Josephine Dorothy Butler, 77, a founder and former chairman of the D.C. Statehood Party and a community activist whose interests included the conditions of the District's parks, world peace, the union movement and the welfare of children, died March 29 at Medlink Hospital in Washington. She had heart ailments and diabetes.
Mrs. Butler was a former member of the Mayor's Health Planning Advisory Committee, the D.C. Human Rights Commission and the D.C. Coordinating Committee for the International Women's Year. In the 1970s, she twice ran for the D.C. Council as a candidate of the Statehood Party.
Among the many positions she held was that of co-chairman of Friends of Meridian Hill, a group dedicated to turning Meridian Hill Park in Northwest Washington, once a crime-ridden eyesore, into a place of beauty and serenity.
In 1994, she introduced President Clinton when he gave an Earth Day speech at the park, and she took the opportunity to tell about the role of earthworms in the health of plants and all living things. It was a story she often told to children.
The president responded by praising the Friends of Meridian Hill as a "shining example for the nation" of what community activism can accomplish. At a White House ceremony, he gave Mrs. Butler the National Partnership-Leadership Award.
In 1995, Mrs. Butler organized a parade of 4,000 people from her Adams-Morgan neighborhood to the Capitol, where she addressed a crowd estimated at 250,000 people who had gathered to mark the 25th anniversary of Earth Day.
As a young woman just arrived in the District from the Brandywine area of Prince George's County, Mrs. Butler went to work for a laundry. She became interested in the union movement and took the lead in organizing laundry employees in the Washington area.
In the 1950s, when she worked in a government cafeteria, she opposed a move by union officials to raise dues of part-time workers, whose hours were as long as those of full-time workers but whose pay and benefits were less.
In the 1960s and 1970s, when she was an educational program director for the D.C. Lung Association, Mrs. Butler organized the association's workers for the Office and Professional Employees International Union. She was elected a delegate to the Greater Washington Central Labor Council AFL-CIO.
Mrs. Butler was a founder of the D.C. chapter of the Paul Robeson Friendship Society, named after the African American singer and peace activist, and the World Council of Peace. In 1978, she helped organize the council's first meeting in the United States in its 30-year existence. In connection with the peace movement, she visited the former Soviet Union, Greece and Grenada.
In the 1950s, Mrs. Butler took a leading role in combining the Adams and Morgan public elementary schools in Washington. Although she had no children, she was chairman of a residents group at Morgan, which served African American children in the days of school segregation. Adams was a school for white children. After the U.S. Supreme Court's desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, Morgan and Adams were joined. The new school -- and the neighborhood around it -- were called Adams-Morgan.
In 1971, Mrs. Butler was a founder of the D.C. Statehood Party. Formerly a Democrat, she was appalled by the police violence at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. She was ready for a change when the idea for a new party in the District first came under discussion.
She was a close associate of the late Julius Hobson Sr., a noted activist of the period, when he was elected to the D.C. Council on the Statehood ticket.
Mrs. Butler was born Jan. 24, 1920, in what was known as the Poplar Hill section of Brandywine. She was raised on a tobacco farm, where her father was a sharecropper. She attended Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro. She later received a high school equivalency diploma and attended Strayer College.
She moved to Washington in 1934, lied about her age and went to work for a laundry.
In an interview in 1978 with the Rock Creek Monitor, she said one of the important events of her life was attending a meeting in the late 1930s that was addressed by Robeson and Henry A. Wallace, a secretary of agriculture and vice president under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
On hearing them speak of peace and justice, she said, she "realized that was my whole world. It was like an awakening of something that was dormant."
During World War II, Mrs. Butler was a clerk in the Veterans Administration. In 1949, she said, she was blacklisted from government employment, apparently because of what were regarded as her leftist associations. She later worked in government cafeterias and as a bartender.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Mrs. Butler was incapacitated with tuberculosis. When she recovered, she became a volunteer with the D.C. Lung Association. She was soon hired to design programs to teach schoolchildren about air pollution and related matters. She retired about 1980.
Her marriage to Jack Brown ended in divorce, and she later took the name of Butler.
Survivors include her mother, Helen Arabelle Jenifer of Silver Spring; four sisters, Lucy Ellen Cardwell of Washington, Helen Antoinette Birchmore of Waldorf, Lelia Ernestine Taylor of Bethesda and Emma Louise Dodson of Brandywine; and a brother, Robert Calvin Jenifer of Fort Washington.