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.
Long before the invention of the airplane and a short time before trains were used for commercial transportation, congressmen traveling to Washington for extended periods faced a complicated issue: where would they live in the developing capital city while Congress was in session? Some wealthier members of Congress could purchase private residences or stay with a colleague, but this was not a realistic option for most. The most common solution by far, was to reside in one of the District’s many boardinghouses. Several former presidents, including Abraham Lincoln, found boardinghouses to be a phenomenally sufficient option during their congressional years— for a reasonable fee, a boardinghouse would provide you a room, quality meals, place to work, and lively conversation with fellow residents, many of whom were also politicians. Boardinghouses were scattered throughout the city, but the majority of them were located on Capitol Hill in the area where the Library of Congress stands today.
During the Civil War, the U.S. Capitol served stints as a military barracks, a bakery, and a hospital for wounded soldiers, all while the building was under construction. After the war, the bakery was dismantled and the soldiers left — well, all but one …
From 1920 to 1930, George Cassiday was a bootlegger for Congress. He sold alcohol to four out of every five members during Prohibition, and at one point had an office inside the House Office Building. After his arrest for possessing alcohol, Cassiday told his story in The Washington Post.
By 1875, the old Congressional Library had completely exhausted its shelf space, and the Library's new building was not completed until February 1897. Although the 20 year wait for the physical structure was a long one, it seemed that the months between the building’s completion in February 1897 and its opening day on November 1, 1897 were the longest of all. Throughout these nine months, librarians and engineers joined together to try and solve one major problem: how would they move all of the Library’s contents the quarter of a mile distance from the Capitol to the new library without “loss, damage, and confusion.” The answer? Book chutes.
To be, or not to be on Capitol Hill: that was the question. For D.C.’s Shakespeare Theatre, the answer was not to be. After a six-year residency at the Folger Shakespeare Library, located behind the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, the theatre company set off in 1992 to make a new home for itself in Penn Quarter downtown at the former site of Lansburgh’s Department store.
Those who travelled into the District in the early part of May could enjoy a rock concert, good food, and plenty of protesting. In May 1971, the culmination of months of anti-Vietnam protesting took hold of D.C., when thousands of young Americans attempted to block traffic, execute sit-ins, and make their voices heard.
While the months leading up to a presidential election can be stressful for many in Washington, D.C., the presidential race provides a gold mine of material for the Capitol Steps. Founded in 1981, this political satire troupe has been poking fun at politicians for almost 40 years.
In the winter months of 1893-1894, D.C. area folks were plagued with the fear of a mysterious man dubbed “Jack the Slasher.” Nicknamed after London’s infamous “Jack the Ripper” of 1888, this Jack silently entered homes at night and left just as stealthily as he came, leaving a violent mess behind him. Police were perplexed, women and children terrified, and men poured money into the protection of their houses. But before you start thinking the worst, know that he wasn’t that kind of slasher. Rather than human flesh, the target of his knife was textiles. He cut up furniture, clothing, carpets, and anything he could get his hands on, while taking little for himself. Why? Even after he was caught, no one was able to ascertain a real motive.
Jack’s robberies started in October 1893 at the home of Nick Young, President of the National Baseball League, in Mount Pleasant. He entered by cutting the slats of the shutters and sliding through a back window while the house was sleeping. Young woke to his residence in chaos: “the bric-a-brac and furniture therein [were] almost completely destroyed… The walls and pictures were besmeared with mud, while chairs and carpets were cut with a keen knife.” When police were called to the scene of the crime, they were mystified, remarking they had never seen anything like it. And Jack was just beginning.
Born in Asheville, North Carolina, Roberta Flack started playing the piano at an early age. When she was five, her family moved to the Nauck community in Arlington and she took up the organ, lending her musical talents to Macedonia Baptist Church. At 15, she entered Howard University with a full music scholarship and, by 19, she was a college graduate seeking.
She accepted a position in a segregated school district in Farmville, North Carolina and wound up being the only music teacher for 1300 students, kindergarten through 12th grade. “I lost 40 pounds and almost had a nervous breakdown but we did some beautiful things that year.”
Flack returned to Washington and taught at Rabaut Junior High School and Brown Junior High School. In the evenings, she started performing – first at the Tivoli Theatre in Columbia Heights and then at Mr. Henry’s, a Capitol Hill nightclub at 6th and Pennsylvania Ave, SE, which was owned by Henry Yaffe.