Cosmos Club

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Cosmos Club
Cosmos Club Logo.png
Cosmos Club - Blizzard of 2010.JPG
Cosmos Club in February 2010
Formation1878; 143 years ago (1878)
TypePrivate social club
ServicesHotel (50 rooms), Dining, Athletics, Meetings

The Cosmos Club is a 501(c)(7) private social club in Washington, D.C. that was founded by John Wesley Powell in 1878 as a gentlemen's club.[1] Among its stated goals is "The advancement of its members in science, literature, and art".[1] Cosmos Club members have included three U.S. presidents, two U.S. vice presidents, a dozen Supreme Court justices, 36 Nobel Prize winners, 61 Pulitzer Prize winners, and 55 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.[2] In 1988 the Club opened to women members.

The club has approximately 3,089 members in Full, Junior, Senior, and Emeritus categories.

Since 1952, the club headquarters have been in the Townsend House on Embassy Row. Meetings in other communities also are held regularly at reciprocating private clubs, such as The Field Estate in Sarasota, Florida.


Cosmos Club, ca. 1921, before its move to the Townsend house

In addition to Powell, original members included Clarence Edward Dutton, Henry Smith Pritchett, William Harkness, and John Shaw Billings. The Club originally met in the Corcoran Building on the corner of Fifteenth and F Streets, N.W., but moved to Lafayette Square in 1882. Eventually, the Club bought the Dolley Madison House in 1886, they moved again to Nos. 23 and 25 Lafayette Square in 1906 and 1907 and razed them in 1909 to construct a new five story building, and in 1917 bought the Tayloe House. The Clubhouse in Lafayette Square was sold to the Federal Government in 1940 but, due to the effects of World War II, the Club continued to rent the property. In 1950 the Club purchased the Townsend Mansion and renovated the property before moving in two years later, in mid-1952.[3] The Lafayette Square property is now used by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Since 1887, the regular meeting place of the Philosophical Society of Washington has been the assembly hall of the Cosmos Club, it now is called the John Wesley Powell auditorium. Many organizations have been founded at the Cosmos Club including the National Geographic Society in 1888, and The Wilderness Society in 1935.[citation needed]

For its first 110 years, the Cosmos Club did not permit women members, and it forbade female guests to enter by the front door, or to enter rooms reserved for members. In 1987, the Washington, D.C., Human Rights Office ruled that there was probable cause to believe that the club's men-only policy violated the city's anti-discrimination law. The office was ready to order public hearings on the case, which could have resulted in the loss of all city licenses and permits if the all-male policy had continued, but the Cosmos Club then voted on June 19, 1988, to accept women as members.[4]

In 1990, the Cosmos Club began publication of Cosmos: A Journal of Emerging Issues as an annual publication of original essays by its members.[5][6] However, publication of the Journal ceased in 2004.[7]

Facade of the Townsend house (later home of the Cosmos Club), 1915, photograph by Frances Benjamin Johnston


The Cosmos Club offers two major awards:


Election to membership in the Cosmos Club honors persons deemed to have "done meritorious original work in science, literature, or the arts, or... recognized as distinguished in a learned profession or in public service".[10] Members come from a wide variety of background, but a common theme among members is "a relation with scholarship, creative genius, or intellectual distinction".[11] Cosmos Club members have included three U.S. presidents, two U.S. vice presidents, a dozen Supreme Court justices, 36 Nobel Prize winners, 61 Pulitzer Prize winners, and 55 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.[2]

List of members

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Cosmos Club" (PDF). Kopplin & Kuebler. Retrieved 2018-05-30.
  2. ^ a b "Cosmos Club > Home".
  3. ^ Washburn, Wilcomb E. The Cosmos Club of Washington: a Centennial History, 1878-1978. Washington, D.C.: The Cosmos Club.
  4. ^ APPublished: June 19, 1988 (1988-06-19). "All-Male Club in Washington Ends Policy Against Women". New York Times. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
  5. ^ Schudel, Matt (December 12, 2004). "Lester Tanzer; editor at U.S. News & World Report". Washington Post. Retrieved April 3, 2009.
  6. ^ "COSMOS Journal". Retrieved April 3, 2009.
  7. ^ "The Cosmos Club Journal". Retrieved 2017-11-08.
  8. ^ "Cosmos Club Awards and Recipients". Retrieved 2013-12-04.
  9. ^ "Cosmos Club McGovern Awards". Retrieved 2013-12-04.
  10. ^ "Membership". Cosmos Club. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
  11. ^ "Cosmos Club > About the Club". Retrieved 2017-11-08.

Further reading[edit]

  • Spaulding, Thomas M. (1949). The Cosmos Club on Lafayette Square. Washington, D.C.: The Cosmos Club.
  • Crossette, George (1966). Founders of The Cosmos Club of Washington, 1878. Washington, D.C.: The Cosmos Club.
  • Washburn, Wilcomb E. (1978). The Cosmos Club of Washington : a centennial history, 1878–1978. Washington, D.C.: The Cosmos Club.

External links[edit]