playground
The fully fenced playground in the WES backyard is a favorite of the families at WES.

We are located in DC’s Shepherd Park neighborhood, right on 16th Street, with plenty of street parking.  

We are a vibrant community of over 500 adults, youth, and children going through life together and working to improve the world—while celebrating life passages and seasonal holidays with humanistic ceremonies. We strive through our relationships to elicit the best in the human spirit.  With faith in human goodness, we appreciate each person’s unique capacities.  We joyfully celebrate together and support each other through life.  We nurture a sense of reverence and responsibility for each other and the earth.

WES is a diverse community with a wide variety of programs for families, singles, couples, and seniors. We offer Sunday School for children and classes for adults, as well as opportunities to act for justice in our community and the world. We publish a monthly newsletter with details on our upcoming events. We invite you to join our community of children and adults as we work for a world where love and justice cross all borders.

WES History

The Washington Ethical Society was founded in 1944 by people active in the religious and civil rights movements. The Constitutional rights of “ethics as a religion” were established in 1957 by a landmark opinion written by Judge Warren Burger in favor of WES and all Ethical Societies. Subsequent legal efforts made it lawful to use ethical rather than just theological grounds for conscientious objections to war.

In the early years, because WES was racially integrated and actively campaigned against segregation, it was difficult to find meeting space in Washington DC. At the time even government buildings separated bathrooms and restaurants by race. Our first permanent home was in Dupont Circle.

When a new meetinghouse was constructed in 1966, it was at 7750 16th Street NW – a neighborhood chosen because it was dedicated to integration. The move was made possible by the generosity of Nancy Blanche Jenison MD (1876 – 1960), a long-term member of the society who established a building fund and left most of her estate to WES.

The Washington Ethical Society is a member of the American Ethical Union. WES is one of three societies in the greater Washington area.  The Northern Virginia society meets in Vienna, VA and the Baltimore society meets in Baltimore, MD.

WES is also a member of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. 

WES History Timeline

1944

WES founded by people active in the religious and civil rights movements, supported by American Ethical Union.

George Beauchamp is first leader.

1957

Constitutional rights of “ethics as a religion” established by landmark opinion written by Judge Warren Burger, in favor of WES and all Ethical Societies.

1950s-60s

Fought for civil rights, desegregation, and fair housing.

Ed Ericson is second leader. Began supporting gay and lesbian rights.

1966

Meetinghouse constructed in Shepherd Park, a neighborhood known for fighting segregation.

WES is located right on 16th St NW in Washington D.C. With a bus stop our front and walking distance from the Silver Spring Metro Station, getting to WES is straightforward and simple.
WES is located right on 16th St NW in Washington D.C. With a bus stop our front and walking distance from the Silver Spring Metro Station, getting to WES is straightforward and simple.

The inspiring generosity of early feminist Dr. Nancy Jenison made the building possible.

1972

Don Montagna installed as senior leader.

1977

Opened the Washington Ethical Society High School, a humanistic, college-prep school.

1980s

School for Ethics started with core courses such as “Eliciting the Best” and “Relationship Building.”

Began Winter Festival, Humanist Seder and rich liturgical calendar.

Thirty-eight members of WES launched a new Ethical Society in Northern Virginia, led by Susan Bagot.

Created the Caring Program and Neighborhood Groups.

1990s

Helping Hands Craft Fair raised over $350,000 over 10 years to fight poverty and homelessness.

Luther Place meals program and Earth Ethics Program were started.

Service trips for teens and adults to El Salvador in memory of Cassie Stern.

Coming of Age (COA-MATT)  program was initiated in memory of Matthew Waymon.

2002

Deeping Circles Program began.

2006

Don Montagna retires after 34 years of service.

Richard Nugent appointed as Interim Leader.

WES became an affiliated organization of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).

2007

You will often find our group walking in the annual Pride Parade through D.C.
You will often find our group walking in the annual Pride Parade through D.C.

Expanded and remodeled building.

Held first annual auction.

2008

Organized first New Orleans service trip.

2009

Amanda Poppei installed as senior leader.

Introduced the Workshop Rotation model for our Sunday School.

2010

Mary Herman installed as leader for congregational life.

Began participation in the Washington Interfaith Network.

2012

Became an UUA Welcoming Congregation.

In solidarity of the Black Lives Matter movement, WES held signs of support on 16th Street outside of the building.
In solidarity of the Black Lives Matter movement, WES held signs of support on 16th Street outside of the building.

Introduced a new core Ethical Culture curriculum, Flourish!

Wrote a new Statement of Purpose.

Raised $1.2 for the Burn the Mortgage, Ignite the Future Capital Campaign.

2014

WES bids farewell to Mary Herman after 34 years in the community, on staff, and as Leader for Congregational Life.

2015

WES hosts a delegation from our sister community in El Rodeo, El Salvador.

2016

After seeing steady growth, WES expanded to two platform services on Sunday mornings.