Fanny Otis Richards
One of the Four Founding Members of the Chevy Chase Reading Class
Fanny Richards, 1868-1958
Fanny Otis Bartlett was born on March 23, 1868, in Amador County, California, the first child of James Otis Bartlett and Olive Little Rogers. Although originally from the East Coast, the Bartlett family traveled back and forth between their family homes in New England and “gold country.” Fanny’s sister Miriam was born in Massachusetts in 1869 and her brother Wales was born in California in 1876. Fanny and her brother and sister became school teachers.
We don’t know where Fanny went to school – whether she attended school in Amador County or in Marshfield, Massachusetts where her mother’s family lived. Perhaps she attended school in Maine, where her father was born. But in 1892, when she was about 24 years old, Fanny was listed as an assistant teacher at the Blackinton School, a public school in the Orient Heights neighborhood of East Boston. This neighborhood was also the location of the first branch of the Boston Public Library, and was known for its new immigrant population. Three years later, Fanny was listed in a Boston City Directory, again as a teacher at Blackinton School. She was also listed as a boarder at 225 Leyden Street, not far from the school itself.
Clift Rogers Richards
At the time of her marriage to Clift Rogers Richards in August of 1895, she was living in Boston and working as a teacher. Clift was working as a clerk in the General Land Office, later the Department of the Interior, in Washington, DC, where he would continue to work for 45 years. Clift graduated from Boston University.
On May 3, 1895, just few months before their marriage, Clift Richards bought a lot in the new suburb of Chevy Chase, on West Irving Street. In 1896, both Clift and Fanny are listed in the Washington City Directory as living at 1217 Twentieth Street NW, the same address where Clift had lived for the previous three years. The next year, they move to 228 N Street NW. Their first two children were probably born before they moved to Chevy Chase. Clift Rogers Jr., was born in 1896, and James Bartlett was born in 1897, both in Marshfield, Massachusetts. Fanny may have preferred to give birth near her extended family – and also have help with two young boys born just one year apart.
Fanny and Clift's youngest child Miriam was born in 1900. Miriam recalled in her oral history interview with CCHS that her father built the house just before she was born. Deeds for the house indicate that it was built in 1898.
Fanny and Clift were already living at 9 West Irving Street when the Chevy Chase Reading Class was formed in the fall of 1899. She joined Elizabeth Verrill, Mary Robertson and Grace Bowen for the first meeting, and continued as a member of the Reading Class for as long as we have records. Her friend Mary Robertson was still attending in the early 1960s. Perhaps Fanny, if her health allowed, also attended the weekly meetings into the 1950s.
Both Clift and Fanny became involved in the early social groups and clubs in the new suburb Chevy Chase. They had a great deal in common with their neighbors. Clift, like so many other residents, worked for the federal government, and Fanny was well-educated and had worked before her marriage. Although they attended All Souls Unitarian Church in the District of Columbia, rather than one of the Chevy Chase churches, they were involved in all of the newly formed associations in Chevy Chase: the Reading Class, the Free Library Association, and the Literary Club. For example, The Washington Post reported on February 11, 1906 that the Richards attended a masquerade party to benefit the Chevy Chase Free Library Association. Fanny, referred to as Mrs. C. R. Richards, won the prize for the best woman’s costume. She came as a mummy, and according to the newspaper, kept a “mummy-like demeanor quite in keeping with her funereal aspect!” Her prize was a silver nut bowl.
In 1907, Fanny and Clift joined with other neighbors to form the Literary Club of the Chevy Chase Association. They met in each other’s homes monthly from fall until spring. Many of the members of the Reading Class were members of the Literary Club. Fanny’s husband Clift read several of his own short stories in the first years, and in April 1908, the Richards were the hosts for the monthly meeting. That fall, Clift was elected the Chair of the Literary Club.
In February 1909, the Literary Club presented a dramatic program at the newly constructed Library, and Fanny Richards was among those who performed at the event. At the May meeting, Clift read his story, “The Adventures of a Bear.” And in November, Clift and Fanny hosted the meeting of the Literary Club and Clift was re-elected Chair. Once again, he read an original story. In January 1910, Fanny read aloud from the poetry of Robert Burns, along with Mrs. Ridgway and Mrs. Stevens (all were Reading Class members). At the October meeting of the Literary Club, Fanny read from the Mahabharata, and her selection of a reading may link with one of the 1911 reading programs for the Reading Class, when Fanny led a discussion about literary works from India. By the late nineteenth century, an English translation of the Mahabharata was available.
In the fall of 1911, however, Fanny had an operation at Johns Hopkins Hospital. A newspaper notice in the Washington Herald on December 7, 1911 reported that she had returned home from the hospital, “fully recovered.” That same month, the Reading Class met at the Richards home. In April 1912, Clift participated in a “composite” detective story for the Literary Club; it was written with Mr. Giovannoli, Mr. Bowen, and Mr. Parker.
In November 1912, the Richards were the hosts for a Literary Club meeting. And the following January, Clift read a story, a poem, and another piece described as a “quaint story by Mr. Richards describing a New England Village.” That winter, Fanny was asked by the Literary Club to update the membership list for the group. Many names were crossed out of their notebook, and it may have been that rules for participation changed over time. In any case, the 1913-1914 year is the last year that we have records for the Literary Club. There are no more descriptions of the monthly meetings of the Literary Club.
The Reading Class continued, however, and Fanny was elected Chair for 1913-1914. The focus for that year was the work of Nobel Prize authors. In 1919-1920, Fanny was elected once again as the Chair of the Reading Class, and according to the Reading Class records, “This year the novel plan was tried of letting each member select her own writer.”
A newspaper notice in 1919 reported that the Richards leased their house for three months in the summer. This was a common practice among Chevy Chase residents, when many families moved to cooler summer homes. The Richards family frequently visited their relatives in Maine and in Massachusetts.
In 1936, Clift retired from his position at the Department of the Interior. Clift and Fanny continued to live at 9 West Irving Street, and for a short period, their daughter Miriam and her husband lived with them after their marriage. Miriam and her husband Karl Hoffman bought a house nearby, at 24 Hesketh Street. In 1952, Clift died, and Fanny died in 1958.
Digital copies of the Richards family photographs were donated to CCHS by India Richards, and are used here with her kind permission.