Welcome to the Woman's National Democratic Club (WNDC), the meeting place for Democrats in the nation's capital. WNDC engages members (women and men) in public policy and serves as a forum for Democratic leaders. Club membership benefits include outstanding speaker programs with legislators, First Ladies, ambassadors, authors, and other public figures—as well the opportunity to study key issues, advance public policy, serve on task forces and network with other Democrats on progressive issues.
Founded in 1922, WNDC was the first meeting place for Democratic women in Washington, DC. When the Club opened its doors in rented quarters near the White House in 1924, members recruited influential Washingtonians to speak at club luncheons. The twice-weekly events have endured for nine decades and provide a lively forum for discussion with speakers such as Hillary Rodham Clinton, E. L. Doctorow, Madeleine Albright, Jim Lehrer, Vernon Jordan, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Loretta and Linda Sanchez and other prominent national and local figures.
The Whittemore House, the home of WNDC, 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 (1859-1934) for opera singer Sarah Adams Whittemore, a descendent of the well-known Adams family of Massachusetts, and William C. Whittemore, her second husband. Several well-known occupants have lived in the house. In 1903 Senator John F. Dryden (1839-1911), a Republican from New Jersey and one of the founders of Prudential Insurance Company, rented the building. Dryden was a member of Congress from 1902 to 1907. Theodore P. Shonts (1859-1919), a wealthy railroad magnate who Teddy Roosevelt appointed Chairman of the Isthmian Canal Commission, occupied the mansion during the winter of 1906-1907 for the debut of his two daughters. The best-known tenant was banker John W. Weeks (1860-1926), a Republican Congressman from Massachusetts (1905-1913), who leased the Whittemore House from 1907 to 1911. Later he was elected a Senator from Massachusetts (1913 to 1919) and served as Secretary of War under Harding and Coolidge (1921 to 1925). Mrs. Whittemore died in 1907, and left the property to her son and daughter.
Her son, Walter D. Wilcox (1869-1949), an explorer, travel author, and photographer, moved his family into the home in 1919, living in the mansion until 1926. Throughout its history, the house has been known as the Weeks House and the Wilcox House. During World War II, the building was leased to the British Service Club from July 1, 1943 to February 15, 1946, with the proviso the club have reasonable use of the building for meetings. They left behind the celadon ceramic umbrella stands, which are used today in the entrance hall—a reminder some club members say of “the British occupation”. In 1927, the WNDC purchased the Whittemore property for its use as a clubhouse. In May of 1927, The New York Sun reported that the purchase of “one of the finest old houses in the heart of Washington’s most exclusive residential sections” was the “last word in putting the ‘Ritz’ into politics.” The club has hosted every Democratic president and presidental candidate since 1927 except one in addition to innumerable senators, congressmen, cabinet members, diplomats, government policy makers, world leaders, and well-known lecturers.
The Whittemore House has a kinship to both the English Arts and Crafts movement and American “Shingle Style” architecture. It shares with these movements a turning away from the beaux-arts style that dominated the Washington, DC landscape in the late 19th Century. The design of the Whittemore House suggests Page was in tune with the most advanced architectural thinking of his day, which emphasized the elimination of non-essential decorative details in lieu of simplicity of form and an open free flowing interior plan. The house was also one of the first in Washington, DC to be electrified.
The detailing of the Whittemore House is exquisite. A punched-and-tooled copper-covered oriel bay hangs over the New Hampshire Street entrance, its dull patina a compliment to the richly mottled Roman Brick. The brick, taken from a small rare clay deposit in New Jersey, is unique and can never be reproduced. Doors and leaded glass windows are set deeply into the exterior brick walls without additional ornamentation. Variety is achieved from subtle variations in the finely crafted brickwork, producing flat, rarely interrupted surfaces are associated with the Shingle Style. The flat walls meet to form convex cape-like curves and angular towers and bays in the asymmetrical facades of the house, which recalls a more organic building form. The thatched roof is constructed of dark gray English slate, outlined by a superbly crafted copper gutter.
The bold contrast of the light, orange-brown angular brick walls and the free flowing convex curves of the dark high roofs make this irregularly shaped mansion a focal point on New Hampshire Avenue. In its abstraction and use of materials it has an affinity with the architecture of the Arts and Crafts movement and provides a highly successful solution to the challenge of building on a triangular lot. Modern architect and critic Philip Johnson has described the Whittemore House as an architectural masterpiece.
In contrast to the open floor plan, Page continued the use of decorative elements culled from many late 19th Century styles in the interior spaces of the Whittemore House. The house is famous for having no square or rectangular public rooms, most of which remain intact today. The club has modified and modernized the building for its use several times, including the addition of an elevator and the Q Street entrance ramp. Most notable from the exterior is the 1967 addition to expand the dining space into a ballroom. The expansion was done by architect Nicholas Satterlee (1915 -1974). He designed a formalist structure built of striated cement to deliberately set it apart from the original house. It is a fine example of one approach to historic structure expansion—using a contrasting modern style that pays homage to the original building through placement, form, and scale. The addition is visible from Q Street, but not from the original New Hampshire Avenue entrance.
WNDC has preserved the Whittemore House for more than three-quarters of a century and is actively engaged in efforts to preserve its historic home. In 1973, the building was listed as an individually designated landmark of national significance on the National Register of Historic Places by the Department of the Interior. The Woman’s National Democratic Club was granted museum status in 2000.
Two years after the 19th Amendment granted voting rights to women, WNDC was founded by Daisy Harriman and Emily Blair. The co-founders of WNDC were prominent Democratic women in both New York and Washington, DC. WNDC was founded as a socially acceptable meeting place for women to engage in political dialogue. They envisioned a club that encourage women’s expanding role in politics and to help them seek public office by appointment and election.
Emily Newell Blair, the most prominent Democratic woman in the country in the 1920s, was the club's principal founder. As the Democratic National Committee's vice chair for women’s affairs, Blair oversaw the organization of more than a thousand clubs for Democratic women throughout the country. She also established political schools, hoping to revitalize the party through a well informed women's electorate.
Florence Jaffray "Daisy" Harriman, a Washington and New York socialite, recruited prominent political and social figures for WNDC membership and financial support. Harriman entered national politics eight years before women had national voting rights in 1912, to campaign for her friend Woodrow Wilson in his first presidential bid. Harriman also launched a series of bipartisan Sunday night suppers that raised the Democratic Party profile and quickly became a Washington institution.
Through the decades WNDC has been in the forefront on national issues. In the 1930s and 40s, Eleanor Roosevelt advanced her social reform measures from the club podium. At WNDC's Diamond Jubilee (75 years) in 1998, then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton received the club's first Eleanor Award, presented in honor of Eleanor Roosevelt. Former President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter received the Eleanor Award in 2003, in recognition of their outstanding contributions to humanitarian causes.
Over the years, many distinguished women have received WNDC's Democratic Woman of the Year Award: Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Secretary Madeleine Albright and the District of Columbia's congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton among them. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the WNDC embraced women's issues, at times to the dismay of its more conservative members. Men were granted full voting membership in 1988. Today, like many volunteer organizations, the club is adapting to twenty-first century social change. The Archives document what came next for women in politics, from the suffrage movement to the present day. The Woman's National Democratic Club Archives conserve all club records, publications, photographs, oral histories, artifacts relating to the Democratic Party, related politice memorabilia, and audio/video tapes of WNDC speaker programs.