World War I

The Silent Sentinels

Women suffragists picketing in front of the White house on "College Day" in 1917. (Source: Wikipedia)

At 10 o’clock in the morning on January 10, 1917, twelve women from the National Woman’s Party took up posts outside the White House entrances. They stood in silence, wearing purple, yellow and white ribbons, and holding large banners, which read: “Mr. President, what will you do for woman suffrage?”

The idea behind the vigil, which organizers planned to continue on a daily basis, was to make it impossible for the President to enter or exit the executive mansion without being confronted with the suffrage question. Though tame by today’s standards, The Washington Herald called the effort “the most militant move ever made by the suffragists of this country.”

By the fall, many of the picketers had been jailed and reports of prison abuse hit the newswires.

Advertisement poster for the American Red Cross circa. 1914-1918 (Source: Library of Congress)

Honeymoon on the Western Front

On January 30, 1915, a select few of Washington’s high society came out for the wedding of Edward Motely Pickman and Hester Marion Chanler. The two married in an intimate ceremony at the Meridan Hill home of Mr. Henry White, a former Ambassador to France, and his wife Margaret “Daisy” Stuyvesant Rutherford, a prominent New York socialite. (The Whites were distant relatives but close friends of Hester’s family.) The day before, Washington’s movers and shakers celebrated the young couple at the exclusive Alibi club where membership rolls included presidents, senators, chief justices, and ambassadors.

News of the wedding took the front page of the Washington Post’s Society section. However, it was not the guest list or the bride’s dress that made the Pickmans the talk of the town. Rather, it was their unusual honeymoon plans.

"More Tons, Less Huns": The Virginia Shipbuilding Corporation in Alexandria, VA: 1917-1922

Back of peoples' heads in the foreground with a large boat in the background.

World War I fueled a rapid buildup in industrial production, and, in particular, merchant shipbuilding. America needed cargo vessels—fast—and, as luck would have it, Alexandria was prepared. Between 1910 and 1912, the Army Corps of Engineers had infilled a 46-acre bay and wildlife preserve – Battery Cove – near Jones Point Lighthouse. The land’s proximity to the Potomac River and its enormous size made it an ideal site for shipbuilding. Alexandrians rejoiced when the Virginia Shipbuilding Corporation came to their city but the enthusiasm would not last.

Red Cross Demonstration in D.C. During 1918 Influenza Pandemic (Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, 1918)

Then There Were No Coffins

In the fall of 1918, a deadly influenza epidemic raged in the District. Entire families were wiped out; some people died within a day of showing symptoms. City officials, meanwhile, had a difficult job: figuring out what to do with the bodies.

Remembering Arlington's John Lyon

In honor of Veterans Day, the Arlington Historical Society is having a talk about Arlington's fallen sons of World War I tomorrow night at Marymount University. To get you ready, we sat down with the speaker, Annette Benbow, and she told us about one of the men, Lt. John Lyon. Watch the video above and then click through for more information.

Terrorism Hits Home in 1915: U.S. Capitol Bombing

When a bomb exploded in the U.S. Capitol on July 2, 1915, it caused major damage to the Senate reception room and set off a crazy chain of events. (Photo source: Library of Congress)

Shortly before midnight on Friday, July 2, 1915, police responded to the U.S. Capitol where an explosion had just rocked the Senate wing. Fortunately they found no fatalities – a byproduct of the fact that Congress was not in session and the building was lightly staffed at night. But, there was plenty of carnage and, obviously, great concern about security.

The next evening, Washingtonians opened their Evening Star newspaper to find a peculiar letter under the headline, “Letter Received by the Star Thought to Have Bearing on the Explosion.” The diatribe began, “Unusual times and circumstances call for unusual means.”

Washington Reacts to the Sinking of the Lusitania

When the RMS Lusitania was hit by a German torpedo on May 7, 1915, it took less than 20 minutes for the luxurious ocean liner to sink. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

On the morning of May 1, 1915 Washington Post subscribers opened their morning newspapers and found a stern message from the Imperial German Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue.

“Travelers intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notices given by the imperial German government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain or of any of her allies are liable to destruction in these waters and that travelers sailing in the war zone on ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.”

The same warning was printed in papers all across the United States – a harbinger of things to come as World War I raged in Europe.

As the nation geared up for World War I, inventor Thomas Edison urged the government to fund and create a laboratory to further research toward national defense. It took a few years, but he finally got his wish. (Photo source: Wikipedia)

Thomas Edison's D.C. Invention

Tonight our favorite documentary series, American Experience premieres a film about Thomas Edison, which you can watch on WETA TV26 and WETA HD at 9pm. Of course Edison is most known for his many inventions at his New Jersey lab. But, he also has a very unique connection to Washington.

The year was 1915. World War I was raging in Europe and Americans were uneasy at the prospect that their country would soon be brought into the conflict. As a man with a history of creative ideas, it's no surprise Edison had some thoughts on the situation and he was not shy about sharing them:

"The Government should maintain a great research laboratory, jointly under military and naval and civilian control. In this could be developed the continually increasing possibilities of great guns, the minutiae of new explosives, all the technique of military and naval progression, without any vast expense. When the time came, if it ever did, we could take advantage of the knowledge gained through this research work and quickly manufacture in large quantities the very latest and most efficient instruments of warfare."

It took a few years, but he finally got his wish and it left a lasting impact here in Washington.

Washington Nationals manager Clark Griffith, shown here during his days with the Chicago White Sox, was in favor of playing baseball on Sundays earlier than most but would have to wait until 1918 for others to come around. (Source: Wikipedia)

Sunday Baseball Comes to D.C., 1918

Spending a Sunday afternoon at the ol’ ballpark is pretty commonplace nowadays. But 100 years ago? Notsomuch.

In the early 1900s, debate raged about whether it was appropriate – or, for that matter, legal – for ballclubs to suit up on Sundays. Blue laws in many states put severe restrictions on what could and could not be done/consumed/enjoyed/observed on the traditional day of rest.

In the District, regulations stipulated that “no public exhibition of any entertainment, play, opera, circus, animals, gymnastics, game, dance or dances, or vaudeville performance of any kind, except the exhibition of moving or other pictures, vocal or instrumental concerts, artist or artists, not in character costume, lectures, and speeches” could take place on Sunday.

Arlington's First Official Unknown Soldier

At Arlington National Cemetery, the subject of a new WETA program that premieres Feb. 5 at 8 p.m., one of the most haunting features is the Tomb of the Unknowns, also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

On the rear of the monument, there's a haunting inscription: Here rests in honored glory, an American soldier known but to God.

But the story of how the first official unknown soldier from World War I was selected for burial in the graves alongside the monument is a strange one. For one, he wasn't actually the first unidentified casualty to be entombed at Arlington.

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