With Alexander Robey Shepherd, John P. Richardson gives us the first full-length biography of his subject, who as Washington, D.C.’s, public works czar (1871–74) built the infrastructure of the nation’s capital in a few frenetic years after the Civil War. The story of Shepherd is also the story of his hometown after that cataclysm, which left the city with churned-up streets, stripped of its trees, and exhausted.
An intrepid businessman, Shepherd became president of Washington’s lower house of delegates at twenty-seven. Garrulous and politically astute, he used every lever to persuade Congress to realize Peter L’Enfant’s vision for the capital. His tenure produced paved and graded streets, sewer systems, trees, and gaslights, and transformed the fetid Washington Canal into one of the city’s most stately avenues. After bankrupting the city, a chastened Shepherd left in 1880 to develop silver mines in western Mexico, where he lived out his remaining twenty-two years.
In Washington, Shepherd worked at the confluence of race, party, region, and urban development, in a microcosm of the United States. Determined to succeed at all costs, he helped force Congress to accept its responsibility for maintenance of its stepchild, the nation’s capital city.
At the age of thirty-six, in 1852, Lt. Montgomery Cunningham Meigs of the Army Corps of Engineers reported to Washington, D.C., for duty as a special assistant to the chief army engineer, Gen. Joseph G. Totten. It was a fateful assignment, both for the nation’s capital and for the bright, ambitious, and politically connected West Point graduate.
Meigs's forty-year tenure in the nation's capital was by any account spectacularly successful. He surveyed, designed, and built the Washington water supply system, oversaw the extension of the U.S. Capitol and the erection of its massive iron dome, and designed and supervised construction of the Pension Building, now the home of the National Building Museum. The skills he exhibited in supervising engineering projects were carefully noted by political leaders, including president-elect Abraham Lincoln, who named Meigs quartermaster general of the Union Army, the most important position he held during his long and active military career.
Meigs believed Washington, D.C., should be the reincarnation of Rome, the ancient capital of the Roman Empire. He endeavored to memorialize the story of the American nation in all the structures he built, expressing these ideas in murals, sculpture, and monumental design.
Historians have long known Meigs for the organizational genius with which he fulfilled his duty as quartermaster general during the Civil War and for his unwavering loyalty to Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. This volume establishes his claim as one of the major nineteenth-century contributors to the built environment of the nation's capital.
Despite widespread agreement that the District of Columbia's political system has collapsed, there is a serious lack of thoughtful proposals addressing the political future of the nation's capital. In this book, Edward M. Meyers examines the opinions of average Americans about Washington, D.C., in order to understand how many Americans are likely to approach the question of what reforms are needed.
Meyers first explores the political, economic, and social conditions of the District, providing an informed context for understanding and evaluating its political options. Presenting the results of in-depth qualitative research with focus groups held across the country, Meyers reveals that regardless of the participants' knowledge about the District, their beliefs in six basic concepts or schemata—such as respect for democratic rights, attitudes about race, and aversion to an intrusive federal government—molded their opinions about various options for District self-governance. The book concludes with insights into the District by local and national political leaders, including OMB Director Alice Rivlin, Jesse Jackson, Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton, Thomas Davis, and James Walsh, and Marion Barry.
In an analysis of recent immigration patterns in Washington, D.C., Terry A. Repak documents the unusual predominance of women among Central American immigrants. Two thirds of the arriving immigrants in earlier decades have been women, many of them recruited by international diplomats and U.S. government employees to work as housekeepers and nannies. Repak considers the labor force participation patterns for women compared to men, the effect of immigration laws—particularly the IRCA's uneven impact on women versus men—and the profound adjustments in gender roles and identities that accompany migration.
Showing an extraordinary amount of autonomy, most of these immigrant women decided to migrate without consulting either fathers or partners, and they gained even greater independence once settled. Repak plots the career trajectories of numerous Central American immigrant women and men to illustrate the array of the women's responses, gender differences in the migration and assimilation experience, the availability of work, and the possibility for upward mobility and higher wages. Providing social, economic and political context, she looks at the conditions that set the stage for this migration, including the rapid expansion of service jobs in the 1960s and 1970s in Washington, D. C. and the political strife in such Central American countries as war-torn El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala.