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This Grand ExperimentWhen Women Entered the Federal Workforce in Civil War-Era Washington, D.C.$
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Jessica Ziparo

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781469635972

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469635972.001.0001

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A Strange Time to Seek a Residence in Washington

A Strange Time to Seek a Residence in Washington

Perils and Possibilities of Life for Female Federal Clerks

(p.100) Chapter Four A Strange Time to Seek a Residence in Washington
This Grand Experiment

Jessica Ziparo

University of North Carolina Press

Chapter 4 describes the challenges and opportunities of life for women in the nation’s capital during the 1860s. During the Civil War, Washington, D.C., was on the front lines of the conflict. After the war, annual reports of the Board of Metropolitan Police to Congress make clear that Washingtonians continued to endure overcrowding, housing shortages, crime, and disease. Women not only survived in this chaotic context; many—including Patent Office clerk Julia Wilbur, whose diary offers an intriguing window into the everyday life of a female federal employee—thrived in this tough city, enjoying independence, filling their leisure time, and changing the demographics of Washington. For those who chose to do so, female federal employees’ salaries, newly acquired political knowledge, and personal associations provided them with the financial and practical wherewithal to participate in philanthropy and political movements, including the suffrage movement. Female federal employees were visible all over the city, helping to normalize the presence of middle-class women in the streets of Washington. In forming this new, conspicuous community of independent women in full view of the nation’s politicians, female federal employees became a part of the struggle for women’s rights, whether they intended to or not.

Keywords:   Washington, D.C., Julia Wilbur, Housing, Suffrage, Independence, Demographics, Women’s rights, Daily life, Leisure, Philanthropy

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