August 16: Anna Maria Brodeau Thornton (1865)

Anna Thornton was a prominent Washington, D.C. socialite in the early days of the capital city. She mingled with many significant political figures. Her diaries, kept from 1798 until her death in 1865, and maintained in the Library of Congress today, provide an interesting glimpse into life in the nation’s capital in the 19th Century. Anna was born in England and immigrated to the United States at a young age with her mother. Settling first in Philadelphia, Mrs. Brodeau set up and ran a successful school for girls. In 1790, 16-year old Anna married William Thornton, who was also an immigrant, born in the West Indies. Thornton was twice Anna’s age and had a medical education from Scotland and England. He did not care for doctoring and found his calling in architecture. He won the design contest for the U.S. Capitol in 1793 and the couple soon moved to Washington, D.C.

Anna’s diaries record her husband’s architectural career, designing homes for Washington’s elite. Among his commissions were John Tayloe’s Octagon House and Thomas and Martha Custis Peter’s Tudor Place. Anna’s writings also tell of her unofficial work as her husband’s assistant. She was his draftsman translating ideas into drawings and maps. The Thorntons maintained a lively social life with the wealthy and influential and entertained with flair in their home at 1331 F Street, NW. Anna outlived her husband by almost 40 years. Following her death on August 16, 1865, Anna Maria Thornton’s funeral was at Epiphany before her burial at Congressional Cemetery beside her husband.

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