Week 6: General Federation of Women’s Clubs Headquarters

Organization Mission: The General Federation of Women’s Clubs is an international women’s organization dedicated to community improvement by enhancing the lives of others through volunteer service.

As a historic house in DC that has long served as the General Federation of Women’s Clubs Headquarters, touring this building (which is part of the Dupont-Kalorama Museum Consortium) was perhaps not a typical museum visit. And I sensed that I was not a typical visitor, since I am not a GFWC member.

Inside GFWC Headquarters

The house was built in 1875 and passed through different owners until it became the GFWC Headquarters in 1922. My tour guide told me that the house is not interpreted according to any particular time period, since it has been and continues to be in use. The house was renovated  in the early 1900s by its penultimate owners, and the furnishings are gifts from women’s clubs around the country.

Exterior of Spite Room

If houses are haunted by the people who once lived there, then GFWC has some colorful characters for ghosts. There were the Markleys, who built a narrow “spite room” to keep out of view of their next-door neighbors. Then there were the Whites, who lavishly renovated the building, only to divorce and both live elsewhere. Grace Hoffman White was a poet whose line, “I can not warm you if your heart be cold,” graces one of the fireplaces, which I find a little passive-aggressive. (In fairness, I should also share her other quote that’s engraved at the Headquarters: “Welcome now within my gates; sit down and be in peace.”)

Those small petty dramas make for memorable stories a century later. Meanwhile, GFWC’s stories show the noble side of human nature. The organization, whose motto is “Unity in Diversity,” is active in volunteer work around the country and world, currently with a particular focus on domestic violence. I was able to appreciate the historic house as a museum enthusiast and professional, as well as appreciate the organization as a woman who loves to volunteer.


About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
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