1922: The Beginning
On January 5, 1922, 10 women, led by Mrs. Harry Darlington, Jr., met to discuss forming a Junior League chapter in Pittsburgh. They immediately began to author a constitution, research volunteer activities in Pittsburgh, and establish membership qualifications. Article II of their constitution stated the object of the Junior League of Pittsburgh: "to foster interest among its members in the social, economic, educational, cultural, and civic conditions of their community; to make efficient their volunteer service; and to promote the welfare of the Association of Junior Leagues of America, of which this organization is a subordinate part."
Mrs. Darlington, as acting president, appointed a committee to research possible volunteer activities in Pittsburgh that would be appropriate for League members. The committee submitted a list of 16 area hospitals, orphanages, children's charities and homeless shelters. All members were required to complete 96 hours of volunteer service each year at one or more of these organizations.
In June 1922, the League organized its first provisional course. The course included tours of the institutions at which Junior League members volunteered, lectures by local political and business leaders, and lectures by League members about the purpose of the Junior League and its bylaws. All provisional members were to take notes and submit them to the chairwoman of the Provisional Committee. At the end of the six-week course, they took a written test on the bylaws and then were admitted to active membership. The provisional class of 1922 had 50 women. Concerned by this rapid growth, the League voted in 1923 to limit provisional classes to 15 women. In 1925, members increased the class size to 25 women, where it remained for the rest of the decade.
1923: First Project
In 1923, the Junior League of Pittsburgh investigated the needs of the Pittsburgh community. The goal was to establish a project in the community and meet community needs. In June, Associated Charities, Children's Service Bureau and the YWCA approached the Junior League about the need for a temporary home for girls. The League also collaborated with the International Institute, Morals Court and the Council of Jewish Women. Several members went to Cleveland to visit a similar project sponsored by the Junior League of Cleveland. On July 23, 1923, the Girls' Service Club was accepted by the members as the Junior League of Pittsburgh's first project.
The first property purchased by the JLP to house the club resulted in zoning difficulties in Allegheny, so it was sold. Learning from this experience, 1220 Sheffield Street on the city's North Side was purchased. The JLP also furnished and decorated the home and paid for all expenses to run the home, including personnel.
On July 16, 1924, the Girls' Service Club opened. The girls were referred by the courts, churches, social service agencies or their families. Twelve girls could be accommodated at a time. They ranged from seven to 28 years of age, but most of the girls were 13 to 19 years old. The length of a girl's stay varied widely from a few days to 20 weeks. In the first six months, the Girls' Service Club cared for 86 girls.
The JLP bylaws were rewritten to require that each member volunteer a minimum of ten of her 96 volunteer hours at the Girls' Service Club. The volunteers provided recreation, classes, sightseeing tours and transportation to appointments and church services. In its first year of operation, the Club served 100 girls.
The League was financially committed to a local project and the membership planned a fundraiser to support it. "Snapshots of 1924," a follies-style revue, was held in January 1924. It was well received by the press and raised $10,215 for support of the Girls' Service Club. "Snapshots of 1925" followed in January 1925 and raised more than $8,000.
1925-1927: League Milestones
In June 1925, Mrs. Dorwin Donnelly was re-elected president and League membership totaled 125 women.
After attending the Association of Junior Leagues of America Annual Conference in the spring of 1925, League members returned with the idea of a permanent fundraiser, a thrift shop. On October 14, 1925, the members of the League voted to open one at 5427 Penn Avenue. They believed that a thrift shop would provide a stable source of income and fill a community need for good quality clothes and houseware at affordable prices. The thrift shop opened in November of 1925. In its first month, sales totaled $1,147. From November 1925 through June 1926, the thrift shop's net profit was $2,316.11.
In June 1926, the JLP had 140 members. Miss Sarah Mellon was elected president. The League voted to have two additional classes of members: professional and non-resident active. For the League year 1926-1927, the thrift shop made a profit of $10,423, making it the most profitable thrift shop in the entire Association of Junior Leagues of America.
In the spring of 1927, the delegates to the AJLA Annual Conference brought several ideas back to the membership. They suggested that the League publish a monthly newssheet, compile a yearbook and open a club room. In June 1927, the first issue of the JLP newssheet Lights was published and distributed. It contained meeting information and filled the need to keep all members informed about the League's activities. It also served as a link between the League and the AJLA. Lights began accepting advertising in March 1928 to help defray the cost of production to the League. Lights was published monthly, except during the month of August.
The first yearbook also was published in June 1927. It contained the reports of the president, secretary, and treasurer, the JLP bylaws and a listing of the members. It served as a source of information to all members.
The issue of a meeting place was always under consideration by the League. In the beginning, members met in each other's homes or in offices that were lent to them for the day. After purchasing the home that housed the Girls' Service Club, the League held all of its meetings in the club gymnasium. At the AJLA Annual Conference, the delegates heard about the benefits of having a club room. After investigating possible locations in Pittsburgh, the JLP rented rooms in the Women's Exchange Building. To support the rent and decorating expense, they raised membership dues by five dollars that year. All meetings were held in club rooms. Members also used the rooms for luncheons, exhibits and lectures.
By June 1927, the League had grown to 178 members. Miss Augusta Leovy served as its new president. Fifty women had completed five years of service as Junior League of Pittsburgh members.
1928-1930: Helping Children
The Association of Junior Leagues of America selected the JLP to host the Second Regional Conference of Section III on January 25 and 26, 1928. Eighteen leagues from Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia took part in the conference. Many seminars were offered to the delegates in locations through Pittsburgh. The JLP was responsible for all arrangements. Many members housed delegates in their homes, hosted luncheons or teas, or provided transportation.
Also in January 1928, the JLP voted to enter the City Welfare Fund. This fund was established by several Pittsburgh organizations to raise funds through an annual fund drive. These funds then supported a variety of charities. In the first fund drive in 1928, the JLP teams raised the sixth largest total for the drive. The Welfare Fund assumed all costs of operating the Girls' Service Club, allowing the League to use its funds to retire the mortgage on the property and to support general League expenses.
In the League year 1927-1928, the JLP continued its interest in collaborating with other Pittsburgh organizations. Some of the groups the League worked with included the City Betterment Bureau, the Pittsburgh Symphony, Girl Scouts, the Civic Club and the Miner's Relief Fund.
By June 1928, the League had 181 members. Augusta Leovy, now Mrs. Clarence Stanley, continued as president.
On October 24, 1928, the League voted to pay off the mortgage on 1220 Sheffield Street, ending its financial responsibility to the Girls' Service Club. The League continued to provide volunteers to the club.
In May 1928, the League believed it was time to attend to the cultural needs of children. Many Leagues were producing children's theater at the time and the JLP began planning marionette plays. The JLP stated that they were responding to a need "to contribute to the imaginary life of a child." This was the first production for children in Pittsburgh.
The first show, held January 3 and 5, 1929 was "Bobby Jones, His Voyage." It was held at the Ballroom of the Athletic Club Annex and later performed in Sewickley and the East End. The show was written, directed and performed by League members. The marionettes, costumes and scenery were also made by League members.
The second show, designed to appeal to younger children, consisted of the "Three Bears" and "Jack and the Beanstalk." It was held in the Athletic Club Annex from May 31-June 2.
The League earned a profit of $522.50 with two performances completely for charity. Many tickets were offered to schoolchildren at reduced prices. The Junior League and its marionettes appeared in a Pathe Newsreel in local movie houses.
The JLP had two other fundraisers in 1928-1929. Several members modeled for Kaufmann's Department Store. Kaufmann's donated $200 to the League for the models' services.
The JLP also conducted a contest to design a Junior League playing card. The contest was held nationwide and a League member from South Carolina was selected as the winner. The cards were sold to any League member in the AJLA, netting a profit of $200.
In May 1929, the JLP had 208 members. Miss Priscilla Hall was elected president. The thrift shop made a profit of $9,400 for the year.
The Girls' Service Club was now supported by the Welfare Fund. Once again, the JLP asked the community for ideas for a new project. After many months of research and community collaboration, the JLP voted to establish the Nutritional and Habit Forming Clinic at Children's Hospital.
Children's Hospital donated space, equipment and the services of a nutritionist. The JLP paid all other expenses to run the clinic, including salaries. The clinic opened its doors in December 1929. Members volunteered in several areas including: clerical work in the clinic, taking preliminary patient histories and weighing and measuring children. The goal of the clinic was to improve the nutrition of young children aged two to 12. This goal would be accomplished by educating mothers about proper nutrition and counseling the children as well. By June 1, 1930, the clinic had served 249 children in 839 clinic visits. Nearly all of the children gained weight during their time under the clinic's care.
The League moved into new, larger club rooms in the Clark Building in February 1930. The club rooms contained office space, a tea room, a lounge and adequate space for membership meetings.
The Children's Theater Committee continued their work, but changed their focus from marionettes to a play, "The Wizard of Oz." Members were responsible for all aspects of the play—directing, performing, scenery, costumes, tickets and publicity. The performances were held at the Schubert Pitt Theater on April 5 and 12 to sold-out houses. Public schoolchildren were admitted at a reduced ticket price and more than 1,000 children from area homes and orphanages were admitted at no cost. Excluding the many free tickets distributed, the performance had a net profit of $2,500. The local press covered the play and reviewed it favorably, allowing the League to increase its visibility in the community.
In June 1930, the JLP had grown to 280 members. Miss Helen Leovy was elected president a third time. The thrift shop continued to be the major source of income for the League and adequately supported all of their community work.
The Junior League of Pittsburgh was profiled in The Bulletin-Index on November 30, 1930. In summarizing the League's first eight years, the author stated:
The Junior League of Pittsburgh has grown with rapidity both in membership and in activities. From the nucleus of 1922 has been built a large progressive organization, which is reaching out in many directions. The aim of the League is to stimulate a desire in its members to maintain a high standard of volunteer social service, to continue the process of self education, by increased knowledge along broad lines and to strive for ever better citizenship by thoughtful efforts for improvement of their community.
Founding Members: Vision of Service
The charter members of the Junior League of Pittsburgh, Mrs. Harry Darlington, Jr.; Mrs. James M. Schoonmaker, Jr.; Mrs. John Burgwin; Mrs. Henry Broch; Mrs. James B. Drew; Mrs. Harry C. Bughman, Jr.; Miss Elizabeth Arbuthnot; Mrs. John F. Walton, Jr.; Mrs. Thomas A. Robinson; and Mrs. George Andrew Benney, Jr. had a vision of what effect a Junior League could have in Pittsburgh.
In eight years, they saw their membership increase by 260 members. They gave their community a place for troubled girls to live temporarily and a place for mothers and their children to learn how to grow up to be healthy and strong. They gave their community a place to buy good quality secondhand clothing and housewares. They gave the children of Pittsburgh marionette shows and plays of their own. Most importantly, they gave Pittsburgh a group of women committed to making a difference in their community.