Headquarters for the National League of American Pen Women
1300 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036-1973
Pen Arts History
Sheila M. Byrnes, NLAPW Second Vice President & Historian
May 10, 2016
The Pen Arts building, home of the National League of American Woman, is an elegant historic mansion centrally located in Washington’s Dupont Circle. The twenty-room, Washington Troubadour mansion was designed and built in 1887 by architect William Poindexter, as a private residence for opera singer Sarah Ann Adams Wilcox Whittemore, and William C. Whittemore, her second husband.
Sarah is the daughter of Reverend Henry Adams. Although there is information on the Internet that says Sarah is a descendant of President John Adams, her Daughter of the American Revolution Application states she is a descendant of Henry Adams of Bainbridge, MA.
Sarah Ann Adams married Michigan lumber baron Sextus Newell Wilcox in Chicago on August 3, 1863. He owned the S.N. Wilcox Lumber Company in White Cloud, Michigan, one of the largest steam saw and water-planing mills in the United States. The S.N. Wilcox Lumber Company manufactured pinewood and shingles for wholesale. Sextus accidently drowned on June 17, 1881, leaving an estate worth nearly a million dollars at the time of his death. The couple had five children. Only two, Walter Dwight Wilcox and Aline Wilcox Halstead, lived to adulthood.
In 1883 Sarah married prominent local businessman William C. Whittemore of Washington, DC.
The Pen Arts building has been the headquarters of the National League of American Pen Women since 1951. Dorothy Betts Marvin and her husband Dr. Cloyd Heck Marvin, the late president of George Washington University, purchased the mansion in 1951 for $65,000 to be used as the headquarters for the National League of American Pen Women. The original debt was paid in 1958 during Dorothy Marvin’s second term as league president. An additional $10,000 – $14,000 was spent on the restoration of the house during this time period.
The building has copper turrets, a slate roof, and jaunty finials. The basket weave design was comprised of fourteen differently shaped brick. The National Headquarters of the NLAPW has a spacious entrance hall, eleven-foot ceilings with chandeliers in the drawing and dining rooms, nine fireplaces many with the original mantels, and a curved-wood staircase leading to the second and third floors. The mansion has seventy-two windows, many with heavy antique glass. The tower section has several antique curved glass windows with a rounded section at the top.
In the dining room, the portrait of Mrs. Grover Cleveland hangs over the fireplace.
A gold bust of Pearl S. Buck, 1892-1973, a Letters member, created by Dora Fugh Lee, an American painter and sculptor, is on display at Pen Arts. Lee was a member of the Bethesda, MD Pen Women Branch.
Buck started writing in her 20s. She wrote the novel “The Good Earth,” published in 1931. Buck received the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 and the Nobel Prize in 1928. She was the fourth female Nobel Laureate.
The Diana, Goddess of the Hunt sculpture was given in honor of Mamie B. Little, a former NLAPW President, is located in the corner of the parlor by the piano. The sculpture is alabaster and marble.
In 1892 Sarah and William C. Whittemore built a larger mansion, The Whittemore House, on Dupont Circle, now the headquarters of the Woman’s National Democratic Club. Pen Arts was used for a short time as the Cambridge Boarding House. The mansion’s most famous occupant was the eldest son of Abraham Lincoln, Robert Todd Lincoln. He lived at 1300 17th Street, NW with his wife, Mary, and their three adult children.
The Pen Arts Building was the favorite mansion on the 48th Annual Dupont Circle House Tour, Sunday, October 18, 2015.
The Vinnie Ream Room at Pen Arts in Washington, D.C.
The Vinnie Ream Room houses sculpture and memorabilia of the renowned sculptor, Vinnie Ream.
Vinnie Ream’s history and legacy for women is honored by the National League of American Pen Women through the Vinnie Ream Award. NLAPW members compete for awards in four categories:
The Pen Arts Library
The Pen Arts Building is home to a hidden treasure in our nation’s capitol–the Pen Arts Library. 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. Contact us for more information.
The Pen Arts building houses irreplaceable archives materials, such as copies of every Pen Woman Magazine published since 1920 and many bound copies of minutes of both the National Executive Board and the Biennial business meetings, dating from the mid-20th century to more recent administrations.
The Pen Arts Building also serves as a center for Arts education programs, readings, concerts and exhibits in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. We are dedicated to sharing our historic space for the encouragement of arts opportunities for youth and the local community as well as for our members.
Guestrooms at the Historic Pen Arts Building
Interested in staying in our remarkable historic headquarters while visiting Washington, D.C.? Click here to see our brochure on our available guest rooms and donation rates.
Upkeep, repairs and building expenses are paid for through NLAPW’s endowment fund, not through membership dues. Donations are always welcome to help us preserve this unique part of women’s history for future generations. Help us preserve The Pen Arts Building as a national center to support the work of the NLAPW, promoting and preserving creative arts throughout the nation.
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