In 1934 Baily F. Alart believed that there were enough skilled musicians in Washington, D.C. to form a symphony orchestra. The WASHINGTON CIVIC SYMPHONY was born with assistance from the D.C. Board of Recreation. Under the direction of Maestro Kurt Hetzel, the WASHINGTON CIVIC SYMPHONY expanded to 130 members by the late 1930's, performed at DAR Constitution Hall on one occasion, and was compared in quality to the city's younger orchestra, The National Symphony Orchestra.
The demands of war reduced the WASHINGTON CIVIC SYMPHONY in size and activity level. As civilian life returned to normal, so did the life of the orchestra. Under the baton of Hendrick Essers, concerts were held at Roosevelt High School and the admission fee was 90 cents.

In the 50's, the WASHINGTON CIVIC SYMPHONY began its third decade under the direction of Nicholas Pappas. An important social change was made within the orchestra at that time. The door was opened to members of every race, color, and creed.

Dr. Frederick Fall, founder of the Washington Civic Opera, became conductor of the symphony in 1959. In 1964, Martin Piecuch took the baton for a very successful year, but resigned as an overreaction to a 50% budget cut and was succeeded by William Radford Bennet,who proposed that the orchestra be chamber size and that it specialize in music of the Baroque period. Accordingly, the group was renamed the BAROQUE ARTS ORCHESTRA and offered chamber ensemble concerts as well as orchestral performances.

By the 1970's Washington proliferated a host of smaller amateur and professional groups. Seeking a distinctive niche for itself, another name change produced the D.C. COMMUNITY ORCHESTRA pledging to bring free concerts to the city's neighborhoods and to the elderly. Newly appointed Dingwald Fleary took the baton in 1979 and designed programs with distinct appeal.

In 1990, the orchestra returned to its original name-the WASHINGTON CIVIC SYMPHONY. On June 9, 1993 this fine orchestra was designated the "Official Symphony Orchestra of Washington, D.C." and assumed a new name, and the following mission statement was developed:

During this time with creative programming and innovative marketing, the WSO has grown, with board, management and community support, to include professional musicians as section leaders and has become the resident orchestra of DAR Constitution Hall to attract Washington's largest concert audience - over 3,500. Stars of International renown appear with the symphony including: Victor Borge, Robert Merrill, William Warfield, Louis Bellson and Pete Seeger. Receptions are held in Embassies to honor Ambassadors. The WSO is attracting support from corporations, individuals and audience enabling ongoing outreach to avail community residents and students with free tickets.