It's a little weird how every so often the urge seems to strike a group of men to gather round and start a club. Some are based on exclusion (like the esteemed No Homers Club), some basically exist only to rival other clubs (see most collegiate fraternities, founded in the middle of the 19th century in a flurry of brotherhood). Many seem to have gotten together mostly to build large, beaux-arts style monuments to themselves.
Washington, D.C.'s Cosmos Club is one of those intellectual-seeming groups whose character is difficult to divine. It was founded by one-armed Union hero John Wesley Powell, a serious outdoorsman of the American West, who seems like he wouldn't be at home in a baroquely decorated HQ like the Townsend House, the Cosmos Club's current home near Dupont Circle (which I was fortunate enough to explore at a holiday party last week). On one hand, I appreciate Powell's expeditions west and documenting of the Grand Canyon. On the other, it's difficult for my modern sensibilities to ignore his scientific three-category classification of peoples into "savagery," "barbarism," and "civilization."
Powell and other enlightened Washingtonians formalized their regular gatherings as the Cosmos Club, and its membership has since included many dignified people with amazing names like Filmore Bender and Dr. B. B. Beach, as well as Mark Twain and some presidents. In the 80s it drew some attention for its reluctance to allow women members until the District forced its hand.