One of this year’s hottest summer movies looks to be The Help, the entertaining screen version of the best-seller of the same name. Because The Junior League—or at least a fictionalized version of the Junior League of Jackson, Mississippi—plays a small but important role in the plot, we wanted to correct a misperception the movie may leave you with: the importance of bridge as an important League function in the early 1960s.
Why? Because the movie’s League characters seem to get together largely for the purpose of playing cards. That’s not the way Sustainers from the era remember it, and it’s not the way League history is written.
The 1960s were a time of great turbulence and social change, and Junior Leagues rose to meet many challenges. As the decade progressed, nearly half the Leagues had health and welfare projects, including alcohol programs, adoption services, clinics, and convalescent care and hospital services. Leagues also established programs addressing the education, housing, social services and employment needs of urban residents. Many Junior Leagues began to add environmental issues to their agendas. The Junior League of Toledo (JLT), for example, produced the educational film Fate of a River, a report on the devastating effects of water pollution. The success of the JLT’s documentary led to an invitation to testify before a Congressional committee debating passage of The Clean Water Act. Decades before Federal laws on educational access for children with disabilities, the Junior League of Boston partnered with a local TV station to produce a documentary that looked at how schools, hospitals and training facilities treated children with cognitive impairments.
By the end of the 1960s, more than 200 Leagues were part of an Association that dedicated itself anew to building leadership skills and increasing membership diversity. The League has since grown to 292 independent Leagues.
Our members and their Leagues, then and now, take on some of society’s thorniest issues, cementing a legacy that was established at the turn of the last century with volunteer service and advocacy on a host of causes including domestic violence, women and alcohol, literacy, and clean water, among others.
While each of our Leagues is an independent, 501(c)3 entity, they share with us a commitment to diversity, community service and the highest standards of voluntarism.
Building on the mission of Mary Harriman, who founded The Junior League in 1901, our mandate has remained unwavering: to develop exceedingly qualified civic leaders who can venture out into their local communities and beyond, and make an impact by identifying a community’s most pressing needs and addressing them with meaningful and relevant programs and initiatives that not only improve lives, but also change the way people think, thereby winning loyal supporters.
As it did in 1901, The Junior League continues to inspire countless women to reach within themselves to find their inner leaders by offering unparalleled opportunities in civic leadership training that equips them to go out into the world and apply their skills for the betterment of society.
Today’s Junior League members are hard at work addressing and acting as advocates on an array of critical issues, including human trafficking, foster care, juvenile justice, teen self-esteem, cybercrimes, literacy and the environment, among others—all of it for the purpose of enhancing the social, cultural and political fabric of our civil society.
As a result of all of this work, our organization—and the more than 155,000 women who comprise its ranks—have amassed an archive of irrefutable results and an indisputable reputation as thoughtful and influential change agents for the public good. They are cornerstones of our society who have built into our daily lives many of the privileges we now take for granted, including free school lunches, literacy programs, children’s theaters and museums, clean water, children’s nutrition, and greater awareness about the vices of modern society, such as domestic violence and alcohol abuse.