Founded in 1890, GFWC’s Headquarters at 1734 N Street NW was originally built by Rear Admiral William Radford in 1875. The 56th Congress of the United States chartered GFWC and designated that the Federation be headquartered in Washington, DC. In 1922, the GFWC purchased the house, a four-story masonry structure, built out of ashlar stone in a Renaissance Revival style. The building was designated a historic landmark in 1991.
Today, with nearly 80,000 members in affiliated clubs in every state and several countries, GFWC is an international women’s organization dedicated to community improvement by enhancing the lives of others through volunteer service. During its 130+ years of service, initiatives have included child labor and juvenile court law, American Indian welfare, women’s suffrage, education and libraries, health and safety, and support of US military personnel and veterans.
Members of the District of Columbia Federation Of Women's Clubs prepare to visit the White House in 1914. The group helped to organize a D.C. suffrage committee in 1920.
When professional journalist Jane Cunningham Croly was denied admittance to an all-male press club event for Charles Dickens in 1861, she responded by forming a women’s club – Sorosis. In 1889, the club hosted a Convention in New York City and invited women’s clubs from throughout the United States. In 1890, 63 women’s clubs officially came together to form the General Federation of Women’s Clubs.
After the 19th Amendment, Zitkala-Ša continued her fight for citizenship and suffrage for Native women. She urged support of an Indian citizenship bill. In response, the GFWC created a Department of Indian Welfare and hired Zitkala-Ša as a speaker and investigator focusing on guardianship cases in Oklahoma.
Members of the GFWC took an interest in virtually every aspect of conservation, from forestry to scenic preservation. GFWC was an important force in founding America’s first national park and supported the creation of the National Park Service. Each federation established a park within their state.
In the 1930s, GFWC was recognized by the American Library Association for establishing 75% of the free public libraries; during WWII the Federation led a fundraising campaign that financed 431 planes.
GFWC Kansas City Athenaeum members have made more than 3,000 face masks, sewn dozens of tote bags for people experiencing homelessness, and donated $10,000 to The Sewing Labs in Kansas City.
GWFC plays an active role in promoting communication among clubs. For over 100 years publications, including the GWFC Clubwoman Magazine, have amplified the work of local clubs and State Federations to recognize their impact through philanthropy, social and political advocacy, and community leadership.
GFWC has a long history of working with the White House. Eleanor Roosevelt, a NY clubwoman, often hosted GFWC and spoke to the Board of Directors. GFWC launched crime reduction programs with President and Mrs. Ford and energy savings programs with President and Mrs. Carter. In 1984, Vice President George H.W. Bush attended the opening of the GFWC Women’s History and Resource Center. Today, GFWC works with the White House Council on Gender Policy to promote gender equality and equity.