In 1921, Congress approved $10,000 of funding for the construction of the Southeast Branch Library. With the additional support of Andrew Carnegie’s monetary donation, the Southeast Branch Library was dedicated a year later with the expectation to serve approximately 40,000 people in Eastern Washington. After its first seven months of operation in 1922, the library had circulated 86,822 books and registered 3,904 patrons. The branch offered a very popular children’s story hour, and increased its resource collection (including books, periodicals, and newspapers) over the following decades. In 1937, the library circulated 1,777 books in one single day.
The library itself was designed with the intention of providing community services with a special focus on educating children. The organization hired a children’s librarian, coordinated book purchases with school’s educational needs, and offered a safe space for after-school activities. From the start, the library primarily served women and children—yet at the onset of World War II, the branch began to provide books on welding, metallurgy, and drafting due to the branch's proximity to Navy Yard, an industrial hub in the city.
The space stayed in touch with community needs and desires, providing adult education courses, poetry readings, and art installations throughout its history. In addition to providing historically significant community and educational services, the Southeast Branch Library is architecturally significant as an example of Classical Revival design. The building’s symmetry, large semi-circular windows on the main floor, shallow hip roof, and entrance portico are all indicative of the Classical Revival influence, and demonstrate the work of Edward L. Tilton, who designed many Classical Revival libraries across the Northeast.
Today, the Southeast Branch Library continues to serve the Capitol Hill community from its original location on 7th Street SE, and still provides the well-known children’s story hour around the original fireplace.
DC Inventory: March 25, 2021
National Register: June 14, 2021