Date of Award

Fall 11-12-1992

Document Type

Thesis

Department

History

First Advisor

Becker, Robert A.

Abstract

Washington's elite society was a political society where members of Congress, the president, members of his cabinet, Supreme Court justices, and members of the diplomatic corps met with members of the press, and other visitors to the capital, and long term residents came together to form a unique society. This study evolved from the premise that James Sterling Young's view of Washington City was flawed. Three questions guided this project: How did Washington change over time?; Why were specific boardinghouses chosen?; and What role did elite wives play in the Washington community? Washington's elite community was by definition a political community. For the senators and members of Congress who swarmed to the city during congressional sessions, boardinghouses and hotels provided both accommodation and the opportunity to develop close friendships with other like-minded individuals. Within the various congressional residences conversations often focused on politics. Wives and other non-congressional guests relayed political dinner, and leisure time gossip to their friends and relatives in their home states. On the whole life in boardinghouses and hotels much like fraternal organizations provided members the opportunity to cull important friendships. Coming to Washington meant that the President's wife, Congressional wives, and wives of cabinet members became hostesses for political events. Parties, teas, and public assemblies were as much political gatherings as were sessions of Congress. For Washington's elite women, theirs was an environment of power and privilege, and although their society followed proscribed rules, these women had access to most federal officials. As suggested through the actions of these wives, elite women in Washington used their social positions for political means. From 1800-1830 an unwritten etiquette increasingly regulated social behavior in the capital city. Making calls, attending balls, taking tea and even visiting Congress brought these women into the public sphere, open to public scrutiny.

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