My first job in D.C. was in a big corporate office on the twelfth floor of a building in Dupont Circle.
It was exactly what one would expect when coming to work in the big city. What one rarely expects, though, is that a few years - and a few job moves - later, one returns to the same neighborhood where that first job was located to work in a bona fide piece of history. That's right; every day I come to work in a building with a grand staircase and murals brought from Paris in the 1850s. I also walk right past a lace bonnet that was worn by Lucretia Mott. (Yes, that Lucretia Mott…abolitionist, social reformer and proponent of women’s rights!)
This overwhelming sense of history and the energy it creates are exactly what the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC) is about. Since the Federation was formed in 1890, so much has happened that it’s hard to believe more people don’t know (and love) this organization.
GFWC was the brainchild of Jane Cunningham Croly, a pioneering journalist who thought women and their ideas were worth something substantial. Since its founding, the organization has had a very serious focus on philanthropy, social and political advocacy, and community leadership. This focus has paid off throughout GFWC’s history; accomplishments during its first century include establishing 75% of the country's public libraries, developing kindergartens in public schools, and working for food and drug regulation.
During its second century, the Federation has pledged to maintain its commitment to working for a better world. With "Unity in Diversity" as our motto and a strong umbrella of programs that clubs can adapt to suit the needs of their communities, GFWC encourages the flexibility that has enabled it to expand its reach in a rapidly-changing society. GFWC programs and projects focus on the major issues of our time - supporting women’s health, preserving natural resources, promoting literacy and equality, and encouraging volunteer service. Our programs are structured to enable member clubs to harness the vast resources of our international membership to address the emerging needs of their individual communities.
One of the most enduring issues for GFWC has been conservation, both of natural resources and of historic buildings, objects and art. From the very beginning, the work of the Federation has been recorded and preserved in a formal archive that dates back to 1889 and tracks the chronological development of the organization. This archive - the Women’s History and Resource Center - is housed within GFWC’s most important piece of history: 1734 N Street NW, our headquarters and a National Historic Landmark.
Our new partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation fits in perfectly with our conservation program, and we have been working on sending volunteers for the National Trust’s Rebuilding Together New Orleans project, as well as spreading the word about the This Place Matters campaign.
GFWC's headquarters matters to the more than 100,000 members of the Federation who take special pride in donating art and artifacts to be a part of our collection. The building is an important part of local architectural history, and the activities recorded in GFWC’s archives are important to the national history of women and women volunteers.
Yes, this place mattes, and our clubwomen, friends and supporters are committed to protecting and preserving it.
- Nikki Willoughby
Nikki Willoughby is the senior director of public affairs at the General Federation of Women’s Clubs.