Mrs. Shouse (sitting) on a ride through her farm, the site of today’s Filene Center and Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.
A vision for arts, nature, and refreshing getaway from city life
Patrons today enjoy nature preserved
When Diana Ross or the National Symphony Orchestra take the stage at Wolf Trap, they are standing on what used to be a working farm owned by a visionary woman, Catherine Filene Shouse.
When she founded Wolf Trap in 1966, Mrs. Shouse was already 71 years old. She was a highly decorated public servant with deep roots in the nation’s capital—having worked with every president from Woodrow Wilson to Bill Clinton.
Mrs. Shouse began acquiring farmland outside of Washington, DC in 1930 for use as a refuge from city life. By 1956, she had 168 acres and was growing a variety of crops, as well as breeding horses and dogs.
Most importantly, the farm served as a gathering place for family and friends, as well as leaders of the Washington, DC social and political community, where they enjoyed dinners, parties, dances, carnivals, and simple nature walks in the country.
Mrs. Shouse and the National Park Service review both architecture and nature
A gift to the nation
In 1966, Mrs. Shouse decided to donate 100 acres of her farm to the US government, as well as funds to build a large outdoor amphitheater (what is now the Filene Center).
Mrs. Shouse’s goal was to protect the land from encroaching roads and suburbs, as well as to create a place where the arts could be enjoyed in harmony with nature.
That same year, Congress accepted Mrs. Shouse's gift and designated Wolf Trap as the National Park for the Performing Arts.
Wolf Trap is operated as a public-private partnership between the National Park Service, which maintains the grounds, and the Wolf Trap Foundation, which oversees the artistic, education, and administrative programs.
Why the name?
Records from as early as 1632 show wolves playing more of a menacing than inspiring role in the region. In fact, those who trapped wolves and brought their heads to the VA General Assembly received a bounty.
Eventually, wolves became less prevalent. But by the 18th century, “Wolftrap” was the official name of a creek running through what would ultimately become Mrs. Shouse’s land. Today, the name reminds us we’re enjoying arts rooted in nature
A favorite among artists from day one
The inaugural performance at the Filene Center, June 1-2, 1971, featured Van Cliburn; Julius Rudel conducting the New York City Opera with Norman Treigle; as well as performances by the National Symphony Orchestra, Choral Arts Society of Washington, the United States Marine Band, and the Madison Madrigal Singers
Since that time, Wolf Trap’s Filene Center attracts world-class artists from every genre—many of whom return each summer because of the great setting.
A second gift to DC-area arts-lovers
In 1981, Mrs. Shouse donated another venue to house smaller acts, which is managed by the non-profit Wolf Trap Foundation.
She had two 18th century barns from New York brought to Virginia and rebuilt in a manner that kept their rustic charm, but offered superb acoustics and amenities.
Together, the 2 structures now make up The Barns at Wolf Trap, which presents more than 80 performances every fall through spring. It is also home to Wolf Trap Opera in the summer.
Commitment to education
Wolf Trap has been committed to arts education from the start.
Wolf Trap Opera alumni can be found in top opera houses across the country and abroad.
Since 1971, Wolf Trap Foundation has offered training for musicians in a variety of disciplines, most notably for opera singers.
The Wolf Trap Opera company was founded in 1971 and has since emerged as one of the nation’s premier residency programs for young singers.
In 1981, Wolf Trap Foundation made the decision to invest heavily in arts education for children up to 5 years of age—particularly in disadvantaged
areas. This decision was born out of a desire to use the performing arts to better engage children at the earliest stages of their lives.
The Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts was established through a grant from the Head Start Bureau of the US Department of Health and Human Services.
In the decades since, the Wolf Trap Institute has become a national leader in arts and early childhood education, with 17 affiliate programs across the country.
Passing the 40 year mark
In 2011, Wolf Trap celebrated its 40th anniversary. A Washington Post retrospective.