Cosmos Club

Cosmos Club
Cosmos Club
Cosmos Club in February 2010
Location: 2121 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C.
Coordinates: 38°54′41″N 77°2′54″W / 38.91139°N 77.04833°W / 38.91139; -77.04833Coordinates: 38°54′41″N 77°2′54″W / 38.91139°N 77.04833°W / 38.91139; -77.04833
Built: 1898
Architect: Carrère and Hastings
Architectural style: Beaux Arts
Governing body: Private
Part of: Massachusetts Avenue Historic District (#74002166)
NRHP Reference#:


Added to NRHP: April 03, 1973

The Cosmos Club is a private social club in Washington, D.C., founded by John Wesley Powell in 1878. In addition to Powell, original members included Clarence Edward Dutton, Henry Smith Pritchett, William Harkness, and John Shaw Billings. Among its stated goals is "The advancement of its members in science, literature, and art".[1] Cosmos Club members have included many recipients of the Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, and Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Since 1952 the Club's headquarters have been in the Mary Scott (Mrs Richard T.) Townsend house,[2] at 2121 Massachusetts Avenue, NW in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. The free-standing house, set in almost an acre of garden, was designed in the Beaux Arts French style by architects Carrère and Hastings in 1898 and essentially completed in 1901. The mansion continued to be occupied by Mrs Townsend's daughter, who was Mrs B. Sumner Welles, until World War II. It was purchased from Mrs Welles' estate by the Cosmos Club in 1950 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. It is a contributing property to the Dupont Circle Historic District and Massachusetts Avenue Historic District.



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

The Club originally met in the Corcoran Building on the corner of 15th and F Streets, NW, 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 1952.

Since 1887, the regular meeting place of the Philosophical Society of Washington has been the assembly hall of the Cosmos Club, now 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.

For its first 110 years, the Cosmos Club did not permit women members, and forbade female guests to enter by the front door or to enter rooms reserved for members. In 1988, 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.

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


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-04-15. 
  2. ^ Cosmos Club: "The Townsend Mansion"
  3. ^ Schudel, Matt (Sunday, December 12, 2004). "Lester Tanzer; Editor at U.S. News & World Report". Washington Post. Retrieved 04-03-2009. 
  4. ^ "COSMOS Journal". Retrieved 04-03-2009. 
  5. ^ Cosmos Club Awards and Recipients
  6. ^ Cosmos Club McGovern Awards
  7. ^ Cosmos Club: Membership

Further reading

  • 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

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