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.
When the stresses of life in Washington became too much, John Quincy Adams calmed his nerves by taking early-morning swims in the Potomac River. In a move that might be considered questionable by today’s standards, he especially liked to soak in the brisk, cold water wearing nothing but his own skin. According to local lore, it once got him into a bit of trouble: Anne Royall, a trailblazing journalist, caught him in a very awkward situation. But is there any truth in the tale?
Today she is widely remembered for her heroism during the War of 1812, when she saved a portrait of George Washington from being taken and burned by British invaders. But during her lifetime, Dolley Madison was best known as a prominent socialite, hostess, and politician in her own right — one of the country’s first celebrity personalities.
When the U.S. entered WWII in late 1941, women all over Washington stepped up to fulfill wartime needs; and Filipino women were certainly no exception. The Filipino Women's Club of Washington, formed in 1943, played a crucial role in the war effort and inspired community when the city most needed it.
“They’ll admit women to the College over my dead body!”
When the Georgetown University Board of Directors announced big changes coming to campus in 1969, at least one Jesuit priest was clearly not thrilled. Perhaps he had just read the headline: “Georgetown Breaks Tradition, Allows Women into the College of Arts and Sciences.” Perhaps he had not heard the rumors that his university needed money, and would be increasing its enrollment rate in the coming years. Perhaps he had neglected to look outside the window of his office and notice that women had been walking across Georgetown’s campus for many years already.
As the United States entered World War I, women became a vital part of the war effort. The Navy created a single unit of African-American Yeomanettes, which was assigned to Washington D.C.'s Navy Yard, and quickly made an impression.
On March 3, 1913, one day before the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson, 5,000 women marched on Pennsylvania Avenue to demand women's suffrage. Though their parade was met with violence from the crowd, the suffragettes kept marching toward the vote.
Decades before Venus and Serena Williams dominated women’s tennis on the WTA tour, the Peters Sisters — Margaret Peters, a.k.a. “Pete", and Roumania Peters, a.k.a. “Repeat” — from Georgetown, were unstoppable champions in the all-black American Tennis Association.