1870s

Print shows a hen with three chicks in a farmyard.

Fowl Play in Washington: the City’s History of Chicken Thievery

Washington has seen its fair share of crimes: mafia operations, drug networks, triple murder… But in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, one of the city’s most pervasive crimes was one we today might find difficult to imagine: chicken thievery. In today’s urban landscape, the phenomenon may seem difficult to imagine; but 150 years ago chicken robbery was widespread -- and serious business. The practice was dangerous and, at times, even fatal.

Portrait of Alexander Gardner with a camera, taken around 1860

A Tale of Two Photographers: Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner

If you lived in nineteenth-century D.C. and wanted your picture taken, you couldn’t just whip out your own camera — you’d visit Pennsylvania Avenue NW, known locally as “photographer’s row.” This stretch of the avenue, between the White House and the nearly-finished Capitol building, was home to a cluster of photography studios and galleries. Between 1858 and 1881, the most fashionable and famous was Brady’s National Photographic Art Gallery. It was run by Mathew Brady and his manager, Alexander Gardner, whose partnership endured its own civil war. 

Eat Anywhere! Mary Church Terrell, the Lost Laws, and the End of Segregation in D.C. Restaurants

Washington Afro American headline from June 9, 1953.

On Friday, January 27, 1950, Mary Church Terrell met three friends for a late lunch in downtown Washington. Terrell, then 86, entered Thompson’s Restaurant on 7th Street NW around 2:45 pm with Rev. William H. Jernigan, Geneva Brown and David Scull. Their party was integrated – Scull was white while the others were black – however, Thompson’s Restaurant was not. Like most other D.C. eating establishments at the time, it was whites only.

As the group went about selecting entrees along the cafeteria line, Manager Levin Ange emerged and informed them that Thompson’s did not serve “colored” people. Terrell clarified, “Do you mean to tell me that you are not going to serve me?” When Ange confirmed that was the case, the group left the restaurant.

The chain of events was, of course, entirely expected. As a leader of Washington’s civil rights movement for half a century, Mary Church Terrell was well aware of Thompson’s policy. But she and the others didn’t go to the restaurant to be served. Rather they went with the expectation of being turned away – the necessary, if also demeaning, first step toward bringing a new sort of legal challenge, which they hoped would topple segregation in the nation’s capital.

Books You Should Read: Alexander Shepherd Biography by John Richardson

For John Richardson, Washington’s influential territorial governor, Alexander Robey “Boss” Shepherd, has been a source of fascination for over 30 years, since the author moved into D.C.’s Shepherd Park neighborhood. Balancing this curiosity with a day job in the CIA and stints overseas meant that progress on the book was slower than Richardson intended. But, the result of his labors is worth the wait for local history enthusiasts. Richardson’s biography, Alexander Robey Shepherd: The Man Who Built the Nation’s Capital (Ohio University Press, 2016) is a thoroughly researched and well-written study of a man who, despite his enormous impact on the District of Columbia, has not gotten the attention he deserves from scholars. Check out our video with the author!

Lobbying at the Willard Hotel

Willard Hotel lobby in 1901 (Photo source: Library of Congress)

Washington, D.C. is a city rich in history with many stories to tell. Inevitably some of those stories take on a life of their own, even if the facts don’t necessarily back them up. For example, the story that the term “lobbyist” was created by President Ulysses S. Grant to describe the flocks of favor-seekers he encountered during his frequent sojourns to the lobby of the Willard Hotel.

portrait of Prince Arthur, the youngest son of Queen Victoria.

Washington Pulls Out All the Stops for Prince Arthur, 1870

As the nation's capital, Washington has a long and illustrious history of hosting important guests, but in 1870 the city's fashionable set pulled out all the stops for the seventh child of Queen Victoria, His Royal Highness Arthur William Patrick Albrecht. Called Prince Arthur, the fashionable prince made quite an impression on the press and the city's Treasury girls.

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