lithuania, she worked as an international economist. Her husband Geoffrey was also a community activist.
The tradition of women activists in Foggy Bottom continues today. We are fortunate to have many women residents who spend many hours providing leadership and advocating for the community.
SOURCES: “Eleonor M. Becker “Ellie” (Age 83),” Wash. Post, July 22, 2015; “Ellie Becker College Scholarship;” Brandon Butler, “Community voice falls silent after 46 years of press,” GW Hatchet, Sept. 7, 2004; “Meet your Officers,” FB News, Nov. 1971; “Mary Elizabeth Healy, 87, ‘Mayor’ of Foggy Bottom,” Wash. Post, March 25, 2001; Ellie Becker, “’Mayor’ Mary Healy Dies at 87, FB News, May 2001; Mary Healy, “I Remember . . . Foggy Bottom” FB News, Feb., March, and April 1995; Ellie Becker, “Maria Tyler, Miracle Maker,” and “Foggy Bottom Mourns Maria Tyler” FB News, March 2001; FBA History Project.
For more on Foggy Bottom’s Women’s History, see our posts on Martha B. Briggs and her Lost Schools, Emily Edmondson’s escape on the Pearl, and the Columbia Hospital for Women.