That’s where Jennifer Porter-Lupu found them. And what an interesting tale they tell.
It’s only one of the stories that will be related at the D.C. History Conference, Friday through Sunday at the University of the District of Columbia.
Halcyon House dates to the late 18th century. Among its owners was Albert Clemens, who died there in 1938. Clemens spent his life feverishly renovating the house, constructing rooms within rooms, stairways that went nowhere and a secret theater on the third floor.
The work of an eccentric? Those artifacts suggest a different story, said Porter-Lupu, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at Northwestern University. The trash buried under a patio during Clemens’s residency included clips from women’s corsets and garters.
Though Clemens was married, his wife lived elsewhere, with her female companion. Clemens collected works by lesser-known gay playwrights.
Porter-Lupu thinks the undergarments and the theater suggest Halcyon House could have been the site of an underground drag scene during Prohibition.
“It might look from the outside like this big stately mansion,” she said, “but the stories that it tells are much more complicated, and it shows that every part of American history, if you look under the stones, is much more complicated.”
Porter-Lupu’s presentation, “From Smuggled Opium to Underground Drag Balls: Unearthing the Characters of Georgetown’s Historic Halcyon House,” is part of a panel on countercultures Friday at 10:30.
It used to be that girls at District public schools who became pregnant were expelled.
“They kicked girls out because they believed girls would attract undesirable elements,” said Maren Orchard, a graduate student in public history at American University. School administrators felt other students needed to be protected from “contamination.”
It was, said Orchard, “a horrible perspective.”
Then, in 1963, the Board of Education launched an experiment in a building at 10th and H streets NW: the Webster Girls School. Here was where girls could continue their education. (The fathers didn’t face expulsion.)
Orchard pored through material at the Sumner School, which houses the DCPS archives, tracing the discussions that led to the creation of the Webster School and its closure in 1974. Was the school a punitive measure? Was it a form of segregation? (Nearly all the pupils were African American.) Or did it provide support for the girls, allowing them to form a community?
Orchard is hoping to find some Webster School alumnae for an oral history project. Her presentation, “ ‘Rehabilitating’ to ‘Mainstreaming’: Webster Girls School and Reproductive Justice,” is part of a panel at 1:30 Friday.
Now is a great time to be a Washington sports fans. Bijan C. Bayne traces it all back to a pivotal year: 1969. That’s when Vince Lombardi came to the Redskins, Ted Williams to the Senators and Lefty Driesell to the Maryland men’s basketball team.
“It changed the national perception of what kind of city Washington was,” said Bayne, a sports author and public policy fellow at the Institute for Politics, Policy & History.
“Even if you didn’t follow football or baseball, you had to have heard of Ted Williams and Vince Lombardi,” Bayne said. The year before, both political parties had pondered asking the former Green Bay coach to be their vice presidential candidate.
The men would have varying levels of success — Lombardi died a year after moving to Washington — but for a city still reeling from the death of Martin Luther King Jr. and the riots that followed, the infusion of top-level talent “gave people something different to talk about rather than ‘I’m afraid to go downtown,’ ” Bayne said.
Bayne’s presentation, “1969-2019: 50th Anniversary of the Year D.C. Became the Sports Capital of the World,” is Saturday at 1:30.
The history conference is a collaboration among the D.C. History Center, the D.C. Public Library and the D.C. Historic Preservation Office. Registration is $30, $15 for students and seniors. For a complete list of events, visit dchistory.org and click the “Programs” tab.
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