History of AJLI

Our Heritage: A History of the Association of Junior Leagues International
Mary Harriman, daughter of Union Pacific Railroad titan and financier E. H. Harriman, was just a nineteen-year-old Barnard College student in New York City in 1901, but this debutante had much more on her mind than “coming out” teas and dances.

It was a time of great social change in New York as thousands of immigrants arrived each day at Ellis Island, coming to America to find work in the often unsafe and spirit-crushing conditions of Industrial Revolution factories and sweatshops. These new Americans were arriving so quickly and in numbers so great that tenement housing in immigrant neighbourhoods was crowded far beyond capacity.

Moved by the suffering she saw around her, Harriman mobilised a group of 80 young women to found the Junior League. They worked to improve the squalid conditions in which immigrants were living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Harriman felt that the debutantes had the opportunity and the responsibility of making an important contribution to the New York City community.

Her 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 continuity and professional support, guidance and leadership development opportunities to the Leagues. The League has grown from 80 young society women in 1901 to over 200,000 women in 296 Junior Leagues in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the United Kingdom who serve their communities for often 10 to 20 years.

AJLI is a 501(c)(3) not-for profit organisation. All of its programmes and activities are supported by League membership dues, foundation and corporate grants and other revenue-producing efforts.

For more information on the AJLI, please visit the AJLI website.