1890s

The Saengerbund Clubhouse: Parties, Concerts, and Bowling

“Washington Sängerbund in 1862.” https://www.saengerbund.org/history.html

The Washington Saengerbund was officially established on April 20th, 1851, and has gone on to become the longest enduring German singing society in the District. From 1874 to 1893, the society met above Charles “Baldy” Dismer’s restaurant at 708 K St. NW in Mount Vernon Square. During that time, the organization enjoyed exponential growth, consisting of nearly 500 members both active and passive by 1894. This influx of members created an evident need for the society to have its own clubhouse, and this dream became a reality in November 1893 when the Saengerbund purchased a house at 314 C Street NW, which would become the site of many extravagent parties, concerts, and bowling matches for the next 27 years.

Anti-Lynching Activism at Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church

Cover of Frederick Douglass's 1894 speech, "Lessons of the Hour," a scathing rebuke of lynching delivered at Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Washington, D.C.

In the late 1800s, Metropolitan A.M.E. Church was a center for anti-lynching activism in Washington, D.C. Famed journalist Ida Wells-Barnett addressed the church on at least two occasions and, in 1894, Frederick Douglass delivered one of his last speeches from the Metropolitan A.M.E. pulpit. Entitled “The Lessons of the Hour” Douglass's address was an epic condemnation of lynching – from its pervasiveness, to its general acceptance amongst both Southern and Northern whites.

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.

Honoring Alexandria's Two Lynching Victims

Memorial Corridor at The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. (Credit: Soniakapadia via Wikimedia Commons. Used via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.)

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, is dedicated to all the victims of racial terror lynching in this country. The memorial is made of hundreds of steel monuments with the names of all known lynching victims inscribed on the front. A monument representing Alexandria, Virginia contains two names: Joseph McCoy and Benjamin Thomas. This is their story, and our community's history. 

The Library of Congress: An Overdue Opening

“Students in the Reading Room of the Library of Congress with the Librarian of Congress, Herbert Putnam, watching” (Photo Source: Library of Congress) Johnston, Frances Benjamin, photographer. Students in the Reading Room of the Library of Congress with the Librarian of Congress, Herbert Putnam, watching. Washington D.C, 1899. [?] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/98502945/.

November 1, 1897 was a cold, rainy Monday in the District. “This may not have been propitious weather for some occasions, but it was hailed with delight by a certain class of persons when they arose that morning. They were not human ducks, either, for the affair in which they wished to participate was sufficient evidence that they were intensely human, and of an intellectual type.” This was the day that the new Congressional Library was to open, and allow eager readers into the Beaux-Arts style building for the first time.

Chuting Books to the Congressional Library

“Washington D.C., Library of Congress 1897-1910.” (Photo Source: Library of Congress) Detroit Publishing Co., Copyright Claimant, and Publisher Detroit Publishing Co. Washington, D.C., Library of Congress. District of Columbia United States, Washington D.C, None. [Between 1897 and 1910] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/

By 1875, the old Congressional Library had completely exhausted its shelf space, and the Library's new building was not completed until February 1897. Although the 20 year wait for the physical structure was a long one, it seemed that the months between the building’s completion in February 1897 and its opening day on November 1, 1897 were the longest of all. Throughout these nine months, librarians and engineers joined together to try and solve one major problem: how would they move all of the Library’s contents the quarter of a mile distance from the Capitol to the new library without “loss, damage, and confusion.” The answer? Book chutes.

“The Book-Delivery System at the Congressional Library, Washington,” 1897 (Photo Source: The Library of Congress). “The Book-Delivery System at the Congressional Library, Washington.” 1897. Still image. 1897. //www.loc.gov/pictures/item/97517986/.

The Congressional Library’s Underground Book Tunnel

By 1875, the Congressional Library in the Capitol Building had outgrown its shelf space, forcing librarians to store incoming books, maps, music, photographs, and documents in stacks on the Library floor. Eventually, Congress approved a plan to move its Library into a new structure that would be built across from the Capitol, and by the end of the summer of 1897, all 800,000 books had been moved into the newly opened Library of Congress building, known today as the Jefferson Building. While the books now had plenty of space, a new challenge presented itself: how would the congressmen have easy access to their library if it was now a quarter of a mile away? The solution was a technological creation that seems futuristic at the very least: a special underground tunnel full of conveyor belts and pneumatic tubes that connected the two buildings, and had books zooming to and fro under First Street SE for nearly the next century.

Fat man cartoon from The Washington Times, February 4, 1914

Fat Men's Clubs of D.C.

In the 19th century, being overweight was still a sign of wealth and prestige. So, it's probably not surprising that fat men’s clubs started popping up across America. There were Fat Men’s Clubs from New York to California; they eventually reached “every state in the Union” as well as the nation's capital.

The D.C. fat men’s club scene was wildly popular and members would intentionally pack on the pounds at the time of membership renewal in order to remain eligible. They were proud of their weights, even boasting about how much they had gained each week. And, sometimes, it was serious business, like 1894 when a brawl broke out between two of D.C.'s biggest clubs.

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