WOMEN’S NATIONAL PRESS CLUB. Encyclopedia of American Journalism

The Women’s National Press Club (WNPC) (1919–1970)
was founded at a time when women journalists were
excluded from the Washington-based National Press Club
(NPC), where male journalists, publicists, and lobbyists
met with national and world leaders. The WNPC provided
women journalists working in the nation’s capital their own
access to important news sources. It also provided them
a place to network and publicized their achievements. In
1970, the WNPC admitted its first male members and reorganized as the Washington Press Club (WPC) (1970–1985).
The next month, after bitter debate, the male NPC voted to
accept applications from women. By 1985, equal opportunity legislation had brought about a surge of women in the
news industry, and it became clear that the coexistence of
the two organizations had become redundant. In 1985, the
WPC merged with the NPC and thereafter women and men
journalists were granted equal membership opportunities
in the organization.
The WNPC was founded by three publicists who had
worked for the National Woman’s Party, the militant arm of
the suffrage movement, and three Washington journalists.
Over the years, some members continued to concern themselves with women’s issues, but in keeping with the journalistic ideals of neutrality and impartiality, the club did
not officially endorse feminist positions. The first president
was Lily Lykes Rowe (later Shepard), a correspondent for the
New York Times. Other early presidents included Cora Rigby
(1920–1926), the Washington bureau chief for the Christian Science Monitor; Genevieve Forbes Herrick (1933), a
correspondent for the Chicago Tribune; and Winifred Mallon (1935), the first woman political writer in the New York
Times’s Washington bureau.
By the 1970s, the WNPC had about five hundred members, primarily fulltime women journalists. It also accepted
women whose work in public relations brought them in
regular contact with the press and by the 1960s, women in
broadcast journalism were also admitted. The WNPC’s most
illustrious member was Eleanor Roosevelt, who for two years
wrote a daily syndicated newspaper column, “My Day.” During her years in the White House, Eleanor Roosevelt gave
women journalists a boost when she held “women only”
press conferences so that news organizations would have to
hire newspaperwomen to cover them. The organization was
noted for its luncheons featuring influential speakers from
the political, literary, and journalistic worlds. These were
“news making” events that lent prestige to the women journalists who attended them and assured their bylines in their
The gender barrier imposed by the male NPC broke
down gradually over the years as the result of pressure, lobbying, and changing times. In 1946 the WNPC began to
allow men to cover its annual dinners. In the 1950s, the
NPC permitted women journalists to observe its luncheons
from the balcony overlooking its dining hall. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson directed the State Department to
inform the NPC that it would schedule visiting dignitaries
there only if the men’s club allowed women journalists to
cover speakers on the same basis as men. When the NPC
reluctantly agreed, this eliminated the need for the separate
women’s organization.
The WNPC (and its later version, the WPC) played an
important role in the acceptance of women journalists in
Washington. Its merger with the NPC in 1985 symbolized
the success of that goal, but was a loss for many women
who failed to find the same camaraderie in the less exclusive NPC.
Further Reading
Beasley, Maurine H. “The Women’s National Press Club: Case
Study of Professional Aspirations.” Journalism History 15:4
(Winter 1988): 112–121.
——. “The Women’s National Press Club” In Women’s Press
Organizations: 1889–1999, edited by Elizabeth V. Burt,
283–229, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.
Black, Ruby. Eleanor Roosevelt: A Biography. New York: Duell,
Sloan and Pearce, 1940.
Furman, Bess. Washington By-Line. New York: Alfred A. Knopf,
Winfield, Betty Houchin. “Mrs. Roosevelt’s Press Conference
Association: The First Lady Shines a Light.” Journalism
History 8:2 (Summer 1981): 54–55, 63–70.
WNPC Papers. Archives of the National Press Club. 529 14th St.,
N.W., Washington, D.C.
Elizabeth V. Burt