01 Jun About Us – 100th Anniversary
Centennial Anniversary Celebration!
You can make your pledge to the JLRI Centennial Anniversary Campaign online now.
Junior League Service In Action
⚓ With more than 16,000 past and present members, The Junior League of Rhode Island, Inc. (JLRI) has been a volunteer powerhouse in the State of Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts since 1921.
⚓ JLRI is a proven training ground for women to become community and civic leaders – learning how to effectively manage a non-profit organization, fundraise and develop meaningful community service programs.
⚓ Over the past 97 years, 250+ nonprofit organizations have benefited from collaboration with The Junior League of Rhode Island.
⚓ JLRI members have contributed more than 1 million hours of volunteer service and over 1.5 million in fundraising dollars. These volunteer hours and dollars have a combined present- day value of $25 million in direct services to women, children, and families in difficult circumstances.
The Junior League of Providence, Inc. (JLP) was founded on June 9, 1921. Much like Mary Harriman who founded the Junior League movement in 1901, the Junior League of Providence was started by a young, newly married Vera Metcalf and 18 of her societal friends, all who shared a passion to improve their community at large.
100 Years of Community Service
⚓ 1920s: Junior League of Providence is founded
The first meeting of the Junior League of Providence (JLP) was held on June 9, 1921, at the home of Mrs. Houghton P. Metcalf. The ten pioneer charter members, with Mrs. Metcalf as President, met fifteen times in their first year and officially became recognized by the Association of Junior Leagues of America at their second meeting. JLP members based their by-laws on the Boston League and by their second year, they had five working committees: The District Nurses, Settlement House, Hospital, Girl Scouts and Motor Corps. Their first fundraising entertainment efforts included a revue titled “En Casserole”, performed by League members at the Hotel Biltmore in February 1923. In the first few years, the League also put on many children’s theater productions and donated much time, money and effort into helping needy women find work through the Irrepressible Society. The JLP began their service with a strong focus on children, working with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, helping to create and enforce child labor laws. The Junior League also opened the Volunteer Bureau.
⚓ 1930s: The Rise of the Children’s Theatre
In the early 1930s, the Junior League provided aid to the Bureau for the Handicapped, the Emergency Unemployment Committee, the Emergency Relief Fund and the Emergency Health Fund. A guidebook on the State of Rhode Island was compiled. In 1934, the Junior League shop was closed and they helped open the Neighborhood Center.
During this time, the Junior League expanded its focus on the arts and children’s theatre by holding a Concert for Young People and the Glee Club was formed. The JLP’s Children’s Play Committee performed in four junior high schools around the state. JLP conducted an Arts Exhibit, aid was given to establish the Young People’s Theater and in 1939, the Children’s Civic Theater was founded. In addition, the JLP founded the Volunteer Bureau which would later become Serve RI.
As the Junior League of Providence continued to grow, it found major success in its Children’s Theatre. Everything connected to these performances was completed by League members – from acting, to the designing of scenery and costumes and composing original scripts! Performances were given in the Children’s Wards of local hospitals, Children’s Homes, Day Nurseries, the Federal Hill House and the Nickerson Settlement House.
Many plays were performed at schools as well, including Rackety Packetty House, Alice in Wonderland (which featured, to the delight of the children, a small, while live pig), Cinderella and The Little Princess, which included trained live rats given to the lucky winners of a coloring contest! The Children’s Theatre Committee was extremely active during this decade, so much so that they also sponsored a live professional, marionette show. League members seemed to have loved including surprises in their plays, as their performance of Sleeping Beauty did not include any live animals but a crying baby!
⚓ 1940s: The Biltmore Officer’s Club
The League opened an Officer’s Club for Naval Officers stationed in Rhode Island during World War II. League members served as hostesses and helped provide entertainment such as a piano, radio, games and books. The opening of the club on May 21, 1942, was a gala affair attended by the Governor and Commanders stationed in the area. The Club was a tremendous success and served well over 2,000 officers of all service branches stationed in Rhode Island. Barbara Gwynne, President of the League in 1941, remembers:
“While I was in the Junior League, there were lots of training camps around Rhode Island for the military, and there were lots of places for the enlisted men to go to meet people. People were very friendly to the solders Yet there was no social place for the officers to go who were here in Newport and Quonset for training. So, we went to The Biltmore Hotel, and they agreed to give us a room that we could use as an Officer’s Club. It ended up running throughout the whole war. All of these people from Quonset, Newport, Davisville, and all of the rest of the military people around here came in to this O-Club. There were lots of Royal Air Force boys who were here flying Lockheed. Also, there were Royal Navy and Royal New Zealand Navy boys who came up. The O-Club was a big success.”
Most notably in 1943, the Junior League moved to its current headquarters at 21 Meeting St in Providence. This 1772 colonial building was known as “Shakespeare’s Head”, and was used as a print shop and post office by John Carter, who apprenticed under Benjamin Franklin. It was here that John Carter published the city’s first newspaper called “The Providence Gazette”. The building and 1939 Colonial Revival Gardens are free and open to the public and managed by The Providence Preservation Society.
In addition, The Junior League helped open the Volunteer Office of the Providence Civil Defense Council. The League researched and advocated for the enactment of the Juvenile Court Law. In 1945, the Smith Hill Girl’s Club was founded. By the late 1940s, the Junior League initiated the “Books Bring Adventure” series and supported the Community Service Salvage Shop, Girl’s City Club, Consumer League, and Camp Chepachet.
⚓ 1950s: Lying In Hospital Gift Shop
Beginning in 1951, the Junior League of Providence opened a gift store at the Providence Lying in Hospital, exclusively a maternity hospital, where women could safely deliver their babies. League members staffed the shop all week and event pushed a cart around the hospital. The shop sold a variety of items such as toys, baby clothes, Kleenex, and cigarettes. Fifty percent of the profits went to the hospital. In 1957, the League turned the shop over to the Board of Lady Visitors. After moving locations, expanding and modernizing over the last sixty years, the hospital is widely known today as the Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island.
Also during the 1950s, the League made a television show on the need for volunteers in the community and organized the Mental Health Project. In 1956, the JLP celebrated 25 years of community service!
⚓ 1960s: The Museum Forum at RISD
In 1961, the Community Arts Committee of the Junior League of Providence partners with the Rhode Island School of Design to create a Museum Forum. Over the next five years, they helped research, plan and create permanent exhibits on the Ancient, Near Eastern, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Medieval Civilizations. The exhibits created primarily for students, included maps, casts, models, photographs, diagrams, as well as original works of art from the Museum’s collection. In its first two weeks, twenty-five classes visited the Forum and approximately 1,350 students viewed the exhibits in its first month.
Junior League donations helped fund equipment and materials for the projects, and League members also helped created supplemental after-school educational programs for children, such as the Junior Curator Club for High School students. Through the creation of a comprehensive docent training program, many members of the JLP also donated their time helping with research and cataloguing, as well as serving as museum guides.
During the 1960s, The Junior League established the Juvenile Court Resource Unit and initiated a number of community projects such as the Education of Emotionally Disturbed Children, the Library Project, the Zoo Project, and the Group Living In Project. In 1968, the Junior League of Providence, together with Pembroke College, and the United Fund’s Women’s Council, sponsored a “Volunteer Voices” symposium where there was “a unanimous show of about 400 hands in favor of a proposal…to establish a central city-state volunteer bureau” for Rhode Island. In 1969, Volunteers in Action (original name) was established as a division of the Council for Community Services Funding, which included the Junior League of Providence.
⚓ 1970s: Establishment of a Rhode Island Volunteer Bureau
Since that time, the Volunteer Center idea that was germinated by the Junior League had grown. In 1997, its name changed to the Volunteer Center of Rhode Island, an acknowledgment to its statewide reach and in 2009, it merged with Serve Rhode Island: the RI Commission for National and Community Service (formerly called the RI Service Alliance).
Today, the organization is a thriving volunteer center and Hands On Network Action center working to promote volunteerism. It connects individuals with opportunities for effective community service. Its mission is to transform the lives of Rhode Islanders by increasing the number of people engaged in volunteer and service activities in their communities.
In 1971,The Junior League of Providence celebrated 50 years of service. Other 1970s highlights included the League co-sponsoring the World Affairs Council & Conference on China at Brown University as well as the National Figure Skating Championships. The Hope High School Tutorial and Day Care Programs were initiated. Lastly, the Junior League received the National Award for its work on foster placement.
⚓ 1980s: Restoration of the Betsy Williams Cottage
On October 10, 1982, the Betsy Williams Cottage, a Providence Landmark, was opened to the public after many months of strategic work and fundraising efforts by Junior League members. Built in 1773, the cottage and its surrounding one hundred acres of land was a gift to the City of Providence upon the death of Betsy Williams in 1871. Betsy was the great-great-great granddaughter of Roger Williams and her estate later became Roger Williams Park.
The cottage was first opened to the public in 1891, as a rest station for mothers and children, as well as a place to rent carriages. The cottage service this purpose until 1927. It was remodeled in 1928 and again in the late fifties, but the renovations lacked authenticity. With the help of architect Lombard Pozzi, the Junior League helped renovate and reopen this prized cottage. Many members also served as volunteers, giving tours to the public throughout the year.
During the 1980s, JLP sponsored a RI Legislative Workshop and collected 100,000 pounds of food for the RI hungry. The League also received recognition and an award from the Rhode Island State House regarding our work on alcohol awareness for women.
⚓ 1990s: The Ronald McDonald House of Providence
In 1991, The Junior League of Providence, was renamed the Junior League of Rhode Island, Inc. (JLRI), to emphasize its community work throughout the state. The League became a member of the community coalition which developed the Ronald McDonald House of Providence, as a “home away from home” for families of sick children. Still going strong today, the house provides a place for families to stay near their child who is hospitalized, while offering the support of other families in crisis.
Throughout the ‘90s, the League helped develop policies and procedures for the house, created an operations and volunteer manual, established a volunteer program which included the recruitment and training of volunteers, served as a leader on the Operations Committee, and donated $30,000 towards a family suite in the house. The house opened in November 1989 and over 250 families stayed in its rooms each year. Since then, The Junior League has continued to support the organization in other ways, from volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House Classic 5K Run, providing house supplies, gift baskets, and fleece blankets to serving family meals. The League has also conducted many board retreats and new member trainings at the Ronald McDonald House Board Room.
Most notably in 1996, the Junior League of Rhode Island published its award-winning cookbook Windows: A Tasteful Reflection of Historic Rhode Island, which was honored with the prestigious Regional Tabasco Award.
⚓ 2000s: Project Hope
The Junior League of Providence collaborated with St. Mary’s Home for Children through a four-year project called Project Hope (1999-2003). League members raised money through their annual Fashion Show and provided mentoring, tutoring, life skills classes, career counseling events and fun activities such as dinners, bowling, arts and crafts, holiday parties, ice-skating and a ropes course for the girls at the home. The League also re-built the kitchen at the St. Martha’s House, which was a part of the St. Mary’s campus. The league was recognized for its volunteer efforts in 2002 by both St. Mary’s and the Association of Fundraising Professionals where it was chosen as St. Mary’s Partner in Philanthropy.
On the advocacy front, JLRI advocated for a Breast & Cervical Cancer Treatment Bill, which was signed into law.
By the mid-2000s, the League started a new project with Crossroads RI, where members taught mini health, nutrition, and money management training classes, supported the mobile medical van, and donated $30,000 toward a new respite unit. Additionally, JLRI donated $10,000 to Planned Parenthood and the Sexual Assault Resource Center and awarded over $10,000 in community service grants to local agencies.
In 2007, as part of the League’s 85th anniversary celebration, JLRI honored 85 women and conducted over 90 Done-in-a-Day community service projects. In the following years, the League partnered with The Rhode Island Community Food Bank: Women Ending Hunger Campaign and Children’s Friend and Service: Supporting Literacy for Young Children where members collected over two tons of food, served over 7,000 meals, hundreds of books and clothing items. JLRI Received the Michelle Norris award by Children’s Friend for its volunteer service excellence. Lastly, the League kicked off its first Karla Harry Storyteller event.
⚓ 2010s: Fostering the Road to Independence
In the early 2010s, JLRI partnered with Project Autism where members provided visual aids, provided respite to parents, donated summer camp tuition for several children, and advocated on US Capitol Hill for Autism program support. JLRI provided babysitting services, donations, and respite to mothers at the Amos House Mother & Child Reunification Program. At the St. Mary’s Home for Children, members continued arts & craft nights, dinners, and holiday gift drives. JLRI sponsored several Touch-a-Truck and annual storyteller events. As a part of a national Junior League initiative to help combat childhood obesity, JLRI conducted many “Kids in the Kitchen” events and held a “Weighing in On Childhood Obesity” awareness forum.
For the past five years, JLRI has focused on youth aging out of foster care and partnered with Foster Forward and Boys Town New England. During this time, members provided Thanksgiving and holiday gift baskets, personal hygiene, diaper, and professional clothing drives. JLRI has supported Foster Forward’s annual Halloween and holiday distribution events. JLRI conducted several home makeovers to youth who have moved out into their own living spaces. Through a Fidelity Investments grant and in partnership with Junior Achievement, JLRI provided financial literacy training to Boys Town foster youth. Most recently in 2016, JLRI held a state-wide awareness forum on youth aging out of foster care at Rhode Island College.
JLRI’s Position Statement on Aging Out of Foster Care
The Junior League of Rhode Island, Inc. (JLRI) recognizes foster youth aging out of the foster care system face distinct challenges and seeks to positively affect their intellectual, economic, social, mental, physical and emotional well-being. The League will support efforts to ensure that these individuals have services and opportunities for educational attainment, employment, health care, housing and financial stability. Additionally, the JLRI is committed to advocating for the welfare of all foster children and to educating its membership and greater community on this broader issue. Read more on our community focus here.