In April 2001, nearly 200,000 women commenced celebrating 100 years of volunteer community service and impact through the Junior League. With a century of family literacy, senior citizen care, battered women’s shelters, affordable day care, AIDS education, pregnancy prevention and multicultural awareness to their credit, the members of Junior Leagues in 296 communities in four countries have much to celebrate.
Few women’s organizations have even reached the centennial milestone, but the Junior Leagues have a distinguished legacy of making a difference in local communities since the inception of the New York Junior League in 1901. At the turn of the century, Barnard College student Mary Harriman established the Junior League “to foster among its members the interest in undertakings for the betterment of the social, economic and educational conditions in the City of New York.” Mary Harriman’s idea—that a group of women could be a powerful force for change—has resonated throughout this century. What began as 80 young women traveling to Manhattan’s Lower East Side to volunteer at a settlement house has blossomed into a growing movement of trained volunteers improving their communities through direct service, public education, advocacy, fundraising and sheer hard work.
Individual Junior Leagues contribute mightily to their local communities; Leagues know how to raise money, how to use influence and how to make positive things happen in communities. As an international movement, the organization has also contributed collectively to the public welfare of our society. Programs that we take for granted—free school lunches, children’s theatre and museums, domestic violence legislation, volunteer bureaus, quality TV programming for children—are among the innovations led by the Junior League. Today Leagues work with babies with HIV, abused children and the homeless and serve as mentors to young women and girls. League members found and staff childcare centers, fund breast cancer research and protect the environment. In short, the Junior League can be credited with implementing change and improving conditions in almost every sector. In recognition of decades of these sustained contributions, in 1989, the Association of Junior Leagues International (AJLI) was presented with the prestigious U.S. President’s Volunteer Action Award.
In 1901, membership in the Junior League gave women a rare opportunity to make an impact and to take a leadership role in the wider world. Today, even with increased professional opportunities for women, the Junior League continues to offer women a unique and powerful way to make a difference, take risks and become community leaders. In spite of the fact that two-thirds of the members are working women, they still commit their valuable time to serving their communities…through the Junior League.