Our History

About Junior League

The Junior League movement began in New York City in 1901, with Mary Harriman, a 19-year-old debutante with a social conscience. She, along with 85 other young women, worked in settlement houses on the Lower East Side to improve children’s health, nutrition and literacy. The name Junior League stems from the fact that this founding group was comprised of young women who 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.

Today, there are 294 Leagues with a combined membership of more than 171,000 women serving communities in Canada, Great Britain, Mexico and the United States.

Our story

In the early 1920s, a group of young Edmonton women formed the Junior Duke of York Chapter of the Imperial Order of Daughters of the Empire (IODE). Mrs. Duncan Smith was regent, and under her direction these young women (under 21 years of age) made donations to needy children in other countries.

As time passed, a few of these young women became disenchanted with sending their charity dollars out of their own city and country. They decided that their money would be better spent in Edmonton.

The young women approached Mrs. Smith with their idea. Mrs. Smith, a devoted “Duke of Yorker,” wept and cried and gave these brazen young women a definite “No, impossible!”

The women, however, were firm in their new conviction and presented the issue at their next meeting. As a result, the group broke up, with four members remaining with the Duke of York and five members determined to form a new group.

The Junior Hospital League (JHL) of Edmonton was born in 1929. The five founding members of the JHL were:

Mrs. A. C. Emery
Mrs. F. W. Barclay
Mrs. F. R. K. Naftel
Mrs. A. C. Downs
Mrs. T. M. Melling

The group grew to 20 members strong. They chose Mrs. Allison (Richard) Procter, a prominent Edmonton citizen, as their honorary president and elected Mrs. Emery as their first president. They chose, as their first community project, “to assist with the care of crippled children in the Orthopedic Ward of the University Hospital.” That ward was known as the Provincial Special Unit, or PSU.

The JHL bought clothes and orthopedic shoes for their small charges, many of whom were from poverty-stricken homes. It also organized children’s birthday parties and made sure that no one was forgotten by Santa Claus at Christmas.

In 1932, the JHL united with the Duke of York Chapter of the IODE, with both Mrs. Procter and Mrs. Smith as honorary presidents. They pursued their work with the children of the PSU with new vigor and hired a school teacher to work three days a week with the children in the hospital.

The year 1933 brought a big disappointment. The women had applied for membership in the Junior Leagues of America (JLA). They put forth a tremendous effort, wining and dining the JLA representative, Margaret Konantz, when she came to visit. They held a dinner meeting at the Macdonald Hotel, and Mrs. Emery hosted a party in Mrs. Konantz’ honor. All came to naught when the JLA wrote back to say that, while the PSU was a most worthy project, Edmonton did not have sufficient facilities for broad community service. The JHL had been turned down.

Not to be daunted, the JHL went on that year to launch an ambitious project—raising funds to build the first therapeutic pool in western Canada (and only the second in all of Canada). It was completed at the University Hospital in 1934. While the estimated cost was $800, the final cost was $1,400—a small fortune during the Depression. The additional funds were found, though, in the pockets of JHL members themselves.

In the years that followed, the JHL grew. It was considered an honor to be invited to join. The war years brought many new members, all with vigour and new ideas.

In 1953, the JHL reapplied to the Association of Junior Leagues of America (AJLA) rather than accept an invitation to amalgamate with the Maycourt Club. While the JHL was turned down once again in 1954 due to a moratorium on AJLA membership, it was granted the first of four inspections in 1957 and became an official member of the AJLA in September 1959. The membership of the new Junior League of Edmonton (JLE) consisted of 93 active members and 128 sustaining members, with dues of $25 per year.

The years between 1958 and 1963 were ones of intense activity as Edmonton continued its phenomenal growth. By 1958, Edmonton had become the sixth largest city in Canada, and within five years, its population would increase to 350,000.

With the growth of the city came the growth of special needs in the community which were met by the JLE. In 1959, after 30 years’ involvement with the University Hospital and its orthopedic ward, the JLE decided to discontinue payment of the teacher’s salary and turn it over to the Alberta government.

The JLE has raised more than $1 million for more than 50 community projects and grants, turning the projects over to community or government agencies after they have proven their viability in the community. The tradition of community service set in place by members of the JHL continues to inspire members of the JLE as they pursue their work today.