1950s – 1970s
Unrivaled prosperity followed the rationing of the war years. The challenge of balancing a career with volunteer work became an issue for some of our members. We were more efficient than ever in raising money and the visibility of our efforts: Mamie Eisenhower attended our White Elephant Tea, our Thrift Shop was a joint project with six local charities, and, to meet the needs of growing families, we started the “Outgrown Shop,” a used clothing operation. Our Marionette Show was a decade-long success, entertaining families and raising tens of thousands of dollars a year. In 1958, we launched our first Christmas Shop (renamed A Capital Collection of Holiday Shops). Over a five year period we donated $100,000 to maintain the psychiatric clinic at Children’s Hospital. We also did something quite revolutionary: we designed, wrote, produced, and aired our own television show, Playtime, filled with educational children’s programming for those hard to manage after-school hours. By 1958, we were producing the “25th Hour” show on Channel 9.
An innovative partnership with the Corcoran Gallery of Art reflected our commitment to children’s educational needs. JLW volunteers and funds at the Corcoran reached out and brought art to thousands of children who otherwise would never have visited the gallery. JLW docents also created the city’s tours for area school children at the National Gallery of Art.
Our most popular placement was the docent program at the National Gallery of Art in which our volunteers exposed over 48,000 children to art in one year alone. Adventure Theater was born then, bringing live theater to young audiences. Caroline Kennedy was a front-row fan of the Winnie the Pooh production in 1962. The gracious gift of our current headquarters, the Loughborough House, in the early 1960s from the Honorable and Mrs. Gordon Gray meant a convenient Georgetown location for JLW.
The smoke had barely cleared from the 1968 riots when JLW showed faith in our city’s future by presenting a $5,000 check to Mayor Walter Washington for emergency relief for our troubled city, the first such grant the city received. We paid the salary of the volunteer coordinator for the DC Juvenile Courts and we funded the first social services agency located on site at a public housing project, the Potomac Gardens, to provide pre-school care, recreation, and counseling.
During the 1970s, we concentrated our abilities in three areas of concern: community arts, environmental quality, and youth-community relations. JLW marked this decade by publishing The City of Washington, a definitive, illustrated history of the city. Our optimism was tempered by the legacy of the sixties, particularly issues important to all women. Women, inspired by the civil rights movement, began to demand that Congress address women’s issues of discrimination, in the workplace and in society. Members of JLW found themselves center stage in the debates on women’s rights and related issues: equal pay for equal work, maternity leave, government day care, support for the family unit – all leavened by the stress of balancing job, home, and family roles while volunteering. After much debate, JLW endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment.
Feeling a sense of community responsibility and a collective will to take chances, the focus of JLW voluntarism was aggressively hands-on with such innovative placements as the Gonzaga Higher Achievement Program, the National Museum of African Art, the restoration of the C&O Canal, the City Hall Complaint Center, and the women’s health programs of the Columbia Hospital for Women. Training, always a JLW priority, became a central part of our League life – providing critical skills development to our membership, 50% of whom by this time were working outside the home. During this time we also discovered, as did the nation, the extent of abuse that women endured at the hands of their loved ones. With grants of over $100,000 a corps of trained dedicated volunteers, and the expertise and clout of the Women’s Legal Defense Fund, the women of Washington were given their first safe haven from this abuse.