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Junior Leagues

The Junior League: A Synopsis

The Junior League was formed in New York in 1901 as the Junior League of the Settlement Movement. The league’s founders, Mary Harriman and Nathalie Henderson, were motivated by a sense of social responsibility and the idea of trained women volunteers working for community improvement. Harriman and Henderson, with the advice of the prominent settlement leader, Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch, and the cooperation of eighty of their contemporaries, founded the Junior League of the Settlement Movement in 1901. The group offered training and educational courses for members, volunteered in New York City settlements, and raised funds to support their activities. Over the succeeding two decades, Junior Leagues were formed in cities across the United States: in Boston in 1907; in Brooklyn, New York, and Portland, Oregon, in 1910; and in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Chicago in 1912. Six of the seven existing Junior Leagues met in 1912 in New York City for their first conference. In 1921, representatives from thirty member leagues met at the annual Junior League conference in Montreal and called for a national body. The Association of Junior Leagues of America was founded at a special meeting in May of 1921. The association’s responsibilities included uniting member leagues, promoting the formation of new leagues, publishing the league newsletter, facilitating the annual conference, and acting as a information clearinghouse. Dorothy Wilson Straight was elected first president of the national association.

The AJLA was governed by a board of directors elected from thirteen regional areas. Bound together by the constitution and bylaws of the national organization, the local leagues were essentially self-directing, and operated with a board of directors and a committee system. The AJLA provided a staff of trained professionals who advised local leagues and served a primarily advisory rather than supervisory function. It also organized annual conferences which were attended by representatives from each league.

By the 1910s, the leagues were shifting their focus away from settlement house work to educational, public health and social issues. Beginning in 1927, AJLA, required each league to offer a “provisional course” to the women invited to league membership. This course, through lectures, discussion, field trips, and individual study, provided information about the community’s composition, resources, and needs. The purpose and functions of the AJLA were also studied. Prepared by the provisional course, Junior League members were required to give volunteer service in local health, welfare, cultural, or recreational agencies. Arts programs (in particular, children’s theater), juvenile justice, child welfare, and child health campaigns were among the new activities added by leagues between the 1920s and 1970s. The national association established new offices to support member leagues’ growing activities including: Civic Welfare, Art and Lecture Exchange, Players Bureau, Arts and Crafts Exchange, and the Shop Bureau.

In 1971, AJLA changed its name to Association of Junior Leagues, Inc. (AJL). During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the national association responded to challenges of its role and the relevance of women’s volunteer work by rededicating itself to promoting volunteerism and volunteer training and assuming an expanded role as an advocate of women in volunteer service. It also began a new diversity program in the late 1970s to broaden its membership and undertook a more active role in public affairs advocacy, establishing a public policy office in Washington, D.C. in 1986. During the 1970s and 1980s, the League promoted public policy in the areas of child health, juvenile justice, domestic violence, women’s alcohol abuse. In 1988, the League became the Association of Junior League International (AJLI).

References: Jackson, Nancy Beth. The Junior League: 100 Years of Volunteer Service. Nashville: FRP, 2001.

“The Junior League History: Critical Milestones in the Movement.” Association of Junior Leagues International website. July 26. 2007

Source: Association of Junior Leagues of America Records. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Social Welfare History Archives. Minneapolis, MN:

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Association of Junior Leagues of America. (n.d.) The Junior League: A synopsis. Retrieved [date accessed] from /?p=8772.