The Cosmos Club is a private social club in Washington, D.C., founded by John Wesley Powell in 1878. In addition to Powell, original members included Clarence Edward Dutton, Henry Smith Pritchett, William Harkness, and John Shaw Billings. Among its stated goals is “The advancement of its members in science, literature, and art”. Cosmos Club members have included three U.S. Presidents, two U.S. Vice Presidents, a dozen Supreme Court justices, 32 Nobel Prize winners, 56 Pulitzer Prize winners and 45 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Since 1952 the Club’s headquarters have been in the Mary Scott (Mrs Richard T.) Townsend house at 2121 Massachusetts Avenue NW in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. The free-standing house, set in almost an acre of garden, was designed in the Beaux Arts French style by architects Carrère and Hastings in 1898 and essentially completed in 1901. Mr. Townsend died shortly thereafter, in 1902. Following the death of Mrs. Townsend in 1931, their daughter Matilde, who was by then Mrs B. Sumner Welles, moved into the house, living there until World War II. It was purchased from Mrs Welles’ estate by the Cosmos Club in 1950 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. It is a contributing property to the Dupont Circle Historic District and Massachusetts Avenue Historic District.
Sumner Welles was Under-Secretary of State during World War II. In the week following Kristallnacht, in November 1938, the British government stated that it would be willing to give up the major part of the quota of 65,000 British citizens that could emigrate to the United States and have Jews fleeing Hitler receive this instead. Under-Secretary Welles opposed this idea. He resigned in 1943, not because of his views, but as a result of rumors regarding a sex scandal. The only witness to the charges against Sumner died two weeks before the start of the FBI investigation of those charges.
Some things never change in This Town including beautiful homes and sex scandals.