Bertha at 50 years old.
Based on a first impression, you would never guess that Ms. Bertha C. West, a vibrant African-American woman, was born on March 24, 1904.  She is now 96 years old and has aged wonderfully, still dancing and laughing like a woman more than half her age.  "Miss Berta" has lived her entire life in the District of Columbia.  She spent her early years "Down in the Bottom", which is how, she says, people of her generation refer to the Foggy Bottom area.  She lived there with her family: her parents, who she says were very strict, her sisters, who she says were very spoiled and her brother to whom she was very close.  After her father died in the 20's, her mother began living with her in 1930, remaining under her care until her death in 1959.

West attended public school up to the eighth grade, when she decided to join the work force.  She says it was difficult for her to find a job at first because all of the openings for "colored" girls asked specifically for girls with lighter complexions.  Because she keep up a very neat appearance, she was finally hired by the Hotel Washington, when a woman at the employment office recommended her despite of her dark skin.

She worked in the kitchen of the segregated hotel for twenty-five years.  Every night she had to leave through the back door so that none of the white patrons would see her.  After she stopped working at the hotel, Ms. West took various other positions including a stint as a nurse before retiring in 1965.

When she wasn't working, Ms West really enjoyed music and dancing.  She fondly remembers going to see Duke Ellington, Lena Horne and many other vaudville performers at the Howard Theater when she was younger.  She joined the Elks Lodge in the 1930's and has continued to march and dance in their parades through her golden years.

At the age of 40 the incredible "Miss Berta" enrolled in Cardozo High Night School and by the age of 44 she recieved her high school diploma.  Miss West has often said that she enjoyed her older years more than her youthful days, which were mostly spent working.

She said that she never played much with other children during childhood but now she has so many friends.   Several of them suprised her with a birthday party for her 92nd birthday at the very same Hotel Washington that she had worked at years before.

Miss West is an inspiration to us all.  Throughout her long life she has demonstrated determination and self-reliance rarely seen amongst women of her generation.  She was even married once, at 15 years of age, but she threw him out not long afterwards.  Whether ousting a cheating husband or demanding to be served at "Woodies" or other department stores that did not cater to African-Americans, "Miss Berta" has always managed, through sheer force of will to get exactly what she wanted.  As she remembers her father saying, "God bless the child that's got his own".



Bertha with her mother and sisters

 

The famous Howard Theatre is one 
of the places where Bertha enjoyed 
the great Duke Ellington and other famous acts.  She especially enjoyed dancing the waltz.

Mrs. West has been receiving dolls and stuffed animals for birthdays since she was 60 years old.  She has sixteen in her collection.

Bertha and her mother stayed up all  night watching this television when she first bought it.

In 1992, Bertha went to the senior prom at Howard University.  She and her partner were voted king and queen.

Bertha had to face the everday reality 
of racism and segregation growing
up in Washington DC in the early 
part of the last century.