Monday, July 27, 2009

Jailed for Freedom: Silent Sentinels

Alice Paul grew up in a Quaker and was likely influenced by the early Quaker suffragists including Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott. But it was during her years in England that she learned tactics to draw attention to the Votes for Women cause. At the time, British suffragists had become a militant movement. They organized mass demonstrations, threw rocks at windows, and participated in hunger strikes. Paul took all of this in and took part in these events. In 1912 Paul moved back to the United States, where she was appointed to the position of Chairmen of the Congressional Committee of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Prior to this time the suffrage movement had been largely based in New York meeting halls, but Paul was a supporter of “Deeds not Words.” The time had come to get Women’s Rights back on the national agenda. To accomplish that she needed to move to Washington.

In 1913, the women of NAWSA organized a mass parade down Pennsylvania Avenue which coincided with Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. The parade was led by Inez Milholland, a suffragist and labor attorney, dressed a Grecian goddess astride a white horse. It was a grand scene that stole the show from Wilson. Though the parade garnered front page media attention put the movement on the national scene, Paul left the organization to form the National Women’s Party(NWP). While NAWSA was focused on achieving suffrage on a state level, NWP believe change could only come with a constitutional amendment. Paul and her supporters engaged in a series of pickets at the White House, with signs (like the one above, left) calling the president “Kaiser Wilson” among other things. The picketers known as “Silent Sentinels” were frequently arrested and charged with “obstructing traffic.” Sentences varied from 60 days, with Paul herself receiving 7 months in the Occoquan Workhouse.

At the Occoquan Workhouse in Fairfax County, Virginia the detained women engaged in hunger strikes. The strikes led to their mistreatment and in to being force fed three times a day for three weeks. Insubordinate women were beaten by the guards; Lucy Burns, a fellow suffragist and friend of Alice Paul’s, was handcuffed to her bed with her arms above her head for a whole night. Public outrage at the prison conditions and at the treatment of the women grew. It is one thing if poor and impoverished women are imprisoned, but many of the suffragists were educated upper middle-class ladies, who (in some opinions) may have been out of their senses, did not deserve harsh treatment. Across the country women took part in the strike as a show of solidarity. In January 1918, President Wilson finally declared his support for the Right to Vote Amendment. With public support growing, the NWP (with new headquarters at 14 Jackson Place) continued its parades, pickets, and took to starting fires around Washington, DC. Frequently, the women were attacked by suffrage opponents, as well as the police. However, the tide was turning. In August 1920, Tennessee became the 36th and final state needed to ratify the 19th Amendment.

Things quieted after that. The NWP took up residency at the “Old Brick Capitol.” From their they drafted the “Equal Rights Amendment Bill,” which to this day has yet to be ratified. Known as the Sewall-Belmont house (front door at seen right), Alice Paul contintued to live and work there. The house became famous for its tea parties. The house now serves as a museum dedicated to the suffrage movement, and features artifacts from NWP’s campaign for the passage of the 19th Amendment and NWP’s feminist founder Alice Paul.

Sources: Library of Congress, American Memory: Photographs from the Records of the National Women's Party.
Tour of the Sewall-Belmont House on July 2009,

Through the years: The Sewall-Belmont House

Tucked away near the Hart Senate Office Building lies a DC gem with significance to both the 19th and 20th centuries. Built by the Sewalls, a prominent Maryland family, in 1799 the Sewall-Belmont house is one of the earliest buildings in the capital. The home’s first resident was Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin. Secretary Gallatin was the chief negotiator for the Louisiana Purchase as well as the Treaty of Ghent ending the War of 1812. In fact, it was during the War of 1812 that the house was set afire by British troops as they invaded the Capital City in 1814. Story has it that Americans from inside the house shot British General Ross’s horse out from under him as he passed by. The British set fire to the house in retaliation; it was the only private residence burnt in Washington during the invasion. While the Sewall family sought reimbursement from Congress for damages during the battle, no payment was ever granted.

The house, eventually repaired, passed through the rest of the 19th century as a popular residence for Congressman and cabinet members. In 1929 the house came under the ownership of the National Women’s Party, the militant suffragist group. The house now serves as a museum dedicated to the suffrage movement, and features artifacts from NWP’s campaign for the passage of the 19th Amendment and NWP’s feminist founder Alice Paul. More on the suffragists later...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Church-going Presidents Part II

First Baptist Church (1328 16th Street)
-Harry S Truman
-Jimmy Carter

Foundry United Methodist Church (16th and Church Streets)
-Bill Clinton

House of Representatives (Capitol Hill)
I find it amusing that Jefferson, who was a big proponent of the separation of church and state, authorized worship services in the Capitol.
-Thomas Jefferson

Immanuel-on-the-Hill (3606 Seminary Road, Alexandria)
-Gerald Ford

National City Christian Church (Thomas Circle)
-Lyndon B. Johnson

National Presbyterian Church (Connecticut Avenue and 18th, near N Street)
-James K. Polk

St. John’s Episcopal Church (Lafayette Square, pictured above)

-Martin Van Buren
-George Bush
-George W. Bush

St. Patrick Catholic Church (G Street, between 9th and 10th Streets)
Though Andrew Johnson had no religious affiliation, he was often seen at Roman Catholic services at this parish. Church pastor, Father Jacob Walter, was outspoken in his defense of Mary Surratt, a parishioner who was charged as an accomplice in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. After she was found guilty, Father Walters stood by her at her execution
-Andrew Johnson

White House (white building on Lafayette Square)
Nixon opted to hold Sunday services at the White House. The services were frequently led by Rev. Billy Graham.
-Richard Nixon

So that leaves us with 2nd President John Adams. I have not been able to come up with a worship location for Adams, and this could have several explanations. For one, Adams was a Unitarian. As a new religion, there were not many locations for worship in the new Capitol. This brings us to the second point that Adams being the first president to live in the White House in a newly created city, found his worshipping options greatly limited (Alexandria and Georgetown were more developed as trading centers).

Thanks to Ian, for helping with the research!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Help find Tom

WaPo writer John Kelly picked up a story about a Burning Quest to Find a Monument to Tom. As America transitioned to the automobile, the need for horse drawn fire-brigades were no longer necessary. In the 1930s the DC Fire Department commissioned a sculpture in honor of the last horse to serve in the Fire Department. The trouble is no one knows where the sculpture is today. Read the article, and learn about the quest to find this missing monument.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Church-going Presidents

While St. John’s Episcopal Church might carry the title “Church of the Presidents,” there have been several other houses of worship frequented by presidents over the years. Following a suggestion from a TMS reader, I have found a list of the Presidents’ churches around town. Co-editor Ian suggested that I write a joke for each entry. The best I came up with was: Herbert Hoover was a Quaker; he needed all the Friends he could get. [insert copious laughter and applause] Thank you very much. I’ll be here all night.

On second thought, I may be better off sticking to the facts. Below is the list, and I’ve selected a few to say something about. Not all the churches still survive, such as The National Presbyterian Church, but there is still a good amount. If you are visiting DC, stop by St. John’s as it is newly restored. Lincoln’s church is not far off from Ford’s Theatre, so check that out too!

All Soul’s Church (16th and Harvard Streets)
-John Quincy Adams
-Millard Fillmore
-William Howard Taft

Calvary Baptist Church (8th and H Streets)
-Warren G. Harding

Central Presbyterian Church (16th and Irving Streets)
-Woodrow Wilson

Christ Church (North Washington Street, Alexandria)
-George Washington

First Baptist Church (16th and O Streets)

-Harry Truman

First Congregational Church (10th and G Streets)
-Calvin Coolidge

Foundry Methodist Church (16th and Church Streets)
This congregation was originally located in Georgetown. After the British attacked Washington, a resident Henry Foxall donated the land which contained an iron foundry that survived the attack to the congregation. It later moved to 14th and G Streets before finding a home on 16th Street. (At left)
-Rutherford B. Hayes

Friends Meeting (2111 Florida Avenue)
-Herbert Hoover

Grace Reformed Church (15th and O Streets)
-Theodore Roosevelt

Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church (36th Street between N and O Streets)
-John F. Kennedy

Metropolitan Memorial Methodist Church (Nebraska and New Mexico Avenues)
-William McKinley
-Ulysses S. Grant

National City Christian Church (Thomas Circle)
This congregation formed in 1819 with 7 people. The initial location was on M Street between 8th and 9th. By the time President Garfield began worshipping there, the church had moved to a larger location on Vermont Avenue. The current church on Thomas Circle was built in 1929 in order to accommodate a growing congregation. (At right)
-James A. Garfield

The National Presbyterian Church (Connecticut Avenue and 18th, near N Street)
-Andrew Jackson
-James Buchanan
-Grover Cleveland
-Benjamin Harrison
-Dwight Eisenhower

New York Avenue Presbyterian Church (New York Avenue and H Street)
Built in 1859, this church was the favorite place of worship for Abraham Lincoln, who would stroll from the White House down H Street to pray and reflect silently in the Lincoln Pew. The congregation’s legers and records include a sad note from the president saying that he had donated $5 to the church’s Sunday School. It was the amount found on Willie, Lincoln’s son, when he died of typhoid fever.
-Abraham Lincoln

St. John’s Episcopal Church (Lafayette Square, near the Hay Adams Hotel)
-James Madison
-James Monroe
-William Henry Harrison
-John Tyler
-Zachary Taylor
-Franklin Pierce
-Chester A. Arthur

St. Thomas Episcopal Church (18th and Church Streets)
Built in 1899, all that remains of this gothic style church is the skeleton of the stone structure and some ruins. The church catered to high society until after World War II, when white families left the city. During the Vietnam Protests, St. Thomas served as a shelter for protester and a sanctuary from the tear gas on Dupont Circle. The original church was burnt in an act of arson in 1970. The parish turned the surviving walls of the church in to a memorial park, and built a new church off the back of it. (At left)
-Franklin D. Roosevelt

You’ll notice that this is an incomplete list. It excludes more recent presidents, and where is Thomas Jefferson? Rumor has it he attended a church in SE Washington. I’m looking in to it and will report back.

Sources: Anna Olga Jones, Churches of the Presidents in Washington, Exposition Press, 1961.

Foundry United Methodist Church.

National City Christian Church.

St. Thomas' Parish.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Frank Like Alice

“If you can’t say something good about someone, sit right here by me.” –Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from the sitting room of her Dupont Circle home

In a time when women were just finding their voices, Alice Roosevelt proved to be one outspoken, dashing, limelight-seeking, stubborn woman. (Alice at left in 1902, in one of her signature hats)

Learning of President McKinley’s assassination, Alice and the other Roosevelt children danced a wild jig. The White House was theirs! Alice was at home in Washington right away, taking up a bedroom in the Northwest corner of the White House looking out at the affluent Lafayette Square. She had moved in just as she was about to cast childhood aside and take on her role as a woman in late Victorian society. One of the first big events at for the Roosevelt family was her debutante ball in 1901. Alice was ready for a party, yet was crushed when she realized that being the First Daughter was not all fun and games. Perhaps to assuage a growing temperance movement, Alice’s stepmother Edith chose to serve punch instead champagne at the ball, much to Alice’s mortification. But despite this hurdle for poor Alice, there was plenty of other fun to be had around town.

I confess that when I started reading about Alice, I was hoping to learn about a strong woman ahead of her time, who broke through gender barriers at every turn. In some ways she was just that. She drove around town in a $2500 “red devil” sports car in an age where women were not to be driving. She bet money on horses and played poker, when most women played bridge.

I had hoped that Alice would be a diplomat, working behind the scenes, like her cousin Eleanor Roosevelt. But in fact, she was more concerned about the publicity. When Kaiser Wilhelm II visited DC, she practiced smashing champagne bottles in the backyard of the White House, for she had been invited to christen the Kaiser’s new ship.

Frankly, I find her shallow. She fretted terribly over the parties she would attend and resented the White House secretary for handling her correspondence, a major hindrance to her youthful flirtations. She often stared at herself in the mirror, comparing herself to the Gibson Girl pictures of her in the press. She married Congressman Nick Longworth (for which Longworth HOB is named), publicly criticized him when he supported the Taft presidency, and cheated on him with Senator William Borah’s son (with whom she had a child, Paulina).

In her defense, when Senator Joseph McCarthy greeted her in the 1950s with, “How are you, Alice?” she famously looked him dead in the eye and replied, “No, Senator McCarthy, you are not going to call me Alice. The truckman, the trashman, and the policeman on the block may call me Alice but you may not.” Okay, so maybe I admire her a little…

Sources: Stacy A. Cordery, Alice.

Carol Felsenthal, Alice Roosevelt Longworth.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Major majorly loses it...and with good reason

You’re standing outside 8 Jackson Place, when suddenly you hear footsteps and Wait! Was that a woman’s voice? How can it be, there’s no one standing around you? You, the tourist, quickly consult your DC guide book. Aha there it is! 8 Jackson Place—the Rathbone House—former home of Major Henry Rathbone, who shot his wife and stabbed himself. They say the place is haunted!

Major Rathbone is most famous for having been in the box at Ford’s Theatre the fateful night President Lincoln was shot. Rathbone’s fiancĂ©e Clara Harris was a close friend of the Mary Todd, and after General Grant could not make it to the play, Harris and Rathbone accompanied the Lincoln’s to the viewing of Our American Cousin. It was Rathbone who witnessed Booth entering the box, and it was he who made a grab at Booth, suffering a slash across the chest from Booth’s knife. Clara Harris soon found her dress covered in Rathbone’s blood.

Though our favorite president met this end, Rathbone recovered. The couple married in 1867 and eventually had children. Recovered in body Major Rathbone, never fully recovered in spirit. He blamed himself for failing to prevent Lincoln’s assassination. He suffered headaches and grew paranoid that his wife and children would leave them. His condition forced him to resign his commission in the army and take his family to Europe in search for a cure.

Early on Christmas Eve morning in 1883, Rathbone entered his wife’s bedroom fully dressed in a suit. He asked for the children. Clara pointed out the early hour. Rathbone took out a revolver and shot his wife. He then stabbed himself with a knife six times. His wife quickly died and was buried in Hanover, but the tortured Henry survived yet again. He was placed in an asylum in Germany and spent the rest of his days shouting about people in the conspiring to get him. The US Consul in Germany declared him “hopelessly insane.” Rathbone died in 1911, and was buried next to Clara with little fanfare. Incidentally, his son went on to become a member of the House of Representatives representing the great state of Illinois.

As to whether or not the Rathbone house is haunted, I’ll leave it to you to decide. Personally though, I find it difficult to believe that the ghosts of the Rathbones would cross the Atlantic Ocean and take residency there. It would be a chilly swim… even for a ghost.

Sources: Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals.

Michael E. Ruane, “A Tragedy’s Second Act,” The Washington Post, page W14 (April 5, 2009).

Gene Smith, “The Haunted Major,” American Heritage, February/ March 1994, Vol 45 Issue 1.