JLP History


The first Junior League was founded in New York City by a group of young women resolved to accept a greater responsibility for the quality of life problems suffered by those around them.


Founded in 1912, the Junior League of Philadelphia, Inc. (JLP) initially established settlement houses to improve the quality of life in the inner city neighborhood. After 1915, JLP volunteers provided direct services to war sufferers.


The Junior League offered training to prepare women to vote in 1920. In 1921, thirty league chapters then in existance formed the Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc. Early in the decade, the JLP focused its efforts to working with the blind. In 1924, the JLP became the guardian of Sweetbriar Mansion in Fairmount Park after spending four years raising restoration funds. In 1929, the JLP shifted its focus to Children’s Heart Hospital, which remained its main project until 1938.


In the early 1930s, the JLP was very involved in unemployment relief work. In 1935, JLP volunteers presented children’s theatre within the Philadelphia schools and in 1939 adopted the Wildey Street Playhouse, the forerunner of the Kensington Children’s Center.


During WWII, the JLP played an advisory role in the Civilian Defense Office and in organizing volunteer services of the University Hospital. Committee work involved specialized volunteer work in three hospitals and raising funds to purchase a hospital plane and penicillin. In 1945, the JLP opened the Children’s Outgrown Shop.


Proceeds from the first Junior League Follies went to support a new project at Children’s Hospital. Projects included Lankenau Health Museum, International Doctors’ Program, the Health Museum at the Academy of Natural Sciences and “Wheel for Welfare,” which was incorporated in the early 1960s.


In 1965, the JLP began its long occupation of the Free Quaker Meeting House in Philadelphia, an occupation it continued until 1997. Adopted projects included teaching English to foreign-born women and a Development Center for Severely Disabled Children.


The JLP selected four areas of interest: Arts, Direct Community Service, Environment and Social Action. The Waterworks restoration at Fairmount Park and creation of Family Support Center were two of many projects during this decade. The Outgrown Shop was closed and the JLP Thrift Shop was opened in Bryn Mawr. Child Welfare advocacy and participation in bicentennial activities marked end of the decade priorities.


Teen pregnancy became a focus area in the early 1980s. Committees were involved in projects at Booth Maternity Center, Please Touch Museum and Women’s Way. JLP involvement with Fairmount Park continued with the renovation of Belmont and Thomas Mansion. In 1985, the JLP received the Governor’s Keynote Award for Excellence in recognition for the JLP’s effective training, utilization and promotion of volunteers. In the late 1980s, the JLP adopted its second focus area, Women and Children in Crisis, and published an award-winning cookbook.


Since 1990, the JLP set several record years for dollars put back into the community. In 1991, the Fairmount Park Commission awarded its 3rd Annual Public Service Award to the JLP. Done-in-a-day projects became a new way to provide large numbers of volunteers for single-day community service effort. By 1996, all JLP projects supported the League’s focus area of Women and Children at Risk. In 1999, JLP members approved an alliance with Philadelphia Health Management Corporation and a plan to develop a “signature project” from this alliance.


The Signature Project, dubbed Working Wonders Off Welfare (WWOW), was a success, aiding in the transition of many women and children off welfare. 2003 brought many changes, including a new focus on literacy and the purchase of a building in Ardmore for the Junior League Thrift Shop. In 2004, The Fairmount Park Historical Commission bestowed its highest recognition of any non-profit organization upon the JLP for the League’s work in the preservation of various park treasures. In 2008, the JLP launched Project GREEN: Using Nature to Nurture, designed to encourage children and their families to be better stewards of their health and their environment by reconnecting with nature.


In 2012, League membership adopted healthy living as our advocacy issue and launched the Apple a Day Health Living Initiative™. Apple a Day™ is a comprehensive, multi-tiered community initiative with the goal of creating a positive impact on the health and wellness of adults and children in the Greater Philadelphia area. Programs focus on the the cultivation and distribution of fresh produce to those in need as well as the education and empowerment of community members to become advocates for their own health. The JLP celebrated its 100th anniversary and formally launched Apple a Day™ at its Centennial Gala celebration at the Please Touch Museum on April 14, 2012.


For the first time in its 100-year history, the League created the Capital Campaign Committee and commenced the silent phase of a historic fundraiser, the Capital Campaign for Building Community in an effort to raise $1.2 to bolster our community impact by (1) creating and implementing valuable, innovative, and unique issue-based programming; 2) funding capital improvements necessary to create a state-of-the-art headquarters building that supports our membership and mission; and (3) showcasing our service to the community through the development and implementation of a public relations plan.

The Board of Directors committed to increasing direct spending on our Apple a Day™ community programs in addition to performing traditional volunteer service. The JLP was instrumental in the conception and establishment of the Farm Explorer mobile educational garden program with Apple a Day community partner, Greener Partners. The League also earmarked $16,000 for Greener Partners to increase fresh produce production, and gifted an additional $5,500 to support community supported agriculture shares for 32 low-income families over a period of 26 weeks. Moreover, the JLP fulfilled a promise to sponsor two community gardens in North and West Philadelphia in partnership with the Philadelphia Orchard Project at a total cost of $11,000. In April 2013, we hosted our inaugural Empowering You Health Fair in partnership with Lankenau Medical Center in Wynnewood.


The 2013-2014 year marked the first year of full implementation of our Apple a Day Healthy Living Initiative™, including the addition of the SHARE Food Program as a new community partner and three League-wide days of service. The League donated $2,000 to SHARE for a food washing station as a part of their Urban Agriculture Program. The JLP also contributed $10,000 to Greener Partners to support the Farm Explorer™ educational garden as their premier non-profit sponsor and $5,500 to underwrite their Community Supported Share Program for a second year and feed 32 low-income families over a period of 26 weeks.

The successful Capital Campaign for Building Community, which had raised $1.22 million to date, entered its public campaign phase in January 2014 and closed fundraising on May 31, 2014 after raising a historic $1.4 million completely from membership contributions – surpassing our original goal by $200,000. During that time, the Board prepared for the headquarters renovation by drafting a project budget, hiring professional construction counsel, commissioning construction documents, arranging for financing, and establishing an endowment to maintain the building post-renovation. Separate from the headquarters renovation, the rear facade project was completed in 2013, which included strengthening the rear wall of the headquarters building, repointing and painting the brick, and adding an awning for the rear thrift shop entrance.

The League donated our archives from 1912 to 2009 to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania for safekeeping in 2013 and celebrated the thrift shop’s 10th anniversary in its current Ardmore location in 2014.


In June 2015, the JLP proudly hosted the grand re-opening of our Ardmore headquarters after the completion of a major $1M renovation of the top two floors. Funds for this renovation came from the historic Capital Campaign for Building Community, and, for the first time since we purchased the building in 2003, the building was fully functional for all member and staff needs. The Headquarters Renovation Committee, which was formed in Fall 2014, worked closely with the professional construction and project management teams to transform our headquarters into a vibrant hub of both service and camaraderie where the membership could effectively make lasting change in Philadelphia.