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National League of American
Pen Women,
District of Columbia Branch

Serving the Washington, DC Area

"One for All and All for One."

History of the D.C Branch, NLAPW

The year was 1897. The place was Washington, DC. This was a time of discrimination against women, particularly in the publishing world. For example; female journalists were not allowed entry into the Press Club (a section set aside among government offices so the journalists could sit and write as stories developed) thus putting these women at a disadvantage. Mrs. Anna Sanborn Hamilton, Social Editor of the Washington Post, President of Wimodaughsis (wives, mothers, daughters, sisters), special proof reader for the United States Government, as well as a journalist for the Syracuse Post and other journals; Mrs. Emma Triepel, who was studying the methodology of preparing and marketing her manuscripts; and novelist Mrs. Mary Andrews Denison gathered at Mrs. Denison's apartment. The object of this meeting was to discuss the formation of an organization “bringing together women journalists, authors and illustrators for mutual benefits and the strength that comes of union”. The following evening, June 26, 1897, seventeen carefully selected women gathered again at Mrs. Denison's home. Of this group, three ladies took the lead in preliminary planning. Marion Longfellow O'Donoghue, niece of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was a member of the Woman’s National Press Association, Director of the Choral Society of Washington, D.C. and a .gifted newspaper writer. Besides contributing articles regularly to the Boston Transcript, Boston Herald, andthe Washington Post, she wrote children’s stories, translated from the French, and wrote verse under the nom de plume, Miriam Lester. Margaret Sullivan Burke, the first woman admitted to the Press Gallery “as a regularly accredited telegraphic correspondent” (her way of getting around the existing rules), was a strong political writer and routinely contributed to the Evening Star Newspaper in Washington. Anna Sanborne Hamilton was the third lady taking the lead in forming an organization. All the ladies gathered that evening had been published and paid for their work including one artist, an illustrator for New York publishers, Mrs. Alice R. Morgan (who later designed the insignia). This was the beginning of the League of American Pen Women with Mrs. Burke voted as its first President. The organization was legally incorporated July 14, 1897. With twenty charter members, the purpose of the organization was defined “to promote more concentrated action on such matters as libel law, better copyright laws, plagiarism, and for inspiration and mutual aid.”

By the end of its first year, the League had grown from the original seventeen to more than fifty members. Soon ladies from other parts of the country sought membership. Thus the original D.C. group became but one of several NLAPW auxiliaries (later known as Branches) around the United States. By 1921, membership had reached 1,350. Today, there are more than 4,000 members and over 150 branches across the country.

The first NLAPW National Convention was held in Washington, D.C. and the three hundred women in attendance were received by President and Mrs. Warren G. Harding. Mrs. Harding was a distinguished member of the League as was Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt.

NLAPW is a 501 (c)(3) designated organization serving as arts advocate and providing outreach programs in the many communities it serves. The League promotes and conducts literary, educational and charitable activities in three fields: Art, Letters, and Music.

In 1951, the Pen Arts Building was purchased by League President Dr. Dorothy Betts Marvin. Constructed in 1887, the house was designed by William M. Poindexter as a town home for opera star Sara Adams Whittemore of the Presidential Adams family.  In 1910 it was leased to Robert Todd Lincoln.

The twenty room building was designed in the Washington Troubadour manner with its greening copper turrets, sturdy towers, slate roof, jaunty finials and 14 differently shaped bricks and bold basket-weaved decoration. Situated in the Dupont Circle Historic District, the Pen Arts Building, (1300 17th St, NW) was entered in the National Register of Historic Sites in 1978.


NLAPW Owl Insignia

Designed by Alice Morgan artist and illustrator. Behold the Bird of Pallas within a triangle of tools of the crafts represented, enameled in the National colors significant of loyalty and patriotism. Anna Patton beloved "League Poet," in a poetical fantasy dedicated to the Pen Women, with a prologue, message and toast, tells them that Pan called a convocation of the Druids, to select a bird to be attendant upon their rights. After heated discussion it was decided not to send birds who might die of envy because of the singing of the Pen Women, whose tones might be sweeter that their own, but that "on folks so learned wisdom should attend" and the wise owl, who hoots but never sings, was the one to spread its wings and bear their message:

Calling aloud to followers everywhere
That they make ready and the way prepare
For cleaner journalism homes of health,
Wise laws, and more even share of wealth,
Wisdom to wield the pen a-right,
Bringing the world, a message from on high
That leaves it somewhat better when they die.

The design of the NLPW appeared in the December issue of THE PEN WOMAN magazine in 1928. The owl is perched on a white brush forming the base of an equilateral triangle, with bounding lines shaped by a red (plume)-pen and a blue pencil.

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Interesting tidbits from The Washington Post Jan 4, 1925

The National League of American Penwomen has been invited by the publishing house of Doubleday, Page & Co., Garden City N. Y. to participate in a form of appreciation of the work of Selma Lagerloff, a Swedish author and the only woman who has ever won the Nobel price for literature. The story for which she has been awarded the prize is entitled "Marbacha," and it is the story of her own startling childhood. Doubleday, Page & Co. has invited testimonials from women of the League whose achievements in the world of letters make their opinion a worth while tribute to the genius of the Swedish author.
The publisher will make their own selection from the group of testimonials, and those selected will be gathered in a titled leather volume prepared and embossed with a characteristic sentiment carrying the name "League of American Pen Women."

Women are the natural custodians of the records of the nation, and therefore they are deeply interested in any movement to preserve the archives from danger in order that their children's children may have the benefit of complete data of the deeds and conditions under which their forefathers lived.

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Last modified:   Friday June 15, 2007

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