The Good Old Days? Women's Daily Lives Historic Sites In The Washington, DC Area

Washington, DC Museums:

1) Daughters of the American Revolution Museum

Location: 1776 D Street, NW , Washington , D.C.
Open: Mon-Fri: 9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m., Sat: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.*
Admission is free
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Inside this museum honoring American women, visitors walk through thirty-one furnished period rooms and one gallery, witnessing snapshots of American history from women's points of view. Each room is sponsored by a different state and reflects various time periods, geographical locations, and cultures. The New Jersey Room, formerly a seventeenth-century council chamber, was the first installed period room in 1910. Examples of other rooms are the Wisconsin Room which reproduces a Pilgrim dwelling; the Missouri Room which shows a Victorian parlor; the Delaware Room, an 18 th century study; and the California Room, which shows an 1860's parlor. Items like furniture, quilts, paintings, and clothing in the various rooms help visitors learn about and imagine women's lives across four hundred years.

*Groups of ten or more should make arrangements at least four weeks in advance by calling 202-879-3241.

2) National Museum of American History

Location: On the National Mall at 14 th St. and Constitution Ave, N.W. , Washington , D.C.
Currently closed for renovation!
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Although there are several exhibitions in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History that shed light on the lives of American women from all walks of life, the “Within These Walls” exhibit particularly allows visitors to imagine ordinary women's daily routine, such as doing laundry without washing machines and cooking meals without modern appliances. The focus of the exhibit is a transplanted two-and-a-half-story wood-framed house from Massachusetts . Five ordinary families lived in the house from the late eighteenth century through the mid-1960s. As visitors peer through the walls they get glimpses into the lives of every member of the families.

Historic Homes in Washington, D.C.

1) Decatur House

Location: 748 Jackson Place N.W. , Washington , D.C.
Open: Tues. - Sat: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Sun: noon – 4 p.m.
Admission is free, a donation is encouraged
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Built in 1818 for America 's greatest 19 th century naval hero, Stephen Decatur and his wife Susan, visitors to the Decatur House will learn about its illustrious owners and gather clues into their lives from the eight furnished period rooms. Museum workers take visitors on a guided tour of the home, providing anecdotes about the various politically powerful owners and pointing out interesting architecture, furniture, textiles, and ceramics. Among the many residents were a Russian Ambassador, French Ambassador, two Secretaries of State, five members of Congress, and an Ambassador to Persia . The last resident, Marie Beale, was very interested in the history of the Decatur House. She wrote three books, including one entitled Decatur House and Its Inhabitants and funded a preservation project to return the outer façade to its original 1818 appearance. Most importantly, Beale donated the Decatur House to the National Trust for Historic Preservation when she died in 1956.  

2) Dumbarton House and Museum

Location: 2715 Q Street N.W. , Washington , D.C.
Open: Tues. -Sat: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.. All tours are guided and start at: 10:15 a.m. , 11:15 a.m. , 12:15 p.m. , and 1:15 p.m. , with each touring lasting 45 minutes
Admission: Adults $5.00, Students with ID are free
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The Dumbarton House was built in the eighteenth century and retains the original architectural design from that period, providing visitors with a fine example of a Federal Period (1790-1830) home. Through the short introductory video and information given by the tour guide, guests will learn about the former inhabitants of the home and what life was like in Georgetown two centuries ago. From objects such as furniture, paintings, textiles, silver, and ceramics, visitors will be able to better imagine women's daily life in the early days of the nation. All seven rooms are open to the public, and include a library, dining room, music room, parlor, and bedrooms. There is also a gallery for temporary exhibits within the home.

3) Hillwood Museum & Gardens

Location: 4155 Linnean Ave. N.W., Washington , D.C.
Open: Tues. - Sat: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., reservation is required - call 202-686-5807
Admission: Adults $12, Seniors $10, College Students $7, Children (ages 6-18) $5
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Visitors to Hillwood will enjoy an elaborately furnished mansion containing an extensive French and Russian based-art collection. The home will give guests an idea of what life was like for a wealthy woman in the early to mid 20 th century. There are several ornately themed gardens and fine grounds around the home that visitors can also enjoy.

Hillwood was founded and opened by Majorie Merriweather Post (1887-1973). She was the sole heir to her father's Post cereal company and fortune and he trained her in every aspect of running the company so that when he died, she could take over. With her second husband, a Wall Street financier, Post merged her company with General Foods, increasing business and profits. She spent much of her fortune collecting decorative arts and funding various charities. In the late 1930s, Post accompanied her third husband to the Soviet Union when he served as American Ambassador. While there, she added a vast number of Russian items to her collection, which remains one of the most important assemblages of Russian imperial art outside of Russia . In 1955, Post bought Hillwood to serve as her residence and the site of a future museum. At her death in 1973, the mansion was bequeathed to the public and soon opened as a museum.

4) The Mary McLeod Bethune Council House

Location: 1318 Vermont Ave. N.W. , Washington , D.C.
Open: Mon –Sat: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Admission is free
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Mary McLeod Bethune, an impressive woman from the early 20 th century, lived in this home for several years. It was also the first headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women, an organization she founded. Before coming to Washington , D.C. , Bethune founded Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach , Florida , and then served as an advisor on African American affairs to four presidents in D.C. She was appointed Director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration by President Roosevelt, making her the highest ranking African American woman in the federal government. In her position, Bethune worked tirelessly to influence legislation affecting African Americans and women. She continued to be an important voice for human rights until her death in 1955.

Visitors will enjoy walking through her three-story Victorian townhouse to learn more about her life. The National Park Services have recreated the Council House as it was when Bethune lived there by using her furniture and photographs. Guests can also visit the carriage house, where the National Archives for Black Women's History is located.

5) The Octagon

Location: 1799 New York Ave, NW
Open: Tues. – Sat: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Admission: Adults $5, Senior Citizens and Children $3
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Built in 1800 by the architect of the U.S. Capitol, William Thornton, the Octagon's first owners were the Colonel John Tayloe and his wife Ann Ogle. Until 1817, the Tayloes used the Octagon as a winter home before permanently moving in. Ann and John raised fifteen children in the Octagon and were both prominent in the rapidly growing community. When the White House (then known as the President's House) burned in 1814, President James and First Lady Dolley Madison temporarily lived at the Octagon. After John's death in 1828, Ann continued to live in the Octagon until her death in 1855. For the next fifty years the home was rented out to various organizations and tenants. Since 1902, the American Architecture Foundation has owned the Octagon. The building was opened to the public as a museum in 1970.

Restoration workers have made the exterior and interior of the house look the way the Tayloes knew it in the early 1800s. Items donated by the Tayloe family's descendents include furniture, paintings, prints, ceramics, glass, silver, china, and a special collection of books on racing and breeding horse. There is an archaeological collection that contains 9,300 artifacts, ranging from thimbles and buttons to pottery fragments and animal bones. From all of these items, visitors will be able to experience the home as Ann Ogle did and glance at what her life must have been like as a wealthy woman in the early 19 th century, running a household that included fifteen children and was blocks away from the headquarters of a brand new nation.

6) The Old Stone House

Location: 3051 M Street, N.W., Washington , D.C.
Open: Wed. - Sun: noon – 5 p.m., tours are by reservation only, call 202-895-6070.
Admission is free
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Built in 1765, the Old Stone House is one of the oldest remaining structures in the Washington , D.C. area. Originally built as a one-room, modest structure for lower-middle class Rachel and Christopher Layman and their two sons, the Old Stone House was later owned by wealthier people who added to the building. After being widowed and then remarrying, Rachel Layman sold the home to a wealthy widow, Cassandra Chew. Cassandra added features like the second floor and a kitchen to make the home more to the standard of living she enjoyed. She also filled the home with fancy furniture. After Cassandra's death, one of her daughters owned it for many years. A succession of owners followed, many of whom added different features and rooms to the house and ran shops out of the first floor.

Inside the original room, visitors can imagine what life must have been like for the first owners who lived very simply and had few luxuries; they did not even have a real floor, only dirt. As visitors wander through the other rooms, they can see how the successive wealthier inhabitants lived and especially see into the lives of the different women who owned the home themselves.  

7) Tudor House Historic House and Gardens

Location: 1644 31st Street , Washington , D.C.
Open: Tues. – Sat: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., Sun: noon – 4 p.m. Tours are 45 minutes and docent-led, Tues-Sat: 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., and 2:30 p.m., Sun: noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m., and 3 p.m.; no reservation is needed for groups of 10 or less.
Admission to house: Adults $6, Seniors $5, Children $3; Garden is $2 per person
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Martha Curtis Peter, granddaughter of Martha Washington, built Tudor House in 1816 with a legacy left to her by her step-grandfather George Washington. Six generations of Peters lived in the home until 1983. It became an historic site open to the public in 1988.

Visitors are able to experience the Peter's rich family history at the Tudor House as they walk through the many rooms and view over 8,000 family household objects such as furniture, silver, ceramics and glass, jewelry, textiles, paintings and drawings, sculptures, portraits, photographs, books and manuscripts. There are also family items from Mount Vernon on display. Visitors may also look through hundred of photographs, journals and documents, like bills and ledgers, in the Archives. From the journals, guests can especially learn about what daily life was like for the female members of the family.

8) Woodrow Wilson House

Location: 2340 S Street, NW
Open: Tues. - Sun: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Admission: Adults $5, Seniors $4, Students $2.50, Children under 7 are free
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President Woodrow Wilson, his wife and three daughters moved to this home after his term as president ended in 1921. The home was built in 1915, and currently looks as it did when the Wilsons resided there. Visitors can experience an American 1920s home as they walk through the furnished rooms that reflect the post World War I era, including sound recordings, clips of silent films, and flapper dresses. Also on display are items from the White House, family memorabilia, and gifts from dignitaries around the world. Additionally, visitors can enjoy special exhibits. The most recent exhibit focused on President Wilson's three daughters, Meg, Jesse and Nell, who devoted their lives to the betterment of their country, the world, and women. As supporters of woman suffrage, they were influential in urging their father to approve the 19 th Amendment. The exhibit showed newspaper articles, photographs, paintings, sculptures, recordings, schoolbooks, and other personal items belonging to the women.