Cosmos Club

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Cosmos Club
Formation1878; 145 years ago (1878)
TypePrivate social club
ServicesHotel (50 rooms), dining, athletics, meetings
Cosmos Club
Cosmos Club is located in Washington, D.C.
Cosmos Club
Location in Washington, D.C.
Coordinates38°54′41.3″N 77°2′51.6″W / 38.911472°N 77.047667°W / 38.911472; -77.047667Coordinates: 38°54′41.3″N 77°2′51.6″W / 38.911472°N 77.047667°W / 38.911472; -77.047667
NRHP reference No.73002079
Added to NRHPApril 3, 1973

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 for those interested in science.[1][2] Among its stated goals is, "The advancement of its members in science, literature, and art and also their mutual improvement by social intercourse."[3]

Cosmos Club members include three United States presidents, two vice presidents, U.S. Supreme Court justices, artists, writers, businessmen, government officials, journalists, scientists, and university presidents, 36 Nobel Prize winners, 61 Pulitzer Prize winners, and 55 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients.[4][5] In 1988, the Club opened to women.[4]


According to one history, Clarence Edward Dutton originally had the idea for a social club for men of science, and shared his idea with Major John Wesley Powell.[6] On November 16, 1878, a group of men met at Powell's home at 910 M Street, Washington, D.C.and discussed their mutual interest in creating what began the Cosmos Club.[1][6] There are no minutes or attendance records from the organizational meeting. However, oral history says twelve attended the meeting.[6][1] Ten signed the articles of incorporation three weeks later, and Powell was selected as the club's temporary president.[1][6] The original incorporators included:

According to the articles of incorporation, "The particular objects and business of this association are the advancement of its members in science, literature and art, their mutual improvement by social intercourse, the acquisition and maintenance of a library, and the collection and care of materials and appliances related to the above subjects."[6]

The ten incorporators met again on January 6, 1879.[6] They approved bylaws, regulations, and rules, and also elected Powell as the official president.[1][6] They approved sixty individuals as Founders; many of these were existing members of the Philosophical Society of Washington which the group feared, was considering creating its own social club.[6] The cost to join was $25, slightly over $700 in today's money.[6] The annual dues were set at $20 for residents and $10 for non-residents.[6]

The original bylaws of the Cosmos Club had the following policy: "Membership in the Club was restricted by high qualification requirements and candidates were admitted only if they (1) had performed meritorious original work in science, literature, or the fine arts; (2) though not occupied in science, literature, or the fine arts, were well known to be cultivated in a special department thereof; and (3) were recognized as distinguished in a learned profession or in public service."[1]

According to its website, election to membership in the Cosmos Club honors those 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]

Club house[edit]

Cosmos Club at Lafayette Square, c. 1921
725 Madison Place
Cosmos Club on Lafayette Square
Tayloe House
Townsend House ballroom

From 1879 to 1882, the Cosmos Club met in rented rooms on the third floor in the Corcoran Building on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 15th Street NW in Washington, D.C.[8][6] The Club moved into a rented house at 23 Madison Place in Lafayette Square from 1883 to 1886.[8][6] However, the membership quickly outgrew the space.[6]

Dolley Madison House[edit]

On June 1, 1886, the Club purchased the Dolley Madison House for $40,000.[3][6] This house is located at the corner of H Street and Madison Place.[6] Madison's brother-in-law, Richard Cutts, built the house in 1820; Dolley Madison lived there from 1837 until her death in 1849.[6] Upon purchasing the building, the Club built an assembly hall addition and raised the height of the third story.[6] They held a gala on January 5, 1887, to celebrate their new home.[6] In 1893, the Club again expanded the building, adding two stories to the assembly hall.[6]

In 1940, the U.S. government purchased the house with the rest of the club's Lafayette Square holdings and added it to the National Courts Complex in 1952.[6][9] The Cutts-–Madison House in included in the National Register of Historic Places and is a contributing building to the Lafayette Square Historic District.

Lafayette Square[edit]

In 1906, the Club purchased a house south of the Madison House at 25 Madison Place NW.[6] In 1907, they purchased the house next door at 23 Madison Place NW—the club's former rental property.[6] Both houses were razed in 1909, allowing the club to build a new five-story clubhouse at 725 Madison Place that was completed in 1910.[6] This was dubbed "the new building".[6]

They also purchased a small office building on H Street, next to the Dolley Madison House.[6] However, in 1930, Congress directed the Secretary of the Treasury to purchase the private property on Madison Place for the expansion of governmental offices.[6] In 1939, the government offered the Club one million dollars for all of their holdings—the Madison House, the New Building, the office building, and the Tayloe House (described below).[6] Although its members did not want to move, the Club voted to sell on March 27, 1940.[6]

However, with the outbreak of World War II, the government did not immediately pursue their played expansion.[3][6] Instead, the club was able to rent their former property on a year-to-year basis.[6] This arrangement was financially beneficial for the club as they no longer had to pay property taxes.[6] Finally, the Club moved to a new location in the Townsend House in 1952.[6]

The Lafayette Square property is now used by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.[3][9]

Tayloe House[edit]

In 1917, the Club bought the Tayloe House, an 1828 Federal style house at 21 Madison Place NW.[9][6] The Tayloe House was the club's women's annex, and its stables were converted into a meeting hall.[9] In 1952, the Club left Tayloe House when they moved into Townsend House.[10] The U.S. government purchased the house with the rest of the club's Lafayette Square holdings and added it to the National Courts Complex.[11][6][9] The Benjamin Ogle Tayloe House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a contributing structure to the Lafayette Square Historic District.

Townsend House[edit]

In 1950, the Club purchased the Townsend House at 2121 Massachusetts Ave. N.W. Washington, D.C.[10] Designed by architects Carrère and Hastings, the Townsend House was built for railroad and coal heiress Mary Scott Townsend between 1898 and 1900 and features Louis XV elements on a Beaux Arts-style exterior.[12][2] After renovations, the Club moved into the Townsend House in mid–1952.[10] Townsend House includes a billiards room, dining rooms, a fitness center, a library, parlors, overnight rooms, and a periodical room.[5]

The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.[12] In 2017, the Cosmos Club renovated Townsend House's ballroom which features gilding, ornamental plaster, a parquet floor, and fine–art murals.[2]

Dress Code[edit]

Members and visitors to the Cosmos Club must comply with its dress code.[5] Men must wear dress slacks, collared long-sleeved shirts or turtlenecks, and jackets. In addition, men must wear ties in the formal dining room for dinner, lunch, and Sunday brunch.[5] Memorial Day through Labor Day, the summer dress code permits business casual attire.[5]


Programs and events[edit]

The Cosmos Club offers book conversations, chess and bridge tournaments, monthly concerts, dancing lessons, holiday events, lunch and dinner lectures, and seasonal dinner dances.[5] Many of the activities are related to food, such as monthly lobster dinners, weekly champagne brunches, prime rib buffets, and wine tastings.[5] In addition, the Cosmos Club serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner for its members and their guests.[5]

Townsend House is also used by members for special events such as anniversary parties, birthday parties, cocktail parties, debutante parties, funeral receptions, and wedding receptions.[5]


The Cosmos Club has published the Cosmos Bulletin since around 1946.[13] The club also publishes its Cosmos Club Occasional Paper Series, featuring articles written by its members.[14]

In 1990, the Cosmos Club began publication of Cosmos: A Journal of Emerging Issues as an annual publication of original essays by its members.[15][16] However, publication ceased in 2004.[2]


The Cosmos Club presents several awards and a scholarship:

  • The Cosmos Club Award has been presented annually since 1964.[17]
  • John Wesley Powel Award, started in 2015 and linked to the presentation of the Powell Lecture.[7]
  • The John P. McGovern Award supports an annual series of lectures in science.[18]
  • Cosmos Scholars Grants are given by the Cosmos Foundation to college students in the Washington D.C. area for special supplies, travel, or other expenses to enhance study in various academic fields such as biomedical sciences, engineering, literature, and regional studies.[19][11]

Related organizations[edit]

Many organizations were founded at the Cosmos Club, including the National Geographic Society in 1888, The Wilderness Society in 1935, and the Washington Academy of Sciences.[20][21][6] The American Institute of Physics also formed at the Cosmos Club on May 3, 1931.[22]

Since 1887, the Philosophical Society of Washington (also known as PSW Science) meets at the assembly hall of the Cosmos Club, now is called the John Wesley Powell auditorium.[23] The Explorer's Club, the Geological Society of Washington, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Washington Academy of Sciences also regularly met at the Cosmos Club.[6][24] Other organizations that used the Cosmos Club's facilities many times include The Columbia Historical Society (now the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.), the Cosmotographers (a camera club), the Friday Morning Music Club, and the Literary Society of Washington.[6]


On November 16, 1903, when the Cosmos Club celebrated its 25th anniversary, the membership had grown from the original twelve to 567: 408 residents, 159 non-residents.[1] As of 2017, the club had some 3,089 members in Full, Junior, Senior, and Emeritus categories. Members come from a wide variety of backgrounds, but a common theme among members is "a relation with scholarship, creative genius, or intellectual distinction".[25] In 1904, president William Henry Holmes divided members into 11 groups for admission purposes:[26][27][28]

  • Science: biologists, geologists, anthropologists, chemists, and astronomers
  • Writers: those who write poetry, prose, and editorials
  • Artists: painters, engravers, and sculptors
  • Doctors: medical doctors, dentists, physicians, and specialists
  • Law: lawyers and judges
  • Military: Army and Navy officers
  • Education: teachers, professors, and educators
  • Preachers and ministers
  • Bankers and Financiers
  • Architects
  • Government: statesmen, diplomats, secretaries, directors, chiefs, superintendents, chief clerks, hold officers

The club was only for white men until the 1960s.[29] In 1962, the club's refusal to admit Black journalist and high-ranking State Department official Carl T. Rowan prompted members such as Bruce Catton and John Kenneth Galbraith to resign their memberships in protest.[29] Edward R. Murrow and John F. Kennedy withdrew their applications for membership.[29] Less than a year later, the Club admitted its first black member, historian John Hope Franklin.[30]

For its first 110 years, the Cosmos Club did not permit women to join, and it did not allow female guests to enter by the front door, or to enter rooms reserved for members.[29] In 1973, 1975, and 1980, the Club votes against admitting women.[29] 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.[31] 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.[31] However, on June 19, 1988, the Cosmos Club's membership overwhelmingly voted to accept women members—only 14 of the 771 voting members were against admitting women.[31][4][29] The first class of female members were admitted in October 1988.[4]

In 2015, the Washingtonian reported that annual dues are around $2,000.[5]

Reciprocal clubs[edit]

Members have access to reciprocating private clubs in other communities, including the Algonquin Club in Boston,[32] the Arlington Club in Portland,[33] the Cornell Club of New York,[34] The Cliff Dwellers in Chicago,[35] the Duquesne Club in Pittsburgh,[36] the Down Town Association in New York City,[37] Engineering Society of Baltimore,[38] the Hamilton Club of Lancaster,[39] the Harvard Club of Boston,[40] the Harvard Club of New York,[41] The Lotos Club in New York City,[42] the National Arts Club in New York City,[43] the National Press Club in Washington D.C.,[44] the Norfolk Yacht & Country Club in Virginia,[45] The Players of New York City,[46] the Penn Club of New York,[47] Princeton Club of New York,[48] Racquet Club of Philadelphia,[49] St. Botolph Club in Boston,[50] the Saint Louis Club,[51] the University Club of San Francisco,[52] the Williams Club in New York City,[53] the Union Club of Boston,[54] the University Club of Denver,[55] and the University Club of San Francisco.[52]

The Cosmos Club also has reciprocal agreements with clubs in other countries, including The Athenaeum in London,[56] the Carlton Club in London,[57] Caledonian Club in London,[58] the Club Financiero Génova in Madrid,[59] The East India Club in London,[60] Foreign Correspondents' Club in Hong Kong,[61] The National Club in Toronto,[62] The New Club in Edinburgh,[63] the Oriental Club in London,[64] Oxford and Cambridge Club in London,[65] the Savile Club in London,[5] Stephen’s Green Hibernian Club in Dublin,[66] The Tanglin Club in Singapore.[67]

See also[edit]

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.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Evans, Richard Tranter; Frye, Helen M. (2009). "History of the Topographic Branch (Division)" (PDF). U.S. Geological Survey Circular. 1341. ISBN 9781411326125.
  2. ^ a b c d "The Cosmos Club Journal". Retrieved 2017-11-08.
  3. ^ a b c d The Cosmos Club: A Self Guided Tour of the Mansion (PDF). Washington, D.C.: The Cosmos Club. Retrieved March 27, 2022.
  4. ^ a b c d Feinberg, Lawrence (1988-10-12). "18 Women End Cosmos Club's 110-Year Male Era". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2022-03-28.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "The Savile Club | Reciprocal Clubs". Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au Oehser, Paul H. (1960). "The Cosmos Club of Washington: A Brief History". Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C. 60/62: 250–265. ISSN 0897-9049.
  7. ^ a b "Membership". Cosmos Club. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
  8. ^ a b "Corcoran Building on the northeast corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 15th Street NW". Historical Society of Washington DC. Retrieved 2022-03-28.
  9. ^ a b c d e Bendar, Michael J. L' Enfant's Legacy: Public Open Spaces in Washington, D.C. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. p. 105. ISBN 9780801883187
  10. ^ a b c Washburn, Wilcomb E. The Cosmos Club of Washington: a Centennial History, 1878-1978. Washington, D.C.: The Cosmos Club.
  11. ^ a b Wentzel, Volkmar Kurt. Washington By Night. Golden, Colo.: Fulcrum Publishing, 1998. p. 30 ISBN 978-1555914103
  12. ^ a b "Richard H. Townsend House (Cosmos Club)". DC Historic Sites. Retrieved 2022-03-01.
  13. ^ "Cosmos Bulletin" (PDF). Cosmos Bulletin. 66 (3). March 2012 – via Cosmos Club.
  14. ^ Aurbach, Laurence J. (January 31, 2013). "Cosmos Club Legacies:The Land and Townsend Decorative Arts" (PDF). Cosmos Club Occasional Paper Series. 4. Retrieved March 2, 2022 – via Cosmos Club.
  15. ^ Schudel, Matt (December 12, 2004). "Lester Tanzer; the editor at U.S. News & World Report". Washington Post. Retrieved April 3, 2009.
  16. ^ "COSMOS Journal". Retrieved April 3, 2009.
  17. ^ Toulmin, Lew (January 2018). "Cosmos Club Reciprocal Network – A North American Tour" (PDF). The Most Traveled. The Cosmos Club Reciprocal Club Expo. Retrieved March 27, 2022.
  18. ^ "John P. McGovern Award for Science. Cosmos Club Foundation. | Scholars@Duke". Retrieved 2022-08-31.
  19. ^ Sinutko, Samantha. 2022. “Georgetown Graduate Students Earn Grants from Cosmos Club Foundation.” UWIRE Text, February 17. ESCO.
  20. ^ "The Wilderness Society Founded". Today in Conservation. January 21, 2018. Retrieved 2022-03-28.
  21. ^ National Geographic Society. "National Geographic Timeline". National Geographic. Retrieved 2022-03-25.
  22. ^ "American Institute of Physics". Retrieved 2022-10-24.
  23. ^ "Who We Are". PSW Science. Retrieved 2022-03-28.
  24. ^ Lukas, J. Anthony (November 21, 1971). "Is It a Club? Seminar? Presidium? 'Invisible Government'?; The Council on Foreign Relations" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 2022-10-24.
  25. ^ "Cosmos Club > About the Club". Retrieved 2017-11-08.
  26. ^ "Capital's Scientific and Literary Club to Have a Golden Event". Evening Star (Washington, D.C.). November 11, 1928. p. 92. Retrieved October 17, 2022.
  27. ^ Oehser, Paul H. (1960). "The Cosmos Club of Washington: A Brief History". Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C. 60/62: 250–265. ISSN 0897-9049. via JSTOR accessed October 15, 2022.
  28. ^ Proctor, John Clagett (April 21, 1940). "Cosmos Club, Leaving Old Home, Removes Link with Dolly Madison Name". Evening Star (District of Columbia). p. 32. Retrieved October 17, 2022 – via
  29. ^ a b c d e f Sinclair, Molly (August 11, 1991). "Cosmos Club Chronology". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 3, 2022.
  30. ^ "The exclusive D.C. social club of Ketanji Brown Jackson, explained". Washington Post. 2022-03-27. Retrieved 2022-03-27.
  31. ^ a b c APPublished: June 19, 1988 (1988-06-19). "All-Male Club in Washington Ends Policy Against Women". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
  32. ^ "(PDF) DOMESTIC RECIPROCAL CLUBS - Algonquin Club · DOMESTIC RECIPROCAL CLUBS The Algonquin Club of bosTon EST. 1886". Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  33. ^ "Reciprocal Club". Arlington Club. Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  34. ^ "United States Clubs". The Cornell Club New York. Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  35. ^ Burnham (2013-03-11). "Reciprocal Clubs". The Cliff Dwellers. Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  36. ^ "About | Duquesne Club". Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  37. ^ "Domestic - Down Town Association". Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  38. ^ "Interactive Map". Engineering Society of Baltimore. Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  39. ^ "Hamilton Club of Lancaster: Reciprocal Clubs" (PDF). Hamilton Club. Retrieved September 29, 2022.
  40. ^ "Reciprocal Clubs". Harvard Club. 2015-08-17. Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  41. ^ "HCNY Reciprocal Clubs" (PDF). The Harvard Club of New York City. Retrieved September 29, 2022.
  42. ^ "Home - The Lotos Club". Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  43. ^ "Reciprocal Clubs - The National Arts Club". Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  44. ^ Driggs, Sarah. "Did you know NPC members have reciprocal privileges at the Cosmos?". National Press Club. Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  45. ^ "Reciprocal Clubs - Norfolk Yacht & Country Club | Norfolk, VA". Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  46. ^ "Reciprocal Clubs - The Players". Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  47. ^ "Reciprocal Clubs - Penn Club of New York". Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  48. ^ "Princeton Club of NY Reciprocal Clubs - Domestic". Google My Maps. Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  49. ^ "Reciprocal Clubs". The Racquet Club of Philadelphia. Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  50. ^ "Reciprocal Clubs - St. Botolph Club". Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  51. ^ "Reciprocal Clubs - Saint Louis Club". Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  52. ^ a b "Domestic Reciprocal Clubs - University Club of San Francisco". Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  53. ^ "Directory of Reciprocal Clubs – Williams Club". Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  54. ^ "United States - Union Club of Boston - Boston, MA". Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  55. ^ "Reciprocal Clubs - University Club of Denver - Denver, CO". Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  56. ^ "The Athenaeum Reciprocal Clubs" (PDF). The Athenaeum. Retrieved September 29, 2022.
  57. ^ "Cosmos Club". Carlton Club. Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  58. ^ "Reciprocal Clubs | Our Worldwide Network | The Caledonian Club - The Caledonian club". Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  59. ^ "Clubes Corresponsables | Club Financiero Génova - Madrid". Club Financiero Génova. Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  60. ^ "Reciprocal Clubs". The East India Club. Retrieved September 29, 2022.
  61. ^ "Reciprocal Clubs". The Foreign Correspondents' Club, Hong Kong | FCC. Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  62. ^ "Affiliate Clubs - The National Club - Toronto, On". Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  63. ^ "Reciprocal Club List" (PDF). The New Club Edinburgh. Retrieved September 29, 2022.
  64. ^ "Reciprocal Clubs - Oriental Club". Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  65. ^ "Oxford and Cambridge Club Membership Pack 2019" (PDF). Oxford and Cambridge Club. 2019. Retrieved September 29, 2022.
  66. ^ "Reciprocal Network 2018" (PDF). Stephens Green Club. 2018. Retrieved September 29, 2022.
  67. ^ "Cosmos Club". Retrieved 2022-09-29.

External links[edit]