Cosmos Club

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Cosmos Club
Private club
Founded 1878; 139 years ago (1878)
Headquarters 2121 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C.
Services Hotel, Dining, Athletics, Meetings

The Cosmos Club is a private social club in Washington, D.C. that was founded by John Wesley Powell in 1878 as a gentlemen's club. 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.[1] Since 1988, women guests have been allowed to enter using the front door and to be nominated as members.

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 Club 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 Fifteeth and F Streets, N.W., but moved to Lafayette Square in 1882. Eventually, the Club occupied the Tayloe and Dolley Madison Houses on the eastern side of the Square, and razed two rowhouses between them for additional space. Prompted to relocate by the federal government, the Club moved to the Townsend House in mid-1952.[citation needed]

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. The National Geographic Society was founded in the Cosmos Club in 1888, and The Wilderness Society was founded there 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.[2]

In 1990, the Cosmos Club began publication of Cosmos: A Journal of Emerging Issues as an annual publication of original essays by its members.[3][4]

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".[7]

Its members have included:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Cosmos Club > Home". 
  2. ^ APPublished: June 19, 1988 (1988-06-19). "All-Male Club in Washington Ends Policy Against Women]work=New York Times". Retrieved 2013-12-04. 
  3. ^ Schudel, Matt (December 12, 2004). "Lester Tanzer; editor at U.S. News & World Report". Washington Post. Retrieved April 3, 2009. 
  4. ^ "COSMOS Journal". Retrieved April 3, 2009. 
  5. ^ "Cosmos Club Awards and Recipients". Retrieved 2013-12-04. 
  6. ^ "Cosmos Club McGovern Awards". Retrieved 2013-12-04. 
  7. ^ "Membership". Cosmos Club. Retrieved 2013-12-04. 

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]