Junior League History

The Junior League History: Key Milestones in the Movement

1901: The Junior League Founded
In 1901, Mary Harriman, a 19-year-old New York City debutante with a social conscience, formed the Junior League for the Promotion of Settlement Movements. Harriman mobilized a group of 80 other young women, hence the name “Junior” League, to work to improve child health, nutrition, and literacy among immigrants living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

Inspired by her friend Mary, Eleanor Roosevelt joined the Junior League of the City of New York in 1903, teaching calisthenics and dancing to young girls at the College Settlement House.

1907-1920: The Movement Expanded  
The second Junior League was formed in Boston, MA in 1907 and was soon followed by the founding of the Brooklyn, NY Junior League in 1910.  In 1912, the Junior League of Montreal became the first League in Canada. The rest was history.

Junior Leagues shifted their focus from settlement house work to social, health and educational issues thated affect the community at large.  The Junior League of Brooklyn successfully petitioned the Board of Education to provide free lunches in city schools. In 1914, the founders of the Junior League of St. Louis marched for women’s suffrage.

During World War I, Junior Leagues played an active role, selling bonds and working in Army hospitals. The San Francisco Junior League formed a motor delivery service that served as a model for the nationwide Red Cross Motor Corps.

In 1921, approximately thirty Junior Leagues formed the Association of Junior Leagues of America (AJLA) to provide professional support to the Leagues. Dorothy Whitney Straight became the first AJLI President.

During the 1920’s, the Junior League of Chicago pioneered a children’s theater, an idea subsequently taken up by more than 100 Leagues across the country.

Junior Leagues responded to the Depression by opening nutrition centers and milk stations. They operated baby clinics, day nurseries for working mothers, birth control clinics and training schools for nurses. Junior Leagues also established volunteer bureaus to recruit, train and place much-needed volunteers in the community. Many Leagues created State Public Affairs Committees (SPACs) to influence public welfare policy.

The Junior League of Mexico City joined the Association in 1930, further expanding the international nature of the organization.

By this time, more than 100 Leagues are in existence.

During World War II, Junior League members played a major role in the war effort by chairing hundreds of war-related organizations in virtually every city where Junior Leagues operate. Canadian and American League members served overseas. Oveta Culp Hobby, a Houston League member, led the Women’s Army Corps.

In 1943, the first Junior League cookbook, a compilation of handwritten recipes by the Junior League of Minneapolis, appeared and raised over $3,000 for the organization.

By the 1950’s, nearly 150 Junior Leagues were involved in remedial reading centers, diagnostic testing programs and programs for gifted as well as challenged children. Leagues collaborated in the development of educational television and were on the forefront of promoting quality programming for children. In 1952, the Mexico City League established the Comité Internacional Pro Ciegos—a comprehensive, international center for the blind.

By the end of the decade, Junior Leagues were involved in over 300 arts projects and multiple partnerships in many cities to establish children’s museums. The 1950’s also marked the growth of regional Junior League cookbooks as a key fundraising tool, spearheaded by the Charleston League who aggressively and successfully marketed its “Charleston Receipts” cookbooks to food editors and critics around the country.

In this period of great turbulence and social change, Junior Leagues rose to meet many challenges. As the decade progressed, nearly half the Leagues had health and welfare projects, including alcohol programs, adoption services, clinics, convalescent care and hospital services, and many Junior Leagues began to add environmental issues to their agendas. The Junior League of Toledo produced the educational film, Fate of A River, a report on the devastating effects of water pollution. Leagues also established programs addressing the education, housing, social services and employment needs of urban residents.

Today, more than 200 Leagues are part of the Association which dedicates itself anew to building leadership skills and increasing membership diversity.

1970’s: AJLA Became AJLI
In 1971, the Association changed its name to the Association of Junior Leagues, Inc. (AJLI). Throughout the 1970’s, Leagues expanded their participation in public affairs issues, especially in the areas of child health and juvenile justice. In 1973, almost 200 Leagues worked with the National Commission on Crime and Delinquency and the U.S. Justice Department on a four-year program seeking to improve the criminal justice system. In Canada, the Canadian Federation was formed to promote public issues among the Canadian Leagues.

In 1978, the first Junior League outside North America was established in London.

1980’s: 211 Junior Leagues
During the 1980’s, Junior Leagues in the U.S. gained recognition for advocacy efforts to improve the child welfare system.  U.S. Leagues also helped gain passage of the first federal legislation to address domestic violence.  More than 100 Leagues developed the “Woman to Woman” campaign that actively and comprehensively tackled the impact of alcohol abuse on women. The Canadian Federation held its first national conference focusing on violence against women and the negative impact of pornography .

In 1981, Junior League of Phoenix member, Sandra Day O’Connor, became the first woman to be appointed a Supreme Court Justice of the United States.

In 1988, the Association officially became the Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc. (AJLI), better reflecting the international scope of the member Leagues.

In 1989, the Association was presented with the prestigious U.S. President’s Volunteer Action Award.

1990’s: 294 Junior Leagues
In the early 1990’s, 230 Leagues participated in a public awareness campaign to encourage early childhood immunization called “Don’t Wait to Vaccinate.”

In 1998, Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker became the first Hispanic President of the Association.

The Junior Leagues renewed their dedication to the Junior League Mission. The Association’s Board adopted Goals to guide and position the Association for its second century. The Goals stressed the importance of the Association in helping Junior Leagues develop women for community leadership, achieve a shared, positive identity, and function as strong, viable and healthy organizations, consistent with the Junior League Mission.

2001-Present: Junior League’s Second Century  
In 2001, Deborah Brittain, the Association’s first African-American President, presided over the Junior League’s centennial celebration.  Maya Angelou, Nane Annan, and Gloria Steinem, among others, addressed the members at the Association’s Annual Conference in New York City, site of the first Junior League.

AJLI co-chaired the U.S. Steering Committee for the United Nations’ International Year of the Volunteer (IYV) with the Points of Light Foundation.  As part of IYV activities, President Vicente Fox recognized the Junior League of Mexico City’s members for their “high level of social leadership and human quality.”

In 2002, the Association launched the Junior League PR/Marketing Campaign, which included a new brand logo and tagline. The Association’s Board of Directors also launched its “Healthy League Initiative,” a formal self-evaluation process designed to ensure that each League continues to achieve its full potential in its community by assessing its strengths and weaknesses.

In 2006, Junior Leagues from across four countries launched an international initiative called Junior Leagues’ Kids in the Kitchen, designed to help communities address the urgent issues surrounding childhood obesity and poor nutrition. The program’s activities, which culminated during Volunteer Week on April 23-29, 2006, met with great success.

AJLI also launched a new website, http://kidsinthekitchen.ajli.org, which continues to provide materials nowadays to support the initiative including recipes and tips on nutrition.

During Volunteer Week, individual Leagues from across the Association hosted educational events in their local communities.

Events ranged from partnering with local chefs who gave cooking demonstrations in schools and community centers to hands-on grocery store tours that showed kids and parents nutritious and affordable ways to select recipe ingredients and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Kids in the Kitchen’s initial success speaks for itself: more than 225 Junior Leagues participated in the program and provided educational initiatives for children and families in their communities.

To date, media coverage has reached over 80 million people with messages about the issues surrounding childhood obesity and the Junior League’s initiative to address these.

This League-wide initiative honors the Junior League’s long heritage of impact on family nutrition over the past 105 years. Kids in the Kitchen addresses a growing problem facing today’s children. Since the early 1970s the number of overweight children in our countries has increased dramatically, substantially increasing children’s risks for health problems such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Junior Leagues’ Kids in the Kitchen continued in 2007. Program activities this past year focused around February 1 – March 31, 2007 incorporating National Nutrition Month (March) in the U.S., which provided an excellent opportunity to build awareness.