World War I

Cartoon from the front page of the Afro-American newspaper, July 25, 1919.

Red Summer Race Riot in Washington, 1919

By all accounts, Saturday, July 19, 1919 was a hot, muggy night in Washington, D.C. The stifling heat probably didn’t help the disposition of patrons in the city’s saloons which, in this era of early-Prohibition, could only offer the tamest of liquid refreshments. (Though, undoubtedly many barflies acquired stiffer drinks at one of the city’s many speakeasies.) It probably didn’t help matters, either, that many of the soldiers and sailors who had recently returned home from the battlefields of World War I were struggling to find work.

The day’s Washington Times reported that Mrs. Elsie Stephnick, a white woman who worked in the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, had been assaulted by “2 negro thugs” on her way home from work the previous evening. The paper noted, “This is the sixth attack made on women in Washington since June 25 and while the police are working day and night in an effort to arrest the negro assailant of the women, only two suspects are in custody.”

The Women's Peace Party and Pacifism During WWI

American delegates to the International Congress of Women which was held at the Hague, the Netherlands in 1915. (Source: Library of Congress)

Two years before the United States entered World War I, women in Washington were gathering to protest the practice. As The Washington Post put it, “War was declared on war.”

The Women’s Peace Party was formed January 10, 1915 at a conference at the Willard Hotel. Speakers included Jane Addams, a pioneer of social work and feminism, Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the International Alliance for Women’s Suffrage, and other representatives from throughout the country, including two delegates from the District’s branch of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Over 3,000 attendees unanimously agreed on a “peace program,” to end the war practically.

Test tubes containing bovine tubercular bacteria. (Source: Library of Congress)

"Tony's Lab" and World War I Germ Sabotage in Washington

In the fall of 1915, Anton Dilger was looking for a house to rent in Washington. With the help of his sister, Jo, Dilger decided on a quaint white house in the 5500 block of 33rd St., NW, not far from Chevy Chase Circle. It was a comfortable place in a new neighborhood and had a basement that could serve as a home research laboratory. Anton proudly listed himself as a physician in the Washington City Directory, in effect putting out his shingle in the nation’s capital. However, Dr. Dilger didn’t see many patients. He was busy with more nefarious pursuits.

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.

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