Mary E. Switzer Memorial Building

Street view of the Mary E. Switzer Building in S.W., Washington D.C. Building History

Mary E. Switzer was the director of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) in 1950 and the first administrator of HEW's Social and Rehabilitation Service in 1967. She retired in 1970 as the highest ranking female bureaucrat in the federal government., died on October 16, 1971.

Shortly after Switzer's death on October 16, 1971, Senator Hubert H. Humphrey (D-Minnesota) introduced legislation in the Senate to have what was then the Railroad Retirement Board Building renamed in Switzer's honor. On October 21, 1972, President Richard Nixon signed Public Law 92-520 redesignating the Railroad Retirement Board Building as the "Mary Switzer Memorial Building". The structure was formally rededicated on January 16, 1973. It was the first federal building to be named for a woman.

Designed to house the established Railroad Retirement Board, the construction of the Mary E. Switzer Federal Building initiated the revitalization of the southwest quadrant of Washington, D.C. and the transformation into a federal enclave. Completed on the eve of World War II, the building was requisitioned for war-time use just prior to its completion, serving the National Defense Committee and Department of War throughout the ensuing conflict.

Although the intended tenant agency never occupied the building, it is significant not only for the role it played in the redevelopment of Southwest, D.C., but also for its innovative building materials and unique style. Built during a transitory period in federal architecture, the building combines emerging modernism with late 19th century revivalism. On July 6, 2007, the Switzer Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

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