Anyone who reads The First Forty Years of Washington Society will form an image of Margaret Bayard Smith as a lively social butterfly and busybody. After all, her published letters seem like the nineteenth-century equivalent of a gossip column. What readers may not realize is that, just like her husband, Margaret was an accomplished writer. In nineteenth-century Washington, she was well-known as an author in her own right, not just a socialite.
“There is a great silence today in Washington. A fine newspaper is gone and a noble tradition ended.”
Ronald Reagan’s words appeared on the front page of the August 7, 1981, issue of the Washington Evening Star. The biggest piece of news that day was the end of a 128-year-old Washington institution—the story of the newspaper’s own demise.
Born into wealth and privilege, no one can say Cissy Patterson started at the bottom, but she definitely ended up at the top of Washington's social scene in the 1930s. As the owner of the most popular newspaper in the city, Patterson defined who was who in D.C., sensationalizing political feuds in print and throwing elaborate parties at her Dupont Circle mansion. But despite being the brightest star in the sky, she was anything but universally beloved. Just ask her daughter, Felicia.
Washington has always been a town that likes gossip and scandal. So, it’s probably not a surprise that turn-of-the-century Washingtonians were quite interested in vampire stories. You see, back then, “vampire” was a term for a dark, seductive woman who lured men into her poisonous embrace, sucked him dry of wealth and left him debauched and ruined – a femme fatale of the most frightening and glamorous sort.
An independent and sexual woman with power over men? Yikes! If the newspapers saw a chance to embellish an account of a ‘real vampire’, boy did they go for it.
In the 1950s, Washington seems to have been a popular destination for UFOs, both actual ones and cinematic. Two popular science fiction movies, 1951'sThe Day the Earth Stood Still and 1956's Earth Vs the Flying Saucers, depicted alien spacecraft arriving in the nation's capital, to the consternation of both residents and the government. But those close encounters may have seemed a bit more plausible, given that the Washington area also was the scene of one of the most celebrated real-life UFO incidents ever--one that still intrigues those who ponder the possiblity of extraterrestrial visits to Earth.
December 6, 1877 was a big day in local journalism as D.C.'s longest running local rag, The Washington Post, published its first issue. For three pennies readers got four pages of news. Sounds like a pretty good deal.
Around the turn of the century, Washington, D.C. had a distinct lack of single men. In any era before, the women of the city might have resigned themselves to the life of the scorned “old maid” in a corset and lived a boring existence with their parents before finally dying. But not these ladies. No, starting in the late 1890s, many women in the capital city began to push for a more open society, pursuing higher education, living alone, and managing their own affairs. This was the dawn of the Bachelor Girl age.
Bachelor girls were a point of controversy in the Washington press. Some columnists were shocked and appalled with these independent ladies’ leaps into the future.