The Woman’s National Democratic Club (WNDC) is the meeting place for Democrats, Independents, and Progressives in the nation’s capital. We serve as a forum for writers, scholars, and Democratic and progressive leaders, and we engage our members and guests—women and men—in discussions and advocacy for public policy that advances our nation’s democratic values.
WHO WE ARE:
WNDC’s hundreds of members live in the Washington, DC, area and 23 states throughout the nation. We share a passion for politics and good government, and our roster includes a distinguished group of women and men with leadership in government; Democratic Party and other progressive political activities; and labor, corporate, civic and professional organizations. WNDC is a member-led 501(c)7 organization with a Board of Governors and Executive Committee elected from the membership and a professional staff that reports to the Board and the Club president.
Washington, DC, attracts a diverse range of people from all over the country who care intensely about government, politics, and public policy. Yet even in the nation’s capital, it’s not easy to find places to hear expert speakers in a beautiful, relaxed setting; exchange ideas with other well-informed people; and join organized efforts to support good candidates and advocate for better policies. WNDC invites you to join us—as members and guests—at our beautiful home, the Whittemore House, to help shape our contributions to our nation and our city.
Making History for Almost 100 Years
WNDC was founded in 1922 at an exciting time in American history—just after the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which enfranchised American women. After a struggle that had begun more than 60 years earlier at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, women could no longer be denied the all the rights and privileges of citizenship. In November 1920, women cast their votes for the first time.
The first organization for Democratic women in Washington, DC, WNDC opened its doors in rented quarters near the White House in 1924. The Club provided a social setting for political dialogue between visiting Democrats and residents of the District of Columbia who were excluded from national suffrage.
Emily Newell Blair, Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in charge of women’s affairs, oversaw more than a thousand clubs for Democratic women throughout the country. She had also established political schools for women, hoping to revitalize the party through a well-informed women’s electorate. Believing that Democratic women needed a place in Washington, DC to discuss public issues and put their new franchise to work, she founded WNDC as a “hub” for the Democratic women’s activism.
Florence Jaffray “Daisy” Harriman, a Washington and New York socialite, recruited prominent political and social figures to become WNDC members and help provide financial support. Harriman had entered national politics in 1912 to campaign for her friend Woodrow Wilson in his first presidential bid. President Wilson endorsed the Club, and former First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson was elected honorary president. Harriman also launched a series of bipartisan Sunday night suppers that raised the Democratic Party profile and quickly became a Washington institution.
In 1924, the Club launched its twice-weekly programs, which—after more than 90 years—still provide a lively forum for speakers such as Madeleine Albright, Rosalynn Carter, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Tom Daschle, Jim Lehrer, Vernon Jordan, John Lewis, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Loretta and Linda Sanchez, Mark Kennedy Shriver, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Eleanor Roosevelt joined as a non-resident member before WNDC was officially chartered in 1923. When she became the Club’s first Democratic First Lady a decade later, WNDC entered a new era. The Club became Mrs. Roosevelt’s forum for her personal social reform agenda. Her major appearances included a September 15, 1939, broadcast to observe Democratic Women’s Day, carried coast to coast by the three radio networks of the day: CBS, Mutual Broadcasting Company of America (today’s ABC) and NBC. The First Lady urged the country to think about the future and what might be done to bring peace to the world. In 1959, in her final WNDC address, Eleanor Roosevelt advocated self-help aid to women in developing countries, a concept that two years later was instituted in the Peace Corps.
Through the Decades
Through the decades, WNDC has been in the forefront on other national issues. In 1955, when Washington was a segregated southern city, the club welcomed Gladys Duncan as its first minority member. Duncan was a Democratic activist and the spouse of Todd Duncan, the original Porgy in George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. In the early 1960s, WNDC member Esther Peterson led John F. Kennedy’s Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. Following the president’s death, Club members helped the White House respond to the country’s outpouring of sympathy to Jacqueline Kennedy.
The Club supported Lady Bird Johnson’s environmental effort and named its small, intimate garden in her honor. Rosalynn Carter found WNDC a sympathetic forum for her mental health advocacy. Club members also helped launch the successful Head Start program for disadvantaged children.
The Club’s Eleanor Award named for First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is presented in recognition of dedication to humanitarian principles. The first award was presented to First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton on the occasion of the Club’s 75th Anniversary. Other recipients have included Former President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Harry Belafonte.
The WNDC’s Democratic Woman of the Year Award, first presented to Congresswoman Barbara Jordan in 1975, has honored many distinguished women, including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Senator Barbara Mikulski, and economist Dr. Alice Rivlin.
In 1988, the Board voted to admit men to the Club. The first male member was Wynn Newman, who then joined the Board in 1989.
In 1991, the Club established the WNDC Educational Foundation (EF), which oversees the Club’s scholarly collections, sponsors an oral history and publication program, and conducts community outreach projects. Supported by donations, the Foundation maintains an historic preservation fund to help conserve the landmark Clubhouse. EF meets IRS requirements for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.
THE WHITTEMORE HOUSE
The Whittemore House, WNDC’s home, is an elegant historic mansion located in Washington’s Dupont Circle Historic District. Built between 1892 and 1894 as a private residence, it was designed by Washington architect Harvey L. Page for opera singer Sarah Adams Whittemore, a descendent of the well-known Adams family of Massachusetts, and William C. Whittemore, her second husband.
In 1927, the WNDC purchased the Whittemore House and has preserved the building for almost a century. WNDC and its Educational Foundation work continuously to preserve its historic home. In 1973, the building was listed as an individually designated landmark of national significance on the U.S. Department of Interior’s National Register of Historic Places. The Woman’s National Democratic Club was granted museum status in 2000.