25 photos of life in Washington, DC 100 years ago

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April 2, 2021

Nat’l Photo Co. Collection // Library of Congress

25 photos of life in Washington, DC 100 years ago

Do you ever wonder what people will see when they look (or swipe) through photos of the historical moment we are experiencing? How different will the 2020s look to people in the 2120s?

They might look as different as photos from the 1920s look to us today. We were curious to see what life looked like 100 years ago in America’s capital city. So Stacker compiled a collection of 25 incredible images showcasing the history of Washington, D.C. in the 1920s. After curating the vintage images, we took a closer inspection of the moments and researched their historical significance. While some moments tell a story of Prohibition and politics, others show simple life pleasures like diving, boating in the Potomac, egg rolls at the White House, and people posing in familiar landmarks.

It was a time captured in black-and-white photos colored with people celebrating milestones like many women gaining the power to vote, bold headlines in newspapers, car wrecks, and children traveling to schools in buses built by the Ford Motor Company.

Through one lens one can see political unrest in contentious conventions and party infighting. Another glimpse shows market vendors and parades. Landmarks like the National Zoo, Metropolitan Theater, and the Capitol steps were filled with citizens living everyday moments in an extraordinary era. Take a few moments to click through the slideshow and think about how so many things change, yet many remain the same.

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Nat’l Photo Co. Collection // Library of Congress

Raising the flag of suffrage

The 19th Amendment of the Constitution was ratified on Aug. 18, 1920, enshrining in law that one could “not be denied” the vote on account of sex. In practice, however, the amendment only won the vote for white women, with Black women and other groups, including Asian American immigrants, still barred from the voting booth. While the milestone changed the face of American voting rights, it would take decades for minority women to gain their voting rights.

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Nat’l Photo Co. Collection // Library of Congress

Baseball in the park

Sen. Pat Harrison plays umpire at a boys’ baseball game in the summer of 1921. Prior to serving as senator of Mississippi, Harrison was valedictorian of his class in 1899, attended Louisiana State University on a baseball scholarship, and pitched for a semi-professional baseball team.

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Nat’l Photo Co. Collection // Library of Congress

Snow battle at the Capitol

Democratic and Republican page boys enjoy a snowball fight at the Capitol in this photo from December 1923. Republican President Calvin Coolidge did not join in the winter games.

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Nat’l Photo Co. Collection // Library of Congress

Sporting goods and Grafonolas

A man stands at the entrance to The Sport Mart, a sporting goods store that also sold the latest in phonographs and records.

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Nat’l Photo Co. Collection // Library of Congress

A dip at the National Mall

When Congress failed to appropriate money for public pools, children decided to make a splash in the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. The children waved to the photographer while wading with a toy sailboat.

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Nat’l Photo Co. Collection // Library of Congress

Democrats gather in 1924

Members of the Democratic National Committee gather in front of the Hotel Lafayette in 1924. The year marked a wild convention that took 16 days and a record 103 ballots to select a nominee.

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Nat’l Photo Co. Collection // Library of Congress

A bumpy ride

Onlookers gather to examine the wreckage in the aftermath of a car accident in 1923. With few laws and safety measures around driving, accidents and deaths were frequent as cars became a common mode of transportation in the ’20s.

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Nat’l Photo Co. Collection // Library of Congress

Off to the races

A group of schoolboys competes in a track meet as onlookers cheer and the leader triumphantly crosses the finish line.

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Nat’l Photo Co. Collection // Library of Congress

The rites of spring

Students at the Sidwell Friends School take part in an annual May Festival in 1920. The coed Quaker day school for pre-kindergartners to high schoolers was founded in 1883.

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Nat’l Photo Co. Collection // Library of Congress

Lights, camera, inaction

A half-dozen photographers take a break on the steps of the Capitol building and pose for a photo while a couple in the background enjoy the view.

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Nat’l Photo Co. Collection // Library of Congress

Washington Herald banner waves on top of D.J. Kaufman’s

The Washington Herald election banner waves on top of D.J. Kaufman’s, an iconic department store located in downtown D.C. This store was part of a chain founded in 1871 that sold clothing, footwear, bedding, furniture, beauty products, and housewares. Its motto was “Money’s Worth or Money Back.” It was acquired by Macy’s in 2006.

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Nat’l Photo Co. Collection // Library of Congress

Summer boating

A woman from the Potomac Boat Club participates in the canoe regatta at the Tidal Basin Carnival in this 1924 photo.

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Nat’l Photo Co. Collection // Library of Congress

Big bones

A professor from the Smithsonian Institution poses with the bones of a Diplodocus dinosaur in 1924. The Diplodocus, discovered in 1899 on a high-profile expedition funded by Andrew Carnegie, was a famous discovery. The fossils were replicated and sent around the world, making it a well-known dinosaur in the early 20th century.

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Nat’l Photo Co. Collection // Library of Congress

Beauty in the Botanic Garden

A pair of women examine a Hottentot plant in the United States Botanic Garden with the Capitol building in the background. The U.S. Botanic Garden, the oldest continually operating garden in the country, began blooming in 1820.

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Nat’l Photo Co. Collection // Library of Congress

Gone fishing

A man enjoys a leisurely afternoon of fishing on the Potomac River as a dog sniffs a bottle of liquor from his back pocket. During Prohibition “hooch hounds” were specially trained to detect alcohol.

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Nat’l Photo Co. Collection // Library of Congress

Center Market moment

Vendors sell their goods from various stalls in the expansive Center Market. Today the National Archives resides on the former site of the bustling market.

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Nat’l Photo Co. Collection // Library of Congress

Read all about it!

A newsboy sells copies of The Washington Daily News on the street for 1 cent each. The headline ‘Millionaire tax rends G.O.P.’ was the talk of the town in 1921.

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Nat’l Photo Co. Collection // Library of Congress

Splish splash

A diver splashes into the water from a floating wooden structure on the Potomac River in the summer of 1923. George Washington built his home on the Potomac River, dubbing it the “Nation’s River,” which was designated an American Heritage River by President Bill Clinton in 1998.

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Nat’l Photo Co. Collection // Library of Congress

Music memories

Young people gather for a summertime music event in the park in 1921. One hundred years later, concertgoers still cram together to listen to music.

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Nat’l Photo Co. Collection // Library of Congress

Got milk?

Can you name the dapper dudes milking a goat in the sun in Maryland in 1924? Dr. W. Thurnheer is the gentleman showing Secretary Henry Wallace the fine art of goat milking. Henry Wallace was the secretary of agriculture from 1921 to 1924. His son, Henry A. Wallace, also became secretary of agriculture and went on to be vice president during the third term of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s four-term run.

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Nat’l Photo Co. Collection // Library of Congress

Canoe crew

Members of the Potomac Boat Club paddle past the Key Bridge in Georgetown. The Key Bridge, whose full name is the Francis Scott Key Bridge, connects Georgetown to Rosslyn, Virginia.

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Nat’l Photo Co. Collection // Library of Congress

Off to school

In this photo from 1925, students enjoy the open windows of a Ford Motor Company school bus riding through a residential neighborhood in Rockville, Maryland.

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Nat’l Photo Co. Collection // Library of Congress

Divine outdoor dining

A group of debutantes in matching waitress uniforms gather at an outdoor horse show.

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Nat’l Photo Co. Collection // Library of Congress

Spring love

Two small children share a drink at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll in 1922. The Easter Egg Roll is a White House tradition that began in 1878 when President Rutherford B. Hayes invited children to roll eggs on the South Lawn.

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Nat’l Photo Co. Collection // Library of Congress

School competition

Students compete in a pie-eating contest at Jefferson Middle School Academy. Max Schwartz was declared the champion at the 1923 event.

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