A philanthropist and patron of the arts, Catherine Filene Shouse is best remembered for her establishment of Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts. It was because of her significant donations of family land in 1961 and 1966, that this one-of-kind center exists today. She later funded an amphitheater on the site named the Filene Center, in honor of her Boston retailing family.
As a result of her college efforts at Wheaton College to promote jobs for educated women, she was hired by the Women’s Division of the Employment Service of the U.S. Department of Labor. She later enrolled at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and in 1923 became the recipient of the school’s first degree awarded to a woman.
In 1921, Catherine married economist Alvin Dodd, whom she later divorced. In 1931, she married Jouett Shouse, a former congressman from Kansas. During her residence in the nation’s capital, Shouse became active in Democratic Party politics and was the first woman ever appointed to the Democratic National Committee. In 1926, President Coolidge appointed her the first chairwoman of the first federal prison for women. There, she used her educational background to establish a job-training program for prisoners.
During the next 20 years she developed a highly successful dog-breeding kennel at Wolf Trap and at the same time became very involved in the music and cultural scene in Washington. She was on the board of the National Symphony Orchestra, serving as vice-president for 17 years. In 1959, President Eisenhower appointed her to the first board of the National Cultural Center, now the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where she served for more than 20 years.
Her many years of philanthropic support of the arts earned Shouse many honors including Dame Commander of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth II. The highest U.S. civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, was awarded to Shouse in 1977 by President Ford.