Washington, Janie Rogella (1908-2000)

  • By Mary T. Henry
  • Posted 7/21/2008
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8682

Janie Rogella Washington was a Seattle nurse and supportive wife who shared and inspired the spirituality that shaped the art of her husband, Dr. James W. Washington Jr. (1911-2000), the internationally known Northwest artist.

Early Years

Janie Washington was born in a small country town in Texas, about five miles from the city limits of Henderson, Texas.  She was one of 12 children, eight girls and four boys, born to Freeman Miller and Daisy Cameron Miller and was named for her grandmother.  

Her father was a part-time insurance salesman but his main occupation was farming the land on which he raised his family.  Her loving memories of that farm lingered into her adult life: riding horses, swimming in water holes, going to church where her father taught Sunday School, the Model T Ford they rode in.  "I had a very happy life.  I could always remember my parents saying that we will always be together because of love and prayer" ( Washington). 

Her early education was in a segregated school with limited resources and with three teachers for 75 children ranging in age from five to 12.  When she was 10 she went to live with her beloved grandmother in Tyler, Texas, and attended school there for two years.  By then her father had become Superintendent of Schools in Henderson and she went back home to attend high school for three years.  She graduated, however, from Emmett Scott High School back in Tyler, in 1926.  She studied nursing for several years, at Butler College and after a failed marriage she went to live with one of her sisters in Louisiana.

Life with James
In 1942, at a cafe where she had found employment in Little Rock, Arkansas, she met James W. Washington, a civilian electrician with the Navy. They were married on March 29, 1943, and  moved to Bremerton, Washington, where they both found employment during World War II in the Naval Shipyard.   Janie Washington found the Northwest "damp, dreary and foggy" (Washington)  and wanted to leave.  But in her journal she admitted "after thirty years I am still here and love it.  I cannot live any other place but Seattle.  Texas is my birth state, but this is my home." (Washington).
In 1945, the Washingtons moved to Seattle because church and civic work were made too difficult by the commute from Bremerton.  He worked as a shoe repairer at Fort Lawton and she worked for two years at Rhodes, the department store on 2nd Avenue that opened in 1927 and closed in 1960.

They bought a house in the Central Area which had been built for $2000 in 1918, by E. A. Gustafson, an architect and builder.  He and his wife Anne, a seamstress, had lived there for over 25 years.  The Washingtons found the craftsman bungalow ideal with its leaded glass windows, built-in cabinets and book cases, fireplace with decorative glazed tile and wall paneling in stained fir.  Their commitment to this home was highlighted in a handwritten note dated September 11, 1948, which stated, "James W. Washington and Janie R. Washington resolve that we will put $25 every month in the bank and $50 on principle of note every other month on property.  (signed) James W. Washington, Jr. and Janie R. Washington.  This night September 11, 1948, 10:00 PM." 

For 20 years her husband created his art in the basement of their home. In those early years Janie Washington was the sole financial support of the family while he pursued his art and worked with the NAACP and CORE.  In 1965, architect William Bain (1896-1985) designed a studio behind the house for James's art projects..
Nursing Career 
Janie Washington was employed in by the U.S. Public Health Hospital as a hospital attendant on a 40-60-bed ward and performed clerical and receptionist duties for the ward nursing-service staff.  After classes at Seattle Central Community College she was promoted to nursing assistant to give nursing care and nursing services to patients and assist in treatment and diagnostic procedure as directed by a professional nurse. 

Janie Washington was a student for many years of her life and up until the late 1970s she took classes at the Community College to improve her skills.  She received several awards for her distinguished service at the hospital and was liked and respected by patients and staff. 

One foggy night a colleague fell ill and she volunteered to take her home to a neighborhood she was not familiar with.  Returning to the hospital she became lost because of the fog and was gone so long that several colleagues went out looking for her.  The police were called and succeeded in finding her. 

Janie Washington retired as a practical nurse after more than 30 years of service..

Church and Community

Since early childhood Janie Washington had been a devout Christian.  She found her Christian home in Seattle at the Mount Zion Baptist Church where she worshipped and served in many capacities, the most noteworthy being  Superintendent of  Kindergarten and Pre-School.  She was a devoted Sunday School teacher who is remembered fondly by her former students.

James Washington was a 33rd Degree Mason  and Janie Washington became a member of the Eastern Star, a group of women who shared the same inspiration with their Masonic Brotherhood.  It was an order dedicated to charity, truth, and loving kindness.  She was treasurer of Jephthah Chapter No. 8 of the order and furnished food and treats for fellowship dinners.  An active participant  in projects to earn money  for charity endeavors, she also chaired several committees.

She was a member of several other organizations both civic and social: 

  • YWCA
  • League of Women Voters
  • Association of Colored Women's Clubs
  • the Altiora Peto Club

Hobbies and Travel

One of her favorite sports was fishing, which she had enjoyed as a youngster in Texas.  The couple bought property in Moses Lake and spent many happy times with friends there fishing and putting on fish fries. They had many friends, among them Sam and Marion King Smith.  He was the first African American elected to Seattle's City Council in 1967, and his wife entered the race for state legislator from the 37th district in 1971.

Janie Washington, a tall, big-boned woman, was an avid bowler who won many trophies for her skill.  She was a member of the Central Area Senior Center bowling league, which bowled at the Imperial Lanes in Rainier Valley.  The group had eight teams with four members on each.  She was on the Go Ahead team.

In 1969, her husband gave her a once in a lifetime tour of Europe where she visited about 10 countries.  In a postcard to him in September 1969, she wrote:  Dear J. W.:  We are here in Caen at this hotel.  France is a beautiful country.  I hope to be able to tell you about all of the lovely places.  Love, Janie.


After 50 years of marriage, the Washingtons invited 300 guests to the Sheraton Hotel for an anniversary celebration on March 28, 1993.  In their program, the couple quoted a Madagascar proverb: "They let their love be like the misty rain coming softly but flooding the rivers."

 In 1992, the Landmarks Preservation Board designated the Washington home and studio at 1816 26th Avenue a Seattle landmark because of two criteria for landmark status: It is associated in a significant way with the life of a person important in the history of the city and it is associated in a significant way with a significant aspect of the culture, or the political or economic heritage of the community.

In 1997, a group of prominent citizens along with James and Janie Washington, formed the Dr. James W. Washington and Janie Rogella Foundation dedicated to preserving the artist's artistic and personal legacy. (James Washington was conferred an honorary doctorate from the Center for Urban Black Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California in 1975.) Washington State Supreme Court Justice Charles Z. Smith (1927-2106) served as the president of the board until 2001, followed by Rev. Laverne Hall until 2003, Bonita Carter Smith in 2004, and Cynthia Devereaux from 2005 to the present.

On March 8, 2008, the Foundation presented two Spirit in the Stone Scholarships to Hugo Shi and Theresa James at the opening of the Northwest African American Museum.

Janie Rogella Washington died of the effects of Alzheimer's disease on September 9, 2000, three months after the death of her husband.


Carole Beers, "Janie Rogella Washington, Nurse, Friend to Young Artists,," The Seattle Times, September 15, 2000; Janie Rogella Washington,"Subject me and myself from childhood to adult,"  March 14, 1975, Janie Rogella Washington Papers,  James W. Washington Home, Seattle, Washington;  Mary Henry interview with Rev. Laverne Hall, June 22, 2008, Seattle, Washington; Mary Henry interview with Winnie Dupree, June 27, 2005, Seattle; Mary Henry interview with Elma Horton;  Mary Interview with Tim Detweiler, June 23, 2005, Mary Henry interview with Eleanor Smith, June 22, 2008 and June 30, 2008; "Biography of Mrs. Washington," The Washington House, Studio, and Garden website accessed July 12, 2008 (http://www.jameswashington.org/studio.pl/Biography_of_Mrs._Washington).

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