Our History

The Junior League Movement:  A History of Growth and Community Service

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 volunteerism and the improvement of the Lexington community. These women built the foundation of community service for which today's League is known. 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, and the Lexington Children's Theater still brings theater and entertainment to the children of the bluegrass.

One of the Junior League of Lexington's greatest accomplishments is the Lexington Junior League Charity Horse Show. The Horse Show began in 1937 and served as the League's only fundraiser until 2007.  It has generated over three million dollars for the direct benefit of the local community and has become a prestigious event in the Saddlebred Horse industry, serving as part of the Saddlebred Triple Crown. The Horse Show still runs today for a week every year in mid-July, attracting exhibitors from around the globe.

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:  the 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 League's "Horse Head" logo was created and could be seen on all League stationary and outgoing correspondence. The League's 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.  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 its Bicentennial Celebration to sponsor an exhibit of antique Kentucky silver. In 1978, the League was a contributing partner in the founding of Chrysalis House, a long-term substance abuse treatment facility that still operates today.

The 1980's began with the League taking a major role in the revitalization of downtown Lexington. The League joined the Triangle Foundation, a group instrumental in the development of Triangle Park. During this time, funds and volunteers were also focused in many agencies, including: the Bluegrss Rape Crisis Center, the Alzheimer's Association, the American Saddlebred Museum, the 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's Hhadquarters. 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.

In 1988, the Lexington Junior League Charity Horse Show won the prestigious United Professional Horseman Association's 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 the Horse Show a major benefactor to the local community.

The 1990's brought about a closeness with other Junior Leagues in the Commonwealth 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 Leagues worked together to create a public service video to help with 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 League's 75th anniversary year in 1999 was commemorated by a the League's grant of a $75,000 donation to God's Pantry Food Bank for the renovation and construction of a much needed nutrition education kitchen. In 1999, the League was awarded the YWCA of Lexington's "President's Award" for seventy-five years of outstanding service.

Funding and volunteers were provided for the following agencies in the 1990's:  Habitat for Humanity, the 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 Blue Grass 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 continues to encourage our members to serve the Lexington community.  By working together to fulfill our mission of promoting volunteerism, 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.