Celebrating Women’s History Month at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Celebrating Women’s History Month at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and the area surrounding it have incredible histories filled with women who have stood up, taken charge, and made their mark on the world for the better. From business owners to dedicated lovers of the park, here are just a few stories of the women who’ve helped shape the footprint of Kenilworth.

Helen Fowler

Helen Fowler, daughter of Walter Shaw, a Civil War veteran who settled his family on the bank of the Anacostia from Maine, was, you might say, the mother of the park. After her father’s passing in 1921, Helen took over the small but thriving commercial water garden business. What could have been just a passing of the reigns became the opportunity for Helen to make her mark on the entire world of water gardening. 

Helen Fowler and her truck. Fun fact, Helen was the first woman in DC to obtain a commercial driver’s license! Photo credit to the National Park Service.

As the National Park Service says about her, “One day, the single pond and twelve lilies would grow into their profitable joint business. Helen Shaw Fowler would become a world diplomat for water gardening. Later she would come to lobby with her brother and others to save the beloved gardens from a river improvement project. Living within sight of these ponds until she died, Helen witnessed her father’s water lily hobby grow to the historic gardens you visit today.”

Her legacy has left us with over 35 ponds filled with native and exotic water plants and a history touched by the love and dedication she put into making Shaw Gardens a success. 

Kimi Gray

Another hero of Kenilworth, though more recent, was Kimi Gray. Many knew her and still feel the echoes of her life’s work that touch them even today.

“In 1974 an innovative program called College Here We Come began under the leadership of neighborhood resident Kimi Gray. Kimi, a young mother of five who moved into Kenilworth Courts in 1965, had become a leader in the community and president of the Resident Council. College Here We Come began to offer a variety of college prep services to area teens, hoping that they could “get out of the ghetto” and receive an education, then come back and help the neighborhood,” writes author Joe Lapp

Kimi Gray as part of the C-SPAN series “Washington Profiles” in 1990. Photo credits to C-SPAN.

The program was a success, and it inspired Ms. Gray to come together with other neighbors to improve the area further. With the support of the community and a few key stakeholders, Ms. Gray founded the Kenilworth-Parkside Resident Management Corporation (KPRMC) to give ownership back to the tenants of the neighborhood. Taking back responsibility and ownership of housing with neighbors and residents who invested in the success of KPRMC became the hallmark of success in the community and led to lasting change. Ultimately, Ms. Gray believed in controlling one’s destiny through economic empowerment. This belief has led more than one resident to say that there would be no Kenilworth without Kimi Gray. 

There are countless stories of the bravery and perseverance of the women of Kenilworth, stories we hope to share with you all in the future and stories we hope you’ll share too.

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