In 1919, five months after Congress approved the legislation that led to granting women the right to vote, six women gathered in correspondent Cora Rigby's Christian Science Monitor office to organize the Women's National Press Club (later to become the Washington Press Club).
The club’s founders wanted women to band together to promote the journalistic profession and to enhance the role of women journalists, who faced discrimination in the newsroom and were banned from membership or participation in the prestigious all-male National Press Club and Gridiron Club.
The language used by the founders to promote the idea of a women's press club was deceptively casual: “The other day, when a few of us happened to be together, it occurred to us that it might be both pleasant and profitable for the newspaper and magazine women of Washington to have some means of getting together in informal and irregular fashion.”
Within months, the club was operating with 28 charter members. It grew and prospered, serving as a meeting ground for women reporters and public figures.
In the early New Deal days, Eleanor Roosevelt joined the Women’s National Press Club. She soon began holding women-only press conferences, a move that prompted many all-male news bureaus to hire women. Mrs. Roosevelt invited club members to perform their annual political lampoon in the White House.
After Mrs. Roosevelt's death, the club established an Eleanor Roosevelt Golden Candlestick Award for service to humanity.
The Women's National Press Club continued to win distinction for the quality of its membership, the voice it raised for freedom of the press, and its battle against discrimination. President Franklin Roosevelt as well as many presidential candidates, kings, queens, prime ministers and world leaders, spoke at events sponsored by the club over the decades. Behind the scenes members of the club worked tirelessly for equal access to cover events hosted at the male-only National Press Club and other venues not always friendly to women reporters. Some notable events during these decades include:
Senator Margaret Chase Smith chose the club as the forum to announce her historic run for the presidency—the first woman ever to make such a campaign.
Barry Goldwater made news at a question-and-answer session before the club as he launched his 1964 presidential campaign.
President Lyndon Johnson broke new ground by announcing the appointment of ten women to his new administration at the club's 1964 Congressional Dinner.
The club celebrated its half-century anniversary with over 700 members. As Martin Arnold wrote in The New York Times, "Most Washington journalists now believe that the smaller Washington Women's Press Club is the most prestigious in town."
In 1970, the club voted to admit qualified men journalists to membership. The club then changed its name to fit the occasion, becoming the Washington Press Club.
The National Press Club voted soon afterwards to admit women journalists for the first time since it was founded in 1908—a victory due in part to the efforts of the Washington Women’s Press Club, which fought for women’s inclusion for over 50 years.
In 1985, the Washington Press Club and the National Press Club merged under the banner of the National Press Club. The assets of the Washington Press Club were transferred to the Washington Press Club Foundation, a nonprofit, tax-exempt corporation that exists to promote the ideals of equality and excellence that inspired that small band of founders of the Women's National Press Club.
Today, the Foundation continues to honor the historic achievements of pioneering female journalists through its Women in Journalism Oral History Project, while supporting the careers young women and minorities by funding internships in area newsrooms. The Annual Congressional Dinner raises funds for Foundation projects, recognizes the work of the press corps covering Congress particularly for regional audiences and highlights the achievements of contemporary women in journalism.