The History of the Junior League of Seattle

Whether you’re a Provisional or have been a long-time member of the Junior League of Seattle (JLS), a little refresher course in the history of JLS is always a good idea. As a wrap-up to Women’s History Month, let us celebrate the progressive, motivated and dedicated collection of trained female volunteers that founded, and today comprise, the JLS.

How it all began: In 1901, Mary Harriman, a socially conscious 19-year old New York City debutante, founded the first Junior League. Impassioned about the plight of immigrants in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Mary formed the Junior League of the City of New York with 80 other young women – hence the name, “Junior” League.  Harriman’s vision for improving communities by using the energy and commitment of trained volunteers inspired others around the country to start their own Leagues. In 1921, the Association of Junior Leagues was formed to provide professional support to the Leagues. The Junior League of Seattle (JLS) was established in 1923 and has been a member of the Association of Junior Leagues International (AJLI) since 1924.

Junior League Founder,
Mary Harriman

Now more about JLS: Throughout its nearly 100-year history, JLS has successfully met the emerging needs of the community by initiating cutting edge programs and providing trained volunteers to manage and direct service projects, community education, fundraising and advocacy efforts. As a result of League training, JLS has also provided a legacy of leaders who bring knowledge and experience to the community in which they serve. Two of JLS’s most notable members (and past presidents) include Mary Maxwell Gates and Colleen Willoughby.

Mary Maxwell Gates
Colleen Willoughby

JLS has a strong history of launching projects that help the greater Seattle community. The following organizations are just a sampling of those that the Junior League of Seattle has supported over the years:

Northwest Art Project was created by JLS in the early 1960s to bring arts education to schoolchildren. This collection of original works by Northwest artists continues to reach more than 20,000 students annually.

Northwest Art

In the 1980s and 1990s JLS helped create the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program, which works to ensure that needy children have a caring adult to advocate and intervene on their behalf with the court system. This program has since been expanded nationwide.

The JLS implemented the Christmas in April program, which provides home repair for the elderly and disadvantaged. After three years of JLS support, this project established its own community board and is now known as Rebuilding Together. Today as an organization of nearly 1,300 members, Junior League of Seattle is one of the largest Leagues on the West Coast.  Annually our members donate over 45,000 volunteer hours and participate in over 5,000 hours of personal and professional development. As we honor our League’s history, let’s think forward to the history each of us is empowered to make. Whatever your passion, don’t let self-doubt or the demands of your life discourage you from thinking big, making an impact, and doing the most good  in the Junior League of Seattle and beyond.

Published by Junior League of Seattle

The Junior League of Seattle is an organization of women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving the community through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Its purpose is exclusively educational and charitable.

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