The idea for a Junior League in the nation’s capital was first mentioned to Miss Elizabeth Noyes in 1911, and by 1912 Miss Noyes and a sewing circle of her friends followed Mary Harriman’s example and started the Junior League of Washington (JLW).
Officially incorporated in 1914, JLW soon grew to 100 women who worked for the welfare of children, serving the helpless and the sick, and raising money to meet their needs.
JLW started our first thrift shop, providing affordable clothes and house wares for much of the city. We also hosted the Junior League Cabaret Ball, an international social event attracting the Washington diplomatic and European community and raised awareness of the needs in our community. We granted the funds we raised back to our community: to the Florence Crittenden Hope and Help Mission, to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, to the Child Welfare Association, and to the Foundling Hospital.
The Great Depression devastated Washington’s economy, along with the rest of the nation’s. JLW was an important ally in restoring our community’s economy with volunteers, projects and fundraisers dedicated to battling the effects of the Depression. Our volunteers worked in hospitals caring for the destitute, they provided affordable clothing through the thrift shops and raised money for the struggling city.
The First Lady joined us at our Cabaret Ball, and we stimulated the local retail economy by hosting the popular “Wear Something New” balls, for which you had to do just that to attend. Since jobs were hard to find, JLW established an employment bureau, donating over $15,000 for wages. JLW volunteers raised and donated the funds that gave birth to the Social Services Department of Children’s Hospital.
World War II profoundly affected Washington, D.C. Every aspect of Washington life revolved around the war effort and JLW was a critical part of the domestic war effort. We raised money for war bonds through our fabulously entertaining follies, we served as the backbone of the famous Red Cross “Gray Ladies,” and we collected and made clothing to be sent to Europe for the war effort and the refugees. Nearly 900 members volunteered for the Red Cross, the U.S.O, Defense Housing (a registry of housing available in the crowded city), and as aircraft watchers. Our members were staffing Travelers Aid at a time when domestic transport was continuing pandemonium as tens of thousand of young men and women moved through our city: men heading to war and women arriving to take jobs the men had left behind.