For more than 50 years, Meridian International Center has been a place where global leaders come together and future leaders are found, but the history of diplomacy at Meridian’s campus spans over a century. Ambassador Henry White was the first owner of what is now the White-Meyer House at 1624 Crescent Place. The red brick Georgian home was completed in 1912 and designed by John Russell Pope, the well-known architect of numerous landmarks in the nation’s capital, including the Jefferson Memorial and National Gallery of Art.
A native of Baltimore, White spent over thirty years in the Foreign Service, and is often referred to as one of the United States’ first career diplomats. In his early diplomatic career, he served as Secretary of Legation in Vienna and London. He was appointed as Ambassador to Italy in 1905, a post he served until President Theodore Roosevelt promoted White to Ambassador to France. The French government was enthusiastic about Ambassador White, and he was well-received as he filled what was considered one of the highest diplomatic posts possible from 1907 to 1909. He had warm relationships with Theodore Roosevelt and Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, and President Taft’s request for White’s resignation in 1909 stirred resentment among Roosevelt, Lodge, and the French government.
Ambassador White returned to the United States after his resignation, but his retirement was not permanent. In the days of the First World War, the White-Meyer House itself became the site of high-profile negotiations. At the request of the State Department, White offered his private residence to the French War Commission during their April 1917 visit to the United States. The house was centrally located near the French Embassy, and the French flag flew from White-Meyer during their stay. Marshall Joffre, a top French commander during WWI and the leader of the war commission, wrote that in this house “were sown the seeds of military and naval cooperation which bore fruit several months later on the battlefront.” President Woodrow Wilson appointed White as a member of the US delegation at the Paris Peace Conference in 1918, where he advocated for Wilson’s dream for a League of Nations.
Ambassador White continued to host famous guests at 1624 Crescent Place, including President Warren Harding, George Clemenceau, Robert Cecil, and Henry Cabot Lodge. When describing White’s importance to President-elect Taft, President Theodore Roosevelt referred to White as “the most useful man in the entire diplomatic service, during my Presidency, and for many years before”. Today Meridian International Center continues to carry out Ambassador’s White early work to promote cross-cultural relations and international leadership.