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85 Years Strong

Junior League still serving women, community

What do you get when you combine 1,700 businesswomen, unprecedented fundraising skills, more than $4 million contributed to Tampa’s in need communities and more than 10 community projects each year — the Junior League of Tampa.

Founded in 1901, the original Junior League chapter’s goal was “to improve child health, nutrition and literacy among immigrants” arriving in the United States. Since then, the mission statement for the international organization has grown, along with its membership numbers, to include promoting volunteerism, developing the potential of women and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Our local Junior League chapter, celebrating its 85th anniversary this year, is no exception.

Started in 1926 by 22 South Tampa women, the Junior Service League of Tampa was formed in hopes of someday becoming a sanctioned Junior League chapter. That first year, members decided to focus on The Pine Health Preventorium, which provided support for undernourished children and those affected by tuberculosis in Tampa. Although they had the support of the Hillsborough County Public Health Administration, funds were needed to continue other local projects.

Establishing a way to raise money became a priority. Initially, league members had to pay $10 in annual membership dues and were charged 25 cents if they arrived late to a meeting. Other fundraising efforts included the creation of a newspaper. The idea behind The Times was to allow members to share resources with the local community and stir interest among potential members. Once printed, members would sell the paper for whatever they could. After the first publication sales were tallied, the net profit was $2,753.07, an extraordinary figure for the time.

Following the success of The Times and other projects, the Junior Service League was visited by three officials from the Associations of Junior Leagues of America, which later granted the league membership into the AJLA on March 1, 1928.

As the roaring ’20s came to a screeching halt with the onset of the Great Depression, the newly minted Junior League of Tampa had to change its approach to fundraising and helping the community. Having been called upon by the County Unemployment Council, the Junior League created the Salvage Shop in the early ’30s to create sewing jobs for women. The profits, if any, were used to fund the Pine Health Preventorium until it closed in 1938.

With World War II looming, all fundraising ceased for seven years so that any funds and services could be donated to the war effort. At the same time, members continued to support local community children who were affected by the war.

With young men arriving home, the United States and the Junior League of Tampa saw exponential growth. The end of the ’40s saw the reinstatement of the Junior League’s magazine The Sandspur. The league also was starting to draw second-generation members. With the membership numbers growing quickly, the first official headquarters was established in 1958 with a generous lease agreement from the city of Tampa.

Throughout the ’60s, the Junior League continued to grow and expand its fundraising efforts, many of which are still in place today. One, The Gasparilla Cookbook, remains the single biggest fundraiser in Junior League of Tampa history.

During the ’70s, the group was evolving. “The best way to get the most out of the league is to get involved,” said Joanne Frazier, who was president of the group from 1975-1976. “The league can be a building block of skills to learn for the rest of our lives.” Frazier oversaw the creation of a management seminar called “Community Leadership Training” with the goal of training women to be leaders in our community through business, civics and volunteerism.

Continuing to evolve in the ’80s and ’90s, the working woman became a large membership block in the league. The league saw many stay-at-home moms become working moms, and not by necessity. “I learned what my management skills are which gave me the confidence to start my own business,” said Christina Boe. This must have been the underlying goal of the original 22 members. To teach women to stand independently, teach others, and better our community through achieving personal goals.

Certainly the founding members of the Junior League of Tampa envisioned a community bettered by women of all races and creeds, but did they expect that their chapter would now be one of the largest of the 292 leagues throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and Great Britain with more than 1,700 members?

I joined the Junior League of Tampa in 2008 and have made great friends and contacts through the organization. The idea that women can do anything is completely true once you’ve joined the league. It’s a great way to better yourself while helping those in need here in Tampa.

Thank you to the Junior League of Tampa for providing a place where moms, businesswomen, teachers and daughters can make a positive impact on the community.

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