The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Washington DC

Frederick Douglass NHS
NPS Photo

From 1877 to 1895 this was the home of famous abolitionist, writer, lecturer, statesman, and Underground Railroad conductor, Frederick Douglass. Modest in its scale and ornamentation, Cedar Hill demonstrates the characteristics of a romantic cottage in natural surroundings. Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) moved to Cedar Hill, named after the cedar trees that shaded the house, when he became U.S. marshal of the District of Columbia in 1877. Douglass defied the District’s racist housing laws by purchasing this home in a segregated neighborhood.

At the request of his second wife, Helen Pitts Douglass, Congress chartered the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association, to whom Mrs. Douglass bequeathed the house. Joining with the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, the association opened the house to visitors in 1916. The property was added to the National Park system on September 5, 1962, and was designated a National Historic Site in 1988.

Douglass was born a slave on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and was given the name Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. At an early age, he learned to read and write, and escaped to freedom in the North, changing his name to Douglass to avoid recapture. Eventually he settled in Rochester, New York, and was active in the abolitionist cause. He was a leader of Rochester’s Underground Railroad movement and became the editor and publisher of the North Star, an abolitionist newspaper. After the Civil War, Douglass came to Washington, DC, and served as the marshall of the District of Columbia and was appointed recorder of deeds for the city. In 1889, President Harrison appointed him minister-resident and consul general of the Republic of Haiti and charge d’affaires for the Dominican Republic. During all of this activity, Douglass remained an outspoken advocate for the rights of African Americans. This National Historic Site helps us to better understand the life of the man who is recognized as “the father of the civil rights movement.”

The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, administered by the National Park Service, is located at 1411 W St., SE. It is open to the public daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm in the summer, and from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm in the fall and winter. The site is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Years Day. There is a fee to tour the home. For more information, please call 202/426-5961. The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site is not within close proximity to a Metro stop.