The row house at 1318 Vermont Avenue, NW, attained its prestige as the headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) as as the Washington residence of Mary McLeod Bethune, the educator and civil rights leader. Constructed in 1875, the brick house, with its three-story facade, bay window, and mansard roof, reflects many of the changes in building regulations reflected in the speculative development of new neighborhoods in the District. Its translation from a single-family home for the upper-middle class in the late nineteenth century, to a boarding house and shop in early twentieth century, to the headquarters of the NCNW from the 1940s to 1960s, and currently to a museum and archive, exemplifies the shifting nature of the Logan Circle area. During the past century this neighborhood has changed from an affluent, nearly all-white community to
an enclave of the black elite, and finally, to a racially mixed district. Bethune's association with the house made it a center of activity in the 1940s as a meeting place for the NCNW as well as for prominent figures including Eleanor Roosevelt and Mary Church Terrell.
The purchase of the home was made possible in part by a $10,000 donation from Marshall Field, and contributions from the NCNW executive staff. Additional funds were raised by NCNW sections and affiliates. Comprised of 15 rooms, one kitchen, and two bathrooms, the "Council House" would serve as the headquarters for the National Council of Negro Women, Mrs. Bethune's residence until 1949, and guest accommodations for out-of-town visitors. The "Council House" was furnished with the help of both individuals and organizations whose contributions were commemorated through the naming of the rooms.
In January 1966, the "Council House" was damaged by a fire which started in the furnace room. While the building core remained intact, extensive water and smoke damage resulted. The NCNW was forced to relocate to 1346 Connecticut Avenue. For nearly eleven years the house lay dormant. It was not until 1975, when the "Council House" was placed on the Washington, DC. Register of Historic Sites that the NCNW successfully raised the funds needed to undertake the renovation and restoration of both the main and carriage houses. In the fall of 1977, the Bethune Historical Development Project began and in November 1979, 1318 Vermont was opened to the public as a museum and archives for the collection, preservation and interpretation of Black women's history.
D.C. Register of Historic Places: 1975
NPS Purchase: 1994