In an imposing brick building at 235 2nd Street, NE on Capitol Hill, time stands still. It is home to over 70 young people living, working, and learning in Washington. This is Thompson-Markward Hall, a boarding house that has been a home for young women in Washington since 1833. But its residents haven’t always been elite graduate students or ladder-climbing interns. Women’s work in Washington has changed dramatically since the 1800s, but Thompson-Markward Hall has remained a necessity.
One of just two Black women in the White House Press Corps during the 1950s and 1960s, Ethel Payne repeatedly demonstrated her determination to deliver the truth to her readers -- informed by her experience. Responding the criticism that she should be more objective, Payne responded, “I stick to my firm, unshakeable belief that the black press is an advocacy press, and that I, as a part of that press, can’t afford the luxury of being unbiased…when it comes to issues that really affect my people, and I plead guilty, because I think that I am an instrument of change.”
It was the start of October and the dog days of summer in the nation’s capital had officially come to an end. The crisp autumn air, a relief to most Washingtonians in years past, was an ominous foreshadowing of the days and weeks to come. There would be no more open windows in homes, streetcars, or workplaces for the foreseeable future. With an invisible killer hanging in the air, Washington would soon find itself in crisis — and transplanted war workers bore the brunt of it.
Returning to campus for the new school year in 1937, Howard University’s students received grim news: one of their deans, Lucy Diggs Slowe, was “reputed critically ill with pleurisy. Her condition was such on Tuesday that relatives were called to her bedside.” After 15 years at the university, Slowe was a staple to the campus and its students – many of the women enrolled at the college saw her has a mentor and advocate for their education at Howard.
What the headline didn’t mention was what some believed was the cause of her declining health. There were rumblings that it was the efforts of key Howard University staff that had caused her illness, and they wouldn’t stop until Slowe left the school for good.
Who was Lucy Diggs Slowe, and what led to such harsh conflict between her and the university?
As the deadline to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment approached, proponents of the amendment held what was then known as the "largest parade for feminism in history" to pressure Congress for an extension to the ratification date.
By the late 1950s, Shirley Horn had performed all up and down the U Street corridor a countless number of times, but her show at the Howard Theatre one October night in 1958 was particularly memorable for her. The jazz pianist and singer happened to be in the ninth month of her pregnancy at the time and was expecting the baby to be due any day.
To close off Women's History Month, learn about Sarah Marinda Loguen Fraser, the first woman to receive an M.D. from the Syracuse University College of Medicine, and the fourth Black woman to become a licensed physician in the United States. While her extraordinary life took her all around the world, including New York, the Dominican Republic and France, some of the most important landmarks of her life happened in Washington, D.C.
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.
As we celebrate the Nineteenth Amendment’s centennial year, those of us in D.C. should also remember the women whose victory wasn’t assured in 1920. Our local story really isn’t about the large demonstrations down the Mall, or the women who protested outside the White House—the suffragettes of Washington were the Voteless Voters, who continued to fight long after the Amendment was ratified.