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A Passion for Volunteerism

Updated: Apr 13



There are not many organizations that can count a total of five first ladies and a supreme court justice among its ranks. The Junior League is one such organization. It was founded in 1901 by Mary Harriman Rumsey and Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Ford, Barbara Bush, Laura Bush, Nancy Reagan, and Sandra Day O’Conner were all active members. Rumsey’s brother, Averell Harriman, was a diplomat, Secretary of Commerce, and the 48th Governor of New York. He said, “[Mary] had a very keen sense of social responsibility.” Mary, a graduate of Barnard College, echoed this sentiment in the League’s 1906 annual report, writing, “It seems almost inhuman that we should live so close to suffering and poverty, that we should know of the deplorable conditions, and of the relief work that exists within a few blocks of our own home.” Many women have since joined the Junior League to help impoverished and deserving individuals in their communities and today the League is 125,000 members strong.

“People used to think of Junior Leaguers as society women who played bridge, wore pearls and put on fancy parties for themselves and their circle of influential citizens,” said Tycely Williams, past president of the Junior League of Washington, DC. “Well, yes, I like jewelry and pearls. But what I love most is helping our communities and building and training our increasingly diverse membership.” Committed to building an inclusive group of strong, goal-oriented women, the benefits of joining the Junior League are enormous. In addition to assisting marginalized individuals and championing causes such as literacy or environment protection, League members receive leadership training and join forces with a network of talented women. Within the League, they experience broader community awareness and personal growth. Additionally, the League can enhance professional resumes and serve as training ground for board memberships while helping to make the world a better place.

So how does one join the Junior League? The process can be rigorous. A step in the right direction is to become familiar with the organization and one's local chapter. The chapter’s website will typically have information concerning the application process and dates of open houses. At open houses, prospective members ask questions about the League and meet chapter members. Some chapters may require applicants to have one or more sponsors.

Once you are invited to become a member, the second step is official Junior League training. This can last from anywhere to a few months to a full year, depending on the chapter. New members, or "provisionals," receive training in skills needed for community leadership through participation in League committees, meetings, community projects, directed volunteer work and workshops. Also, new members may have to attend lectures and go on field trips.

The third step is active membership. Active members have completed all New Member training. Active members attend a mandatory number of general membership meetings and commit to volunteer engagements and trainings. Fourth, after years of active membership (some chapters put an age limit of 45 or so on members), one can become a Sustainer -- these members assist committees or placement with advice and their experience. Sustainers conduct separate meetings but cannot vote or hold office within the Junior League.

The author, P.L. Whitter, was a member of the Junior League for many years. For more information about the Junior League, please see https://www.ajli.org/?nd=p-who-landing

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