History of the JLC

History and Highlights 

How Did The Junior League Begin?

In 1901, in New York City, Mary Harriman, together with 85 other women, founded The Junior maryharrimanLeague for the Promotion of Settlement Movements; this was later shortened to The Junior League as their mission broadened and other cities organized Leagues. (As for the name, because Mary and the founding group were young women, they were referred to as “junior women” to distinguish them from older members of New York society. Hence, the first name used by the organization emphasized the women’s “junior” status and their work). Early League projects included the establishment of orphanages, programs in the arts, dental health for children, home nursing, and parks and playgrounds.

When was the Cleveland League organized?

The Junior League of Cleveland is one of the oldest and largest Leagues. In 1912, The Junior League of Cleveland was organized by Mrs. John W. Cross (Katherine Mather), Mrs. Ralph Cobb, and a group of 67 women who wanted to make a difference in the city and their own lives. They met monthly, often to hear a speaker whose topics dealt with social and service issues. They drew up a list of 190 places for volunteering, a “highly suggested” reading list, and adopted eight standing committees. Many of The JLC’s later projects found their start during those first few years– serving women, children, and educational needs. Money was raised to better the lives of the needy.

JLC Highlights


1915 – The JLC’s first financial contribution to Cleveland was $50 to the Consumer’s League.

1917 – During WWI, League volunteers worked at Red Cross Headquarters, sewed bandages, took Civil Defense courses, and worked with the community on war efforts. After the war, the first Provisional Training course was developed.

1919 – The first League House was established. It was a low rent home for employed girls made possible by Mrs. Dudley S. Blossom and the Honorable Frances Payne Bolton.


1928 – League involvement with local hospitals continued by supplying all surgical dressing needs for Rainbow Hospital and most of the needs for Maternity Hospital and the District Hospital.


“Historically, The JLC has maintained a goal of trying to meet the needs of the Cleveland Community. Community agencies have always wanted our volunteers.” Ruth Townsend Lucas, JLC President, 1930-32


1930 – With the Depression, League members manned milk stations to distribute food and milk to 20,000 needy families. The League hired a Director of Volunteers to work at City Hospital – a first for Cleveland Hospitals.

1933 – The League established The Cleveland Volunteer Association, which is now Central Volunteer Services.

“My provisional course gave me a capsule overview of my own city, which has been invaluable in my later connections with charitable and cultural agencies. Aside from the pleasure of meeting other women of similar interests, women in the League learned to appreciate the more serious aspects of voluntarism.” Jeanette Johnson Dempsey, JLC President 1932-34 (up to top)


1940 – Members had a half-hour program on WGAR which focused on various community agencies. They also became interested in advocacy and raised thousands of dollars through musical follies.

1941 – League activities were again centered around the war effort. The JLC Placement Secretary worked at the Civil Defense Volunteer Bureau.

1942 – The Education Committee was formed, launching a tradition of involvement in public issues (now called the State Public Affairs Committee – SPAC). It rallied all eight Ohio Leagues into endorsing a bill concerning licensing of Practical Nurses.

1946 – League House was sold to the government for a model women’s housing project. The proceeds were the basis of the Bolton-Blossom Trust Fund.


1951 – The League continued its musical tradition with several Follies productions, a musical radio program for children, a music therapy and a puppet therapy program at Cleveland State Hospital.


1953 – Twenty-two different League committees were in operation. An evening “professional group” was formed. An Evaluation Committee was established for league programs and projects.

1956 – The League provided the salary for a part-time Director of Volunteers for The Golden Age Center and the salary for a Volunteer Director at The Museum of Natural History.


1962 – The League celebrated its 50th Anniversary with a $10,000 Urban Renewal Gift for The City of Cleveland.

1963 – The JLC continued to concentrate its funds and volunteers in a multitude of community projects. In keeping with the times, The JLC evolved in many ways. For one, a Community Advisors Committee was established for an external viewpoint.

1964 – Diversity was recognized as a challenge and a goal to be met.

1965 – More sophisticated approaches for impacting the community in areas of social change and advocacy were developed, including forming coalitions with other volunteer organizations and community agencies.

1966 – The JLC approved $25,000 for the County Welfare Department, which enabled it to set up the first total family day care center in Ohio.


1971 – The JLC pledged $25,000 for restoration of Playhouse Square.

1976 – The JLC restored the exterior of five and renovated the interior of two Cleveland Landmark rowhouses on Prospect Avenue, a permanent contribution to The City of Cleveland.

1977 – Funds were raised to open a Conference Facility at the Mather Mansion. Volunteers continued to work on many projects including Project LEARN, Women to Women, Big Sisters, and Help, Inc.


1979 – Nearly 50% of League volunteers would be employed outside the home. (up to top)


1981 – Established the Bellflower House in partnership with the National Council of Jewish Women and Parents Anonymous. The Bellflower House offers a home-like setting for programs that aid families in crisis.

1982 – The JLC gave $100,000 to Playhouse Square for renovations. The JLC also researched, planned, and established an endowment fund for Children’s Theater at Playhouse Square.

1985 – The JLC continued its leadership position in the community through its projects such as Scarborough Hall, Safe Space Station, West Side Community Mental Health Center, and The Children’s Museum.

1987 – A 75th Anniversary gift of $75,000 was given toward the restoration of the William G. Mather, an iron ore steamship, to be Cleveland’s first floating maritime museum.

1988 – The present League House at 10819 Magnolia Drive, University Circle, was purchased for use as The JLC headquarters, office space for other non-profits, and as a community facility for meetings and conferences.

1989 – The Done-in-a-Day projects were launched to meet the needs of busy volunteers and the short-term needs of the community.

“The early 80’s brought the realization to all Junior Leagues that if we were to make an impact within our communities, we needed to be more representative of the cities we served. The value that diversity brought to this organization is an educated perspective and understanding that will give us the opportunity to truly make a difference in our world.” Polly Howe Clemo, JLC President 1982-84


1994 -The first annual Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation Northeast Ohio Race for The Cure® was held,netting $105,000. The JLC initiated and coordinated this race involving more than 3,000 runners, 20 sponsors, 300 volunteers, and a coalition of 15 public and private organizations and health care agencies. $75,000 of the proceeds went to funding free mammograms and breast wellness education to medically underserved women in Greater Cleveland.

1994 – Established the Coalition Against Violence and Neglect in collaboration with more than 50 community organizations. Assembled the Silent Witness Exhibit commemorating women who had lost their lives due to domestic violence. Members testified before the Ohio Legislature in support of House Bill 335 (domestic violence bill), which was passed.

1995 – Developed Vision Tomorrow, a strategic plan formulated through a collective effort by JLC members and our community partners.

1995 – Involved in Cleveland’s Bicentennial Celebration.


1996 – Volunteer and funding resources continue to be targeted to three priority areas: children, education, and women. Within these areas, efforts are focused on the issues of domestic violence, homelessness, middle school improvement / literacy, and preventive health.

1997 – 85th Anniversary of the founding of The JLC– we’re older than the Natural History Museum, The Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Foundation; and younger than the Cleveland Chapter of the Red Cross, the Children’s Aid Society, and the National Council of Jewish Women.

1997 – Disbursed over $44,000 to JLC partner agencies and organizations.

1998 – The JLC was the co-beneficiary of the grand opening of Nordstrom’s at Beachwood Place. The gala raised $250,000 with proceeds benefiting the Consortium for Healthy and Immunized Children; the Eliza Bryant Center; The Jewish Family Service Association’s Project Chai (life); and the community projects of The Links and the JLC.

1998 – Launched the Drive for League House; the new Five Steps to Leadership educational program for League members and the community at large; and the Bargain Box holiday toy sale for low income families


2000 – Marketed corporate ticket packages and provided “behind the scene” volunteers for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.


2001 – Began a Provisional project where we assembled Rape Crisis Center Kits for area hospitals.

2006 – In partnership with the YWCA and Trinity Cathedral, brought Lauren Greenfield’s, highly acclaimed photography exhibit Girl Culture to Cleveland, providing three months of educational tours and programs, and celebrating opening night with Venus Williams as the evening’s keynote speaker.

2010 – Present – The League focuses efforts around our Signature Initiative of Advocacy for Youth Aging out of Foster care. Girl League becomes a cornerstone community project and the league commits to fundraising events that emphasize inclusivity.