Cosmos Club endures as an institution for the upper crust

By Laurie Bennett

June 28, 2010 at 6:19am

Membership may be skewing older, but Washington’s Cosmos Club is still a favored gathering spot for the nation’s elite.

Without naming names, the club boasts that its rolls have included three U.S. presidents, two vice presidents, a dozen Supreme Court justices, 32 Nobel Prize winners and 56 Pulitzer Prize winners.

We recently came into possession of a membership directory and matched it against our database of American Muckety mucks.

Not everyone frequenting the club has clout in the fields we focus on - business, politics, philanthropy and nonprofits. Many have made their reputations in the arts and sciences.

Some of the interesting names we came across:

  • Judith Martin, “Miss Manners” columnist for the Washington Post
  • Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center
  • Ann McLaughlin Korologos, former labor secretary
  • poet Maya Angelou
  • author Herman Wouk
  • Roger Wilkins, nephew of civil rights leader Roy Wilkins
  • Helen Thomas, former White House correspondent

Among the current and former members of Congress belonging to the club are Rush Holt, Bill Frist, Jim Leach, James Symington, Larry Pressler and Pat Schroeder.

Historic photo of Cosmos Club
Historic photo of Cosmos Club

According to its web site, members must be people of “distinction, character and sociability” who have distinguished themselves in science, literature or the arts.

Although the membership of more than 3,000 includes women and blacks, these are fairly recent developments in the club’s 132 years.

In 1962, the club turned down the nomination of Carl T. Rowan, an African-American journalist and assistant secretary of state. As a result, John Kenneth Galbraith resigned. Galbraith’s resignation in turn cancelled John F. Kennedy’s application, because he was a sponsor of the president.

Although the club passed a rule prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, Rowan’s application was never approved.

The Cosmos Club didn’t end its male-only rule until 1988.

Having high-level D.C. connections doesn’t automatically translate into membership. Before his fall from grace, lobbyist Jack Abramoff tried to gain entry by pumping up his credentials. Here’s an email, from Abramoff to a rabbi friend, revealed during a 2005 Senate hearing:

“I hate to ask you for your help with something so silly but I’ve been nominated for membership in the Cosmos Club, which is a very distinguished club in Washington, DC, comprised of Nobel Prize winners, etc. Problem for me is that most prospective members have received awards and I have received none. I was wondering if you thought it possible that I could put that I have received an award from Toward Tradition with a sufficiently academic title, perhaps something like Scholar of Talmudic Studies?”

Abramoff reportedly failed to be accepted into the club.

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