The Pen Arts Building has been the headquarters of the National League of American Pen Women, Inc. since 1951. The twenty-room, Washington Troubadour mansion was designed and built in 1887 by architect William Poindexter. The building has copper turrets, a slate roof, and jaunty finials. The basket weave design was comprised of fourteen differently shaped bricks. Initially established as a “progressive press union” for the female writers of Washington, NLAPW requires professional credentials for membership and that Pen Women be paid for their work.
Marian Longfellow O'Donoghue (above left) was a journalist and poet. In 1897, facing barriers to men’s professional press organizations, she, Margaret Sullivan Burke, and Anna Sanborn Hamilton founded the National League of American Pen Women. O'Donoghue wrote the organization's bylaws and constitution.
Mary Sullivan Burke (above right) was the first woman admitted in the capital press gallery journalist and one of “the Dauntless Three,“ founders of the NLAPW. In 1897, these women invited a group of "active pen women" to provide “mutual aid, advice, and future development” for each other and their careers.
NLAPW, whose members are known as Pen Women, was founded and incorporated in 1897. In addition to writers, NLAPW, the oldest women's arts organization in the US, welcomes artists and composers to the organization to further support women and the arts. The original charter of the NLAPW, displayed at Pen Arts, documents the seventeen women who established the organization. By September of 1898, the League boasted over fifty members “from Maine to Texas, from New York to California."
Vinnie Ream was an established sculptor when she joined the Pen Women shortly after its founding in 1897. She was most famous for her portrayals of President Abraham Lincoln as a very young woman. When she was only 17, President Lincoln sat for her for a half-hour each day while she worked in a corner of his office for five months including the day he was shot, April 14, 1865.
NLAPW has hosted a Biennial convening to showcase the works of Pen Women through writing competitions, art exhibitions, and special events. During this Biennial, Pen Women enjoyed visiting with President Coolidge on the grounds of the White House. Below, the 1940 Biennial gathers professional women from across the country at the Willard Hotel. Pen Woman Eleanor Roosevelt participates in the American Pen Women Annual Author’s Breakfast served at the Willard Hotel with guest speaker Brig. Gen. Francisco J. Aguilar, Military Attache of the Mexican Embassy.
American writer Eudora Welty is an example of the notable members of the NLAPW. Throughout our history of 120-plus years, active NLAPW members such as Vinnie Ream, Pearl Buck, Eleanor Roosevelt, Amy Beach, Ah Ming-Wang, and Carrie Jacobs Bond have illustrated how deep, strong, and meaningful the contribution of women’s voices, minds and hands are to the arts.
The Pen Arts building serves as a center for arts education programs, readings, concerts, and exhibits in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. The one-room library contains works by and about NLAPW members from throughout its 100-year history and is open to the public by appointment. Prepandemic, the NLAPW hosted monthly activities, including a Writers Circle to support members engage young women.
This November, 2021 seminar, part of the “Aging with Edge” project, highlighted a shift from looking young to being timeless.
The Pen Arts Gallery offers a dynamic space to exhibit work by members and community partners. The exhibit pictured features work by painter Olga O’Hagan. The Gallery was one of four national venues selected to exhibit the winning work of the National Alliance for Young Artists and Writers 2021 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.