When Jean Webb Vaughan Smith died in January in Los Angeles, at the age of 93, she was best known to many as a close friend of Nancy and Ronald Reagan and a Washington insider in the Eisenhower and Reagan administrations. Fair on both counts.
But Jean was also a true Junior Leaguer.
She joined the Junior League of Los Angeles in the 1950s, rising to president of JLLA in 1954 and western regional director of The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc. in 1956, before becoming AJLI president from 1958 to 1960. Her ongoing commitment to voluntarism can be seen in decades of public service, with organizations as varied as the President’s Advisory Commission on White House Fellowships, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the United Way, the American Red Cross, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and the California Arts Commission.
Washington seems to act as a magnet for some Junior League women, including former First Ladies Eleanor Roosevelt, Nancy Reagan, Betty Ford, Barbara Bush and Laura Bush and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, as well as our founder, Mary Harriman, who was one of the highest-ranking women in the Roosevelt Administration during the 1930s.
By all accounts, Jean Webb Vaughan Smith enjoyed her time in the nation’s capital, including its social scene. How seriously she took that experience, however, can perhaps be judged by an anecdote told in her obituary in the Washington Post. In 1982, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote: “The ears of Mrs. William French Smith dangle earrings that cost more than a house,” she fired back in a letter to the columnist that the earrings were fakes that cost about $40, just enough to buy “a small doghouse, into which he could fit.”