A governor and a board of public works were appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant. Alexander “Boss” Shepard, a member of the board of public works, paved streets, installed streetlights, laid sidewalks, planned parks, and designed an advanced sewerage system. But the District’s debts rose uncontrollably. As a result, Congress quickly tightened its reins and established home rule. It took over some of the District’s debts, and appointed here commissioners to work within a set budget.

Washington became a city of contrasts, attracting both rich and poor. One of the most distinguished literally in the city was Henry Adams, best known for his work autobiographical work, The Education of Henry Adams. He lived on Lafayette Square next door to John Hay, Secretary of State and also a man of letters. One of Washington’s most prominent African Americans, Frederick Douglass, lived at Cedar Hill, across the river in Anacostia. Was born a slave, in Maryland, he escaped North to freedom where he started on abolitionist newspaper. During the Civil War, he became adviser to President Abraham Lincoln.

Many lived well, including the growing middle class, which moved to the new suburbs 0f Mount Pleasant and Le Droit Park, yet a large number of the poor made their home in Washington’s hidden alleys.

20th Century

In 1901, Senator James McMillan of Michigan spear headed a plan to improve the design of Washington by partaking in the city beautiful movement, in vogue at the time.

L’Enfant’s plan was finally completed, and the Mall between the Washington Monument and the US Capital was laid out.

Architects Daniel Burnham, Charles F. McKim, and others planned the building of a memorial honor President Abraham Lincoln.

In 1917, the US entered World War I, growing numbers of women came to Washington to fill the posts evacuated by men. Suffragists took to the street to campaign for the right to vote.

The National Women’s Party, led by Alice Paul, picketed the White House to urge President Woodrow Wilson to endorse a constitutional amendment to give women the vote. African Americans in Washington were not the only banned from voting but also forced discrimination in housing and education. After a local black battalion was excluded from a WWI victory parade, tension mounted.

On July 20, 1919, riots erupted on the streets and did not stop for 4 days. Although discrimination continued, the 1920s were a period of commercial, artistic, and literary success for the black community. The area around U Street and Howard University attracted small businesses, theaters, nightclubs, and restaurants. Shortages developed in housing, office space, schools and public facilities. The automobile had replaced the horse as the main means of transportation in the city.

Roosevelt Ushers in a New Deal

Following the stock market crash of 1929, federal workers received salary cuts, and may other Washingtonians lost their jobs. The federal government became deeply involved in projects designed to end the depression, and thousands of now government jobs became available in the Capital.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the New Deal, an ambitious public works program to reduce unemployment. People were paid to do a range of tasks, from plating trees, on the Mall to completing some of the city’s edifices, such as the Supreme Court, the government office buildings of the Federal Triangle, and the National Gallery of Art.

In 1939, when Marian Anderson, the African American singer was denied permission by the Daughters of the American Revolution to perform at Constitution Hall, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt arranged for her to sing at the Lincoln Memorial instead, to a crowd of 75,000.

The United States entered World War II in December 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Washington’s population soured. Women from all across the country arrived in the Capital, eager to take on government jobs while the men were overseas. They faced housing shortages, and long lies as they waited to use rationing coupons for food and services. The city also offered a respite for soldiers on leave.

Civil Rights Movement

In 1953, the Supreme Court ruling in the Thompson Restaurant case made it illegal for public places to discriminate to against blacks. With passage of other anti-discrimination laws, life in Washington began to change. In 1954, the recreation department ended its public segregation, the same year on May 17, the Supreme Court ruled that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.

On August 28, 1963, more than 200,000 people arrived in the Capital for the March on Washington to support Civil Rights. From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his I Have a Dream speech. In November 1963, the nation was stunned by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy un Dallas, Texas, an eternal flame was lit at his funeral in Arlington Cemetery by Jacqueline Kennedy.


Until five years later on April 4 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot in Memphis, Tennessee at the age of 39.

In 1964, Congress and the states passed a constitutional amendment that allowed the people to vote in presidential elections for the first time.

In 1970, Congress passed legislation that permitted Washington to have a delegate in the US House of Representatives for the first time since 1875. The opening of the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in 1971, several art museums with impressive collections (East Wing of the National Gallery of Art, Hirschhorn, National Museum of American Art, and National Portrait Gallery) also opened to enrich the city’s cultural life.

In 1973, Congress gave the people of Washington the right to elect local officials for the first time in 100 years.

Walter E. Washington, appointed as the city’s chief administrative officer in 1967, won election as mayor in 1974. In 1978, Marion S. Barry Jr. was elected mayor.

The Home Rule Act of 1973, allowed the people to elect both mayor and city council.

On December 24, 1973, Congress enacted the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, providing for an elected mayor and the 13-member Council of the District of Columbia.[22] Each of the city’s eight wards elects a single member of the council and five members, including the chairman, are elected at large.[23]

There are 37 Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) elected by small neighborhood districts. ANCs traditionally wield a great deal of influence and the city government routinely takes their suggestions into careful consideration. The Council has the ability to pass local laws and ordinances. However, pursuant to the Home Rule Act all legislation passed by the D.C. government, including the city’s local budget, remains subject to the approval of Congress.

The Home Rule Act specifically prohibits the Council from enacting certain laws that, among other restrictions, would:

  • lend public credit for private projects;
  • impose a tax on individuals who work in the District but live elsewhere;
  • make any changes to the city’s federally mandated height limit;
  • pass any law changing the composition or jurisdiction of the local courts;
  • enact a local budget that is not balanced; and
  • gain any additional authority over the National Capital Planning Commission, Washington Aqueduct, or District of Columbia National Guard.

Terrorism and security

The Washington area was a main target of the September 11, 2001 attacks. American Airlines Flight 77 was hijacked by five Islamic terrorists and flew into the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington, killing 125 people inside the building, as well as 64 on board the airliner, including the five terrorists. United Airlines Flight 93, which was also hijacked and which went down in an open field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, supposedly intended to target either the White House or the U.S. Capitol.

Since September 11, 2001, a number of high-profile incidents and security scares have occurred in Washington. In October 2001, anthrax attacks, involving anthrax-contaminated mail sent to numerous members of Congress, infected 31 staff members, and killed two U.S. Postal Service employees who handled the contaminated mail at the Brentwood sorting facility. An FBI and DOJ investigation determined the likely culprit of the anthrax attacks to be Bruce Edwards Ivins, a scientist, but he committed suicide in July 2008 before formal charges were filed.[108]

During three weeks of October 2002, fear spread among residents of the Washington area, during the Beltway Sniper attacks. Ten apparently random victims were killed, with three others wounded, before John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo were arrested on October 24, 2002.

In 2003 and 2004, a serial arsonist set over 40 fires, mainly in the District and the close-in Maryland suburbs, with one fire killing an elderly woman. A local man was arrested in the serial arson case in April 2005 and pleaded guilty.

The toxin ricin was found in the mailroom of the White House in November 2003 and in the mailroom of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist in February 2004.

After the September 11 attacks, security was increased in Washington. Screening devices for biological agents, metal detectors, and vehicle barriers became more commonplace at office buildings as well as government buildings. After the 2004 Madrid train bombings, local authorities decided to test explosives detectors on the vulnerable Washington Metro subway system.

When U.S. forces in Pakistan raided a house suspected of being a terrorist hideout, they found information several years old about planned attacks on Washington, D.C., New York City, and Newark, New Jersey. It was directed to intelligence officials. On August 1, 2004, the Secretary of Homeland Security put the city on Orange (High) Alert. A few days later, security checkpoints appeared in and around the Capitol Hill and Foggy Bottom neighborhoods, and fences were erected on monuments once freely accessible, such as the Capitol. Tours of the White House were limited to those arranged by members of Congress. Screening devices for biological agents, metal detectors, and vehicle barriers became more common at office buildings as well as government buildings and in transportation facilities. This ultra-tight security was referred to as “Fortress Washington”; many people objected to “walling off Washington” based on information several years old. The vehicle inspections set up around the U.S. Capitol were removed in November 2004.