It’s unfortunate that pictures of Mary Harriman as a young woman look, to our “modern” eyes, so dated. Big hats. High-necked dresses adorned with lace collars. Hair pulled back in a bun, secured with hair pins. Long skirts and ankle-high boots.
Because Mary Harriman was a rebel... a trailblazer... a revolutionary... for all times.
Born into a family of great privilege and wealth, she took a path that was a strong 180 degrees from what was expected of a woman from one of New York’s most powerful families.
A debutante at 18, Mary recruited a group of her closest compatriots (wealthy friends who included Eleanor Roosevelt) to work with poor immigrant families in the slums of lower Manhattan. This humble start laid the foundation for what is today a women’s civic leadership organization with more than 150,000 members in 292 communities spanning four countries.
Mary actively campaigned for Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his first race for the White House—and was considered by some a traitor to her privileged class for doing so.
Appointed by FDR to chair the Consumer Advisory Board of the National Recovery Administration, Mary was soon recognized as one of the most influential voices in the administration on consumer problems—a critical political issue during the Great Depression. She also was one of the highest-ranking women in Washington.
Mary died tragically at 53. But she set in motion a formidable movement of women who are indefatigable forces for justice and change... unrelenting voices for the betterment of society.
That's Today's Junior League
It’s easy to forget that enormous progress has been made on critical social issues in recent decades. And it’s also easy to forget the role of individuals and small, local groups in bringing about that progress.
Take the environment.
In the mid-1960s, the members of the Junior League of Toledo took a stand on a problem that was being largely ignored by government at all levels: the disastrous impact of foaming detergents, raw sewage and industrial discharge on the health of the Maumee River, an important Great Lakes watershed that encompasses four thousand miles of streams and drains four million acres of land in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan.
The result was a film funded and produced by the League and its members called Fate of a River: Apathy or Action that debuted just three years after the publication of Rachel Carson’s seminal work, Silent Spring.
League members and community partners promoted showings of the film throughout the region. Their actions provided a catalyst for political change, first at the local and state levels and ultimately before Congress, helping to advance the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972.
The back story: It all began when the League was approached by a local naturalists’ association that needed help funding the film. League members rallied together to raise the money, and then convinced Toledo’s PBS station, WGTE, to film and narrate it.
Environmental issues haven’t gone away, of course. And The Junior League can’t rest on past accomplishments. What’s really important now is that we continue to empower women to take on leadership roles so that the next big issue can be addressed, too.
Deborah Taylor Tate’s career in public service has taken her to D.C. and the U.N.
But, in many ways, it was incubated during her years as an active member of the Junior League of Nashville. There she did the quiet, but critical, work of chairing League committees, working with community partners and serving on local boards.
Putting her League training to work outside the League, Debi became president of Nashville’s Court Appointed Special Advocates program, which works with abused and neglected children caught in the court system, and went on to co-found Renewal House, Nashville’s first, largest and most comprehensive long-term recovery community for addicted women and children.
And then, while remaining deeply committed to her core issues, Debi’s sphere of influence broadened to Tennessee and beyond where she significantly impacted national and international policy.
As an advisor on mental health and juvenile justice policy to two governors she was instrumental in establishing a Mental Health Revision Commission that culminated in the passage of a new mental health law for Tennessee.
While serving a six-year term as Chairman and Director of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, Debi was nominated by President George W. Bush as an FCC Commissioner where she promoted reforms to ensure that advances in communications technologies benefit all Americans while also focusing attention on issues affecting families and children...issues that resonate with her today.
Currently Special Envoy to the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union for Child Online Protection, Debi also serves on the Aspen Institute’s National Task Force on Learning and the Internet, and, with Geena Davis, co-chairs the National Healthy Media Commission on the impact of media on girls/women.
If Debi’s considerable leadership legacy is any indication, she—and those who follow in her Junior League footsteps—is a force capable of taking on any future challenges that come her way.
You already know the basic story. That human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. That its victims are subjected to force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of commercial sex or forced labor...that trafficking in persons occurs across international borders and reaches into the communities where we live. And that its victims include young children, teenagers, men and women.
So now what are we going to do about it? For many Leagues and their members, the answer is simple...get involved.
Junior Leagues and Junior League State Public Affairs Committees (SPACs) began researching the issue of human trafficking over 10 years ago. Early efforts focused on understanding the issue and educating League members. The New Jersey SPAC led these efforts at the Association level early on by presenting information to the delegates at AJLI Annual Conferences.
Junior Leagues and SPACs have chosen to focus their efforts in two primary areas: raising public awareness and advocating the passage of laws at the state level that address issues ranging from penalizing traffickers to protecting children and teenagers who become victims.
SPACS have, by virtue of their statewide mandates, taken the lead in legislative efforts. Campaigns to create public awareness among the general public and key stakeholder and gatekeeper groups such as law enforcement are where the majority of individual Leagues remain focused.
The Junior League has put a stake in the ground on one of the biggest issues affecting us as a society today—and will do so in the future as issues evolve and change. And because the really big issues never go away, the need for committed women to act as leaders at all levels remains.
Junior Leagues have been involved in combatting domestic violence for decades. One notable example, the Junior League of St. Paul’s Silent Witnesses initiative, in 1990 led to the creation of a national organization and contributed to the Violence Against Women Act provisions to the 1994 Crime Bill. But often exposure to a compelling issue also can galvanize League members for lives of advocacy.
Take Jan Langbein.
“Back then I didn’t know men beat women or had sex with children,” she says of her days as a young member of the Junior League of Dallas in the 1980s. “This used to be something that was only whispered about at kitchen tables and behind closed doors.”
It was a volunteer placement at Dallas’ Genesis Women’s Shelter and Support, the refuge for women and children she now runs, that ultimately changed the course of Jan’s life, eventually leading her to high-profile posts including senior policy advisor at the Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women, board member and public policy committee member on the Texas Council on Family Violence and a spot on the Dallas mayoral task force on domestic violence.
Personal knowledge of the problem also would be something Jan acquired. In 1999, fellow League member Mary Richardson was strangled to death by her husband in front of her three children. Jan recalls now, “I thought that victims of domestic violence would look different, that their kids would not look like mine. I had no idea what was in store for me. What I know is that once you see the reality of domestic violence, once you know its devastation, you cannot look away—not as a woman, not as a human being.”
The good news is that domestic violence is no longer a topic people need to whisper about in private—but it’s no secret that the violence continues to pervade our society. Can it be solved? Yes—but not until we raise up an army of educated leaders like Jan to keep up the fight.
According to a recent report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, one in five children are overweight or obese in countries surveyed by OECD and, while rates are virtually stable or have grown modestly in Canada, the U.K., Italy, Korea, Spain and the U.S., they have increased by 2-3% in Australia, France, Mexico and Switzerland.
But what is clear is that dramatically increasing awareness of the childhood obesity epidemic—among children and their parents as well as teachers, healthcare workers, policymakers and the public at large—is likely to be a critical element in the campaign’s long-term success.
And it is there that Junior Leagues are making a real difference.
The Junior Leagues’ Kids in the Kitchen (KITK) program, which started out as an ambitious but purely local initiative by the Junior League of Calgary in 2001 (called Junior Chefs), is now operational in more than 200 Leagues in Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and the U.S.
Since Calgary first focused on childhood obesity almost 14 years ago, the fight has gained momentum, with increased support from food companies, consumer advocates and U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama.
But the real takeaway from the KITK story is the ability of a women’s volunteer organization with strong roots in four countries to make a difference in creating awareness of an international problem by investing significant human capital to fight it. And, moreover, that the organization and its members have the skill set to quickly pivot to address other related issues and rally their communities to find solutions.
For more than a century, the women of The Junior League have confronted society’s most pressing issues and tackled its toughest problems, leaving a legacy of reform like no other.
But in a complex world accelerating and advancing at a rapid pace, change is uncomfortable, conflicts are inevitable and challenges are cyclical.
Problems loom large.
Leadership talent is scarce.
And funding—especially from government agencies and philanthropic foundations—is hard to come by.
To fight these battles, find solutions and advocate for those in need, a renewable army of women empowered to be agents of positive change is essential.
Preparing these women to serve their communities is The Junior League’s Mission.
Because tomorrow there will be new issues and new challenges. And the women of The Junior League will be there...unrelenting voices for action, justice and change.
Investing in Women’s Civic Leadership.
To ensure our next century is as productive as the last we are knee-deep in a major, multi-year strategic transformation initiative designed to secure the health, vitality and viability of our organization—and the future of women’s civic leadership—for generations to come.
Over the last few years we have made substantial human and capital investments in research, League structure and operations, technology, marketing, education and fund development to guarantee there will be leaders capable of tackling society’s thorniest issues for the express purpose of enhancing the social, cultural and political fabric of our civil society.
An overview of The Association of Junior Leagues International’s major accomplishments in 2013/14 demonstrates the breadth and intensity of that effort on behalf of the 150,000 women in 292 communities in four countries who comprise The Junior League:
Re-engineered our public website to better reflect and represent The Junior League’s 100-plus year legacy as a powerful and influential women’s leadership organization.
Provided all members with four distinct curricula on the subjects most relevant to their development as civic leaders—Community Impact, Organizational Management, Governance and Fund Development*—through a learning portal on our member website. One more curricula—Marketing & Communications—will be launched by the end of the 2014/15 League year.
* Governance and Fund Development curricula launched in the summer of 2014.
Launched our ambitious One Network technology infrastructure initiative to create a more dynamic, connected Junior League by facilitating and supporting wide-scale, ongoing collaboration and knowledge-sharing among members, Leagues and the Association for the betterment of communities far and wide.
Produced five successful in-person leadership development conferences during the course of the 2013/14 League year at which more than 2,000 Junior League leaders were empowered with skills to lead in their communities.
Launched a Resource Library that provides members with a comprehensive collection of every material AJLI produces as well as the works of major research firms, expert practitioners in the field and policy organizations that pertain to all aspects of Junior League operations and community programming.
Introduced new models for community impact and governance & management to make Leagues stronger, more effective and efficient organizations in the local communities they serve.
Recast our member learning and training opportunities in the mold of an online, on-demand university that caters to each and every member when and where she wants to learn regardless of her role in her League.
Developed a series of online tools and widgets for League use that encourage information sharing and strengthen connectivity among and between Leagues and the Association.
Reimagined our revenue model by mounting a diversified fund development initiative that combines corporate sponsorships, grants, individual philanthropic gifts, shared revenue opportunities, enhanced JL Boutique sales and contributions from members. An important element in that effort was the launch of our inaugural Annual Appeal and the creation of an esteemed advisory committee of past AJLI Presidents and other Association leaders that, in aggregate, invested more than $50,000* in AJLI’s future through participation in the appeal.
* The Annual Appeal was initiated in 3/2014 and will continue until the end of the 2014 calendar year.
Depth and Breadth
Staff & Consultants
Eleanor Roosevelt, one of The Junior League's most famous and committed members said, “It is not fair to ask of others what you are unwilling to do yourself.”
The Junior League has personified that sentiment for more than a century, boldly leading and exploring the outer bounds of civil society when others couldn't...when others wouldn't. We owe it to future generations to ensure this wonderful organization survives and thrives for another century...and are doing everything in our power to make it so."
- Susan Danish, Executive Director
We have a tremendous responsibility to ensure that our extraordinary 114-year legacy of leadership—a precious cultural inheritance—continues for years to come.
It’s a responsibility we don’t take lightly."
- Ellen Rose, President 2014-2016