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About Woodley House

Woodley House is an innovative, community-based organization dedicated to helping people with mental illness live full and healthy lives with dignity. Since 1958, Woodley House has enabled thousands of Washington, DC area residents to regain their independence and recover from mental illness.  

Woodley House’s range of safe housing supports our clients through each stage of recovery, while our dedicated team of professionals provide critical Life Skills Training and mental health services. We are committed to empowering our clients — on an individual basis — to achieve productive, independent living.

How We Got Started

“Every day out of a hospital is a good day.” – Joan Doniger 

In 1956, Joan Doniger worked as an occupational therapist at St. Elizabeth’s Psychiatric Hospital and recognized that not all patients needed to in the hospital, especially for extended periods. While many patients in the psychiatric hospital exhibited severe mental illness, others had less severe issues but had no alternative treatment options. Joan also understood that people who were institutionalized for long periods had difficulty returning to the community.

Joan envisioned an alternative, therapeutic housing in a neighborhood setting with a family-like environment where residents could learn to live with their illness, set personal goals, and word toward recovery. After careful research and input from community leaders, she formed the framework for her idea and described a place where residents were expected to “live within the rules and boundaries laid down by our society” and where they would have a large role in controlling their own lives. 

With seed funding from the Eugene and Agnes Meyer Foundation, Joan established the first mental health halfway house in the District in 1958, creating another option and link between hospitalization and independent living. First known as the Potomac Residence Club, Woodley House opened its doors to eleven residents. In 1961, Woodley House received a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health and was able to expand its staff and services. Joan passed away in 1972, but Woodley House lives on as a legacy to her pioneering spirit.