William McKinley and His America

By H. Wayne Morgan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Congressman William McKinley

LIFE IN WASHINGTON in the 1880s was pleasant. The “City of Magnificent Distances” impressed natives and visitors alike, though many of the distances lacked magnificence. One did not have to travel far to see the jerry-built slums of the city's poorer element, and poverty existed within the shadow of wealth. But for the senators and congressmen, whether they lived in private homes or in the numerous boarding houses of varying taste and cost that lined Capitol Hill, private life as well as public life had its compensations. The city's surroundings were charming and impressive. There was an ease of life and flow of hospitality that made Washington seem almost southern. Few forgot that the South lay but a stone's throw across the lazy Potomac. It was a time of formal manners. It was also an era of horse-drawn trolleys, gaslight, frock coats, and twelve-course dinners. Congressmen, cabinet officers, foreign dignitaries, visiting statesmen, even the president casually strolled through the treelined walks and parks, admiring the statuary and architecture, or taking in the city's other sights.

The McKinleys did not enter into the city's social whirl. Ida's illness prevented more than a minimum of such affairs, but in any event, they had no taste for the lavish. Both preferred the quiet solitude that rounded out a strenuous day, and spent most of their evenings alone together, or with a small group of friends. Often as not, McKinley sat with his wife, reading a newspaper, listening to her talk as she plied the knitting or crochet needles that marked her progress through rugs and slippers.

It would have strained their resources and burdened Ida physically to buy or rent a house. Instead, they took a small suite of two rooms at the comfortable Ebbitt House, where McKinley rubbed elbows and exchanged stories with the numerous other congressmen, military officers, and government officials who made the hotel their home. One room served as McKinley's workroom and the other as a bedroom. When guests arrived they either sat with the young couple in the workroom or went downstairs to the parlor.

-63-

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