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Ten Years in Washington

Mary Clemmer Ames (1874) 

Mary Clemmer Ames, a Washington correspondent for the New York Independent who wrote a column entitled “A Woman’s Letter from Washington,” gained a national reputation during the Gilded Age for her promotion of women’s rights and attacks on political corruption.  She was also a prominent member of Washington society–so prominent that her likeness appeared with other Washington notables in a painting by Cornelia Adele Strong Fassett called The Florida Case before the Electoral Commission.

In 1874 Ames published Ten Years in Washington: Life and Scenes in the National Capital, as a Woman Sees Them, providing vivid descriptions of living and working in the nation’s capital.  An exploration of the history of Washington, D.C., Ames’s colorful description of the Capitol is the prominent feature of the book. She described the marvels of the lifelike painted figures in the Brumidi Corridors and “the grace and magnificence” of the Senate Chamber and the Hall of the House of Representatives. She characterized the President’s Room and the Vice President’s Room as lavish and ornate, and noted that the Speaker’s Room “is one of the most beautiful rooms in the Capitol.”  In a chapter on the art treasures of the Capitol, she included descriptions of the Bust of Lincoln and other sculptures.  She even described the beauty of the Capitol grounds:

“Directly below us, past the western terrace of the Capitol, with its open basin full of gold fishes flashing in the sun, stretch the Capitol grounds. Many varieties of trees already grown to forest hight [sic] spread their interlacing roof of cool, green shadow over the malachite sward below. Beds of flowers set in the grass, from early March crocuses to the November blooming roses, make the grounds fragrant and precious with their presence.”

Those interested in the history of the Capitol will appreciate Ames’s meticulous descriptions and first-hand accounts of life in post-Civil War Washington.