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.”
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.
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.
At 10 o’clock in the morning on January 10, 1917, 12 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?” By the fall, many of the picketers had been jailed and reports of prison abuse hit the newswires.
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.
In the fall of 1918, a deadly influenza epidemic raged in Washington, D.C. 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.
Prior to 1909, Harry Bradford had almost never landed himself in the paper. He appeared in The Washington Post once, when it announced that the Kensington Orchestra was going to be performing in the near future. (Bradford played violin.) But other than that, nothing. And yet, in 1910, Bradford’s name was in all caps on the front page of the Post. “Bradford told to quit,” the headline read.
In 1910, the Howard Theater was founded in Washington's Shaw neighborhood, and it soon became the premier black theater in the country, helping launch the careers of many African American performers. But for Duke Ellington, who was a fixture in the neighborhood as a kid, the pool hall next door to the theatre did more to shape his musical sensibilities.
We’ve written earlier about how the Tidal Basin was the site of a popular public beach in the 1920s. In the decade before, however, it hosted another source of popular entertainment: ice skating. In 1912, it was the site of an elaborate “ice carnival,” with thousands of Washingtonians showing up to skate, sled, and have an evening of wintry fun