Woman’s National Democratic Club at 100: Beautiful and Looking to Renew
By October 13, 2022 0 747•
On Wednesday evening Sept. 27, the chairperson of the The Get Out The Vote (GOTV) Committee of the Woman’s National Democratic Club (WNDC), looked around her with satisfaction. More than double the number of women and men over the previous week, were seated in the spacious dining room of the club’s 1880s mansion just off Dupont Circle, hand-addressing, stamping and personally signing letters to voters in select states throughout the country (this night was Pennsylvania) to urge them to vote in the midterm elections. “By October 29 – the best day to send out election letters according to Democratic strategists – we expect to post over 10,000 letters,” committee organizers told volunteers and special guest D.C.’s DNC Chair Jaime Harrison.
“Winning /Wednesdays” is just one of the activities that WNDC members organize at this highly active club at 1526 New Hampshire Ave. NW. (Look for the large blue donkey statue at the corner of Q Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW).
WNDC was founded in 1922 just two years after the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that gave women the right to vote. As a member-led 501(c)7 organization, the WNDC provided a social setting for political dialogue between visiting Democrats and residents of the District of Columbia – often wives of Democratic Congressmen. For 97 years, the members have held twice weekly political and cultural events with policy experts, Democratic strategists and cultural leaders in their rooms filled with period antiques and the tower library of political and cultural books. “Newsmakers used to call us asking to be a WNDC speaker,” said Judy Hubbard, an active member since 1995 . Members would sign up immediately so as to get a place before it filled up.”
Speakers have included former Secretaries of State Madeline Albright and Hillary Rodham Clinton; former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski; late PBS News Anchor Jim Lehrer; Maryland House Delegate Mark Kennedy Shriver; Civil Rights Leader Vernon Jordan; Members of Congress Maxine Waters, John Lewis, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Jackie Speier, Lucy McBath, Pramila Jayapal, Loretta and Linda Sanchez, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz and national DNC Chair Tom Perez. Congressional wives who were Presidents of the WNDC include Liddy Boggs (La.) and Rosemary Monahan (Conn.) The club became First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s — one of WNDC’s charter members – forum for her social reform agenda in the 1940s; 75 years later, her great granddaughter Anna Fierst became club president.
In 1988, the board voted to admit men to the Club. Wynn Newman was the first. “He was continually going to their interesting lunches that I didn’t have time for with my federal jobs and the kids,” his wife Ellie Newman (97) told The Georgetowner. “He was elected to the board in 1989 and I eventually became program chair person. My favorite guests were Civil Rights leader Dorothy Height and Democratic strategist Donna Brazille.” In 1991, the Club established the WNDC Educational Foundation (EF) – a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization which oversees the Club’s scholarly collections and various community outreach projects. The Save Americas Treasurers fund just granted EF $311,000. EF members put together a WNDC century timeline made up of ten large frame collages of photographs and clippings for each decade.
“The best thing about the club for me is all the many interesting people I have befriended,” Hubbbard told The Georgetowner. “Members are former foreign service officers, journalists, professors and teachers, government administrators and philanthropists. And yes, still some wives of Congressmen.” The many WNDC Committees represent the spread of interests of the hundreds of members, Hubbard pointed out. Some are action-oriented like Get Out The Vote and its subcommittees “2022 elections,” “Take Action Now,” and “What Else Can I Do?” The Public Policy Committee’s subcommittees — all headed by member experts who write articles and organize field trips – include DC Metro, Earth and Environment, Education and Children’s Issues, Foreign Policy and National Security, Human Rights and Equality and Racial Equity.
In 1998, the club founded the Eleanor Award to honor Eleanor Roosevelt and the humanitarian principles she championed. Recipients include former Secretary of State and then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and artist and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte. In 2016, the Hillary for America campaign established their D.C. organizing offices at the WNDC (perhaps making up for the fact that the club actually endorsed Sen. Barack Obama in the primaries of 2008). In 2017, WNDC served as headquarters to the leaders of the Women’s March to protest the election of Donald Trump.
The club has had its share of ups and downs during its 100 years, of course. Current members remember the Obama election and the elegant inauguration party at the club in 2009 as a peak of club activity and membership. But the WNDC also is experiencing a decline in membership as young adult women increasingly commit to demanding high-paying professional careers and older members begin to bow out. “Covid hit the club very hard. We especially needed to keep our long-time staff — who are family to us — on the payroll as we redesigned our programs to go virtual,” Hubbard said. “Pandemic relief funds saved us.”
“Now on the 100th anniversary, the club faces the challenge of how to redesign for the next decades,” President Laura Whittaker told the Georgetowner. “How do we combine the popular virtual events with the invaluable person-to-person ones?; keep the club’s priceless historical furnishings maintained in an energetic 21st century environment welcoming digital natives and engaged seniors?” And what about the challenging volatile politics of today? “We used to be so diverse, welcoming Democrats with different points of views at every meeting,” said long time member and volunteer Pat Bitondo. “That used to make our meetings so valuable.”
The WNDC is holding a 100th anniversary event on Thursday, Nov. 17.
For more information about the WNDC see here.