Simultaneously a symbol for the nation and a longtime major Black city without political representation, Washington, D.C., has appeared to many—in the words of blues poet Gil Scott-Heron—as “a ball of contradictions” between affluent white political elites “who come and go” and the predominantly Black poor and working-class “who’ve got to stay.” Perhaps nowhere is this entanglement better illustrated than the McMillan Plan’s Progressive Era redesign of “Imperial Washington” made possible by the racialized slum clearance of the Metropolitan Police Department’s “war on alleys” at the turn of the twentieth century.
New York City’s mayoral election of 1913 swept a young reformer, John Purroy Mitchel, into office as the candidate of the Fusion Party. His police commissioner, Arthur H. Woods, pledged to solve the crime problem and quell public disturbances by instituting a series of police reforms based on the progressive principles of “scientific management.” However, one of these initiatives—use of a police wiretapping unit for the clandestine gathering of information—led to a public scandal and contributed to the downfall of the reform movement in New York City.
During the two centuries before 1865, the U.S. South was governed by and for slaveholding planters. Southern law gave these enslavers almost total authority over the lives of enslaved people. The Civil War, however, destroyed the legal institution of slavery and, with it, the legal power of the slaveholder. Southern states faced the question of how to maintain the cotton economy without slavery. Their solution was to transfer the legal power over Black Southerners that had been held by slaveholders to the state.
In 1919, two years after women secured suffrage in New York, a pair of the country’s most distinguished and prominent women lawyers sought positions in New York City’s judiciary. Only one succeeded. Jean Norris was appointed to a low-level criminal court position focused on prostitution and family disputes, making her the state’s first woman judge. Heralded as an early step in women’s political empowerment, the selection seemed to be an unambiguous stride forward in women’s rights.
In 1909, T. Wah Hing was indicted for feticide. At that time, forty-year-old Hing had been practicing traditional Chinese medicine for more than two decades in a home and office on J Street, between Seventh and Eighth in Sacramento, that he shared with his father, an immigrant from China who went by the same name. Chinese doctors practicing in the United States like T. Wah Hing terminated unwanted pregnancies for their patients when abortion was illegal and the American Medical Association (AMA) officially opposed its practice.
historians. So when I came across a story of divorce and abandonment involving economist George Gunton, one of my research subjects, my work received some personal background that I didn’t expect. In piecing together newspaper reports and letters that George’s wife Amelia sent to Columbia University professor Edwin Seligman, I found out that Gunton had been illegally married to two women at the same time, deserting Amelia and leaving her nearly destitute.