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Downtown call boxes transformed into sculptures of historic Washington women

They feature civil rights activists and a former publisher of the Washington Post

A hand is shown painting an old call box for emergency responders with red paint.
An old police and fire call box being painted in downtown D.C.
AFP via Getty Images

Eight call boxes once used to contact emergency responders in downtown D.C. have been repurposed as public art celebrating famous local women throughout history. The artwork was completed by artist and architect Charles Bergen, funded by the city’s arts commission, and overseen by the DowntownDC Business Improvement District (BID), a nonprofit group.

New sculptures within the cast-iron boxes, which are found on various street corners across downtown, were unveiled last week. The sculptures depict the following women, per the BID:

“Josephine Butler, community leader and co-founder of the DC Statehood Party (14th & K)

Katharine Graham, longtime publisher of The Washington Post (15th & L)

Julia Ward Howe, abolitionist, suffragist and writer of the lyrics of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (14th & F)

Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, a seamstress and activist who bought her own freedom from slavery and served clients such as Mary Todd Lincoln (Vermont & K)

Flora Rollins Molton, DC musician (13th & G)

Alice Stokes Paul, suffragist and leader of the National Woman’s Party (14th & E)

Mary Church Terrell, civil rights activist and suffragist (14th & G)

Alma Woodsey Thomas, artist and educator (13th & G)”

Plaques on the reverse sides of the call boxes offer biographical details about the women. These are not the only old call boxes in D.C. that have been changed into public art: More than 140 across the city currently house creative images, under the “Art on Call” initiative.