LOCAL LORE: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' childhood home


I’ve been doing some research on the childhood of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896-1953), the Pulitzer Prize-winning author who grew up here in Brookland. I’m still waiting for some materials to arrive before I can post that story, but I ran across something peculiar I thought might be of interest.

(Marjorie Kinnan as a teen. Courtesy University of Florida Digital Collections.)

When looking up the Kinnan family in the 1910 US census, I found a discrepancy. All local historians, including me, have thought the address of the Kinnan family was 1221 Newton Street NE. The house is still standing, and is quite nicely preserved. 


1221 Newton St. NE

But the census listed the Kinnans at 1215 Newton, not 1221. The house at 1215 Newton burned in the 1980s and was torn down. The house that’s there now is a recent construction. Then I looked in the old Evening Star and Washington Post for stories about the Kinnans that might give the address. I found a number of them and every one listed their address as 1215 Newton. 

I contacted Dan Vera, who along with Kim Roberts runs the DC Writers’ Homes website. They too have the Kinnan address listed as 1221 Newton. I told him about what I had found, and he was perplexed as well. He checked city directories from the era and found that they also listed the address as 1215 Newton. Had we all been wrong about which house the Kinnans occupied, or had there been a numbering change over the years?

I thought about checking building permits at the DC Library, but I figured that wouldn’t help if the numbers were altered after the original permit was issued. I decided that I needed to find a confirmed vintage photo of the Kinnan home. I knew the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings papers were held at the University of Florida. They have many pictures of Rawlings online, but none of them showed her Brookland home. After poking around their website I found a reference to an old scrapbook of Rawlings' that contained a photo of her birthplace. I contacted the curator, Florence Turcotte, who pulled the photo, scanned it, and sent it to me. Here it is: 


Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' birthplace. Between the two houses you can see the side of the Masonic Hall at the corner of 12th and Monroe.  (Courtesy Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Papers, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida.)

There is no doubt that it is the same house we now know as 1221 Newton. Why was it numbered 1215 Newton back in the 1910s? If the Kinnans owned adjacent lots on that block, then the numbering was probably adaptable. When a home was eventually built next door, it became 1215 and the Kinnan home became 1221. That would be my guess.

More to come soon on Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and her childhood in Brookland.


ADDENDUM: Further research seems to indicate the Kinnans lived at BOTH addresses; 1221 and 1215 Newton. See my subsequent post on Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings for the full story.

© Robert Malesky 2017