In 1901, Mary Harriman, a 19-year-old New York City debutante with a social conscience, founded the first Junior League. Moved by the suffering she was around her, Harriman mobilized a group of 80 other young women - hence the name 'Junior' League - to work to improve the squalid conditions in which immigrants were living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Mary Harriman's vision for improving communities by using the energy and commitment of trained volunteers inspired others around the country. The second Junior League was started in Boston, MA in 1907 and was soon followed by the founding of the Brooklyn, NY Junior League in 1910.
In 1921, the Association of Junior Leagues was formed to provide professional support to the Leagues. Today, the Association of Junior Leagues International governs 296 Junior Leagues in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Great Britain.
The Junior League of Lexington was founded in 1924 by ten women dedicated to voluntarism and the improvement of the Lexington community. These women built the foundation of community service that today's League is noted for. In the early years, the Junior League of Lexington was a founding contributor for Baby Health Services in 1938 and the Lexington Children's Theater in 1939. Baby Health Services provides needed health care for the children of uninsured working families, while the Lexington Children's Theater is still bringing theater and entertainment to the children of the Bluegrass.
One of the Junior League's greatest accomplishment is the Lexington Junior League Horse Show. The Horse Show began in 1937 and served as the Junior League's only fundraiser until 2007. The show has generated over three million dollars for the benefit of the local community. The Lexington Junior League Horse Show has become a prestigious event in the Saddlebred industry and is part of the Saddlebred Triple Crown. The Horse Show still runs today for a week every year in mid-July, attracting exhibitors from the United States and Canada.
By the 1960's the Junior League of Lexington was still growing and becoming an important asset to the local community. The 1960's saw two more agencies the League helped to found, Opportunity Workshop of Lexington and The Living Arts and Science Center. Both agencies are still actively making a difference in the local community. The Living Arts and Science Center provides educational opportunities in the arts and sciences, while Opportunity Workshop helps find jobs for disabled individuals in the community.
The 1970's brought many new firsts to the Junior League of Lexington. In 1977 the "Horse Head" logo was created and was seen on all League stationary and outgoing correspondence. The Community Education and Research Committee was established to help sort through the needs of the community and determine where to grant the proceeds from the Horse Show. During the 1970's, the League also began training and educating its members to expand their volunteering skills. During this time, the League funded projects and agencies in the arts, children's services and health services. The League gave Transylvania University five thousand dollars in honor of their Bicentennial Celebration to sponsor an exhibit of Antique Kentucky Silver. In 1978, the Junior League of Lexington was a contributing partner in the founding of Chrysalis House, a long-term substance abuse treatment facility.
The 1980's began with the League taking a major role in the revitalization of downtown Lexington. The Junior League joined the Triangle Foundation, a group instrumental in the development of Triangle Park. During this time, funds and volunteers were focused in many agencies, including: the Rape Crisis Center, Alzheimer's Association, the American Saddlebred Museum, Lexington Children's Museum, Hospice of the Bluegrass and UK Children's Miracle Network Telethon.
The years 1983 and 1984 produced a historical milestone when members approved the lease and restoration of the Bodley-Bullock House. Many long hours were spent to make the house operational and ready to be opened by 1986 and serve as the Junior League of Lexington Headquarters. The house and its garden are open for tours and rentals and are a wonderful asset to the local preservation community. In 1986, the Junior League won the Ida Lee Willis Memorial Foundation Award for their preservation efforts of the Bodley-Bullock House.
The 1988 Horse Show won the United Professional Horseman Associations Show of the Year Award. The 1980's also saw the Show bring in both corporate sponsorships and an association with a local television station WKYT-TV. Annual profits were exceeding $100,000, making this Show a major benefactor to the local community.
The 1990's brought about a closeness with other Junior Leagues in the state of Kentucky. The introduction of the State Public Affairs Committee created an avenue for all of the Kentucky Leagues to collaborate together and participate in the state legislature. Owensboro, Louisville and Lexington worked together to create a public service video to help in the prevention of teen pregnancy.
During this decade, the Junior League of Lexington received three prestigious awards. In 1993 the League was given an award for the "Outstanding Philanthropic Organization" by the National Society of Professional Fundraising Executives. In 1995 the League won the "Leaders in Education and the Arts". The award was in recognition of the Junior League's contributions to improving the quality of education and/or the arts in Central Kentucky. In 1996 the "Silent Witness Program" was started as an effort to help the fight against domestic violence. The public awareness campaign is a memorial honoring women murdered in acts of domestic violence. The 75th Anniversary year was commemorated by a seventy five thousand dollar donation to God's Pantry for the renovation and construction of a much needed nutrition education kitchen. In 1999 the League was awarded the YWCA of Lexington's "Presidents Award" for seventy five years of outstanding service.
Funding and volunteers were provided for the following agencies in the 1990's: Habitat for Humanity, Ephraim McDowell Cancer Research Foundation, Central Kentucky Riding for the Handicapped, The Ronald McDonald House, Children's Advocacy Center, Lexington Hearing and Speech Center, Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure and the Bluegrass Trust for Historic Preservation. The decade was capped off by a donation as a founding sponsor to the new Hope Center for Women Recovery Program. This program is a six month intensive rehabilitation process designed to address the special needs of women who suffer from addiction to drugs or alcohol.
Back in 1924, our charter members saw an opportunity to make a difference. Through the combined energy and vision of our membership over the years, the League has truly made a difference by touching so many lives in need. It is this same energy and vision that is propelling us into the new millennium. By working together to fulfill our mission of promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women, and improving the community through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers, the Junior League of Lexington will continue to make a difference well into the future.