Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Photo of the Day: Woman’s National Democratic Club, Washington, DC

I had no idea what this building was about when I visited Washington back in November 2015; I merely thought the exterior would make for an interesting photo. I did not have an opportunity to enter the building. But a plaque in front of this structure on New Hampshire Avenue, just off DuPont Circle, gave me some clues to its history and its present purpose.

The Woman’s National Democratic Club (WNDC) is located in the Whittemore House, which, like much of the surrounding neighborhood, began as an elegant 19th century mansion. Whittemore House takes its name from Sarah Adams Whittemore, a descendant of President John Adams.  An opera singer, she had enough wealth to create a home to accommodate her passion, so the acoustics inside are reputedly first-rate.

The home was built between 1892 and 1894 by architect Harvey Page, who also reconfigured another DuPont Circle residence, the Phoebe Hearst House. Over the next three decades, Whittemore House was rented by several prominent Washingtonians, including Sen. John Dryden, a founder of Prudential Insurance; banker John W. Weeks, who became a Republican congressman, senator and Secretary of War; and Ms. Whittemore’s son Walter Wilcox, an explorer, travel author, and photographer.

In 1927, Whittemore House was purchased by the five-year-old WNDC, the first socially acceptable meeting place for Democratic women in the nation’s capital. It has continued its mission to “provide a forum where Democrats meet to study, discuss and act upon current issues, to further the participation of women in the political process, and to help build an effective and compassionate political party.”

Amid a setting furnished with antiques, art and political memorabilia, club members over the years have been able to attend twice-weekly programs featuring speakers such as Madeleine Albright, Rosalynn Carter, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Tom Daschle, Jim Lehrer, Vernon Jordan, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Loretta and Linda Sanchez, Mark Kennedy Shriver, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

The library, on the second floor, is of particular interest to aficionados of First Ladies, as it was the site where Eleanor Roosevelt held women-only press conferences at a time when female journalists battled discrimination.

Whittemore House, listed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1973, was granted museum status in 2000. It has been used for a variety of events, from conferences to weddings—and, of course, to empower women.

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