Margaret Meenehan Dowd, 97, a longtime Washington resident who became a familiar character to readers of her daughter's newspaper column, died of kidney failure July 17 at her home in Chevy Chase.

A prolific letter writer full of wry advice, Mrs. Dowd mused about such newfangled inventions as the control-top panty -- "Who does it control?" she asked, intrigued -- and discoursed on bald tires, the value of a dollar, the hyping of the Greatest Generation ("We saved your butt," she said), the health benefits of Soup in a Cup and attending church, and the ill effects of married suitors, whom she referred to as "long-tailed rats."

One of her daughters, Maureen Dowd, made her mother a recurring and popular figure in her New York Times column.

Born in Wilmington, Del., she moved to the District at age 2 and grew up in what was still a small Southern town. She recalled proudly that her family got one of the first telephones in the capital, as well as one of the earliest automobiles: a black, seven-passenger Reo touring car with a crank.

As a girl, she saw the last of the Civil War veterans marching in Memorial Day parades in downtown Washington, and as an adult, she made friends with a neighbor named Pop Seymour, who, as a 5-year-old, was at Ford's Theatre the night Lincoln was shot.

Mrs. Dowd had vivid memories of Jan. 28, 1922, when the roof of the Knickerbocker movie theater collapsed under the snow. "Ninety-eight people died watching a George M. Cohan comedy," she said. "A girl in my class, the brightest one, was killed."

She graduated from Holy Cross Academy in 1926. A lively writer, the new high school graduate applied for a reporter's job at The Washington Post but was told by an editor that it was no job for a young woman because it involved night work and distasteful assignments. In the 1930s, she worked as a different kind of reporter, tracking financial information for the Surety Service Organization.

In 1932, she won a $2,000 prize in a Washington Daily News popularity contest. She attended National Law School for a year while dating a D.C. police detective whose duties included enforcing Prohibition. The two, both champion Irish step dancers, married in 1934.

Mrs. Dowd said she never felt oppressed by her role as a full-time mother. "Your father thought women belonged in the kitchen," she told her daughter. "But I didn't mind 'cause I liked the kitchen. I just wish mine had been bigger."

She once said she set aside for her daughters a modest nest egg from her police widow's pension. "I always felt that the girls in a family should get a little more than the boys even though all are equally loved," she wrote. "They need a little cushion to fall back on. Women can stand on the Empire State Building and scream to the heavens that they are equal to men and liberated but until they have the same anatomy, it's a lie. It's more of a man's world today than ever. Men can eat their cake in unlimited bakeries."

In the more intimate capital of old, Mrs. Dowd routinely crossed paths with the famous and not-yet-famous. One night in the 1930s, when her husband was working, she went to her deserted neighborhood drugstore and had her makeup done by a man starting his own cosmetics business.

"He told me to put the lipstick on the upper lip first, then press into the bottom lip to make an impression," she recalled. His name was Max Factor.

She met Jack Kennedy at a Capitol Hill cocktail party ("He was very attractive, coppery hair") and shared an elevator with J. Edgar Hoover. "I never believed he wore dresses," she said. "He looked very masculine."

One of her biggest thrills came at the White House Christmas party in 1990, when President George H.W. Bush leaned over to give her a kiss in the receiving line.

On the way home, she instructed her daughter, then a White House reporter, in a steely voice: "I don't ever want you to be mean to that man again."

Mrs. Dowd last year was named the oldest living Holy Cross Academy alumna. She was a member of Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church and was active in its Sodality and Ladies of Charity. She was the district president of the Ladies' Auxiliary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and also served as its national director and national historian.

Her husband, Michael Dowd, died in 1971.

In addition to her daughter Maureen, survivors include four other children, Michael Dowd of Washington, Martin Dowd of Burtonsville, Peggy Dowd of Washington and Kevin Dowd of Rockville; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Margaret Meenehan Dowd's letters made her a regular in a daughter's New York Times column.