Our History

Founder of the first Junior League, Mary Harriman

In 1901, Mary Harriman, a 19-year-old New York City debutante with a social conscience, founded the first Junior League. Moved by the suffering she saw around her, Harriman mobilized a group of 80 other young women – hence the name “Junior” League – to work to improve the squalid conditions in which immigrants were living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Mary Harriman’s 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 professional support to the Leagues. Today, the Association of Junior Leagues International governs 296 Junior Leagues in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Great Britain.

The Junior League of Austin was admitted to the Association on February 9, 1934. At the time of acceptance, The Junior League of Austin had 50 active members.

Throughout its history, The Junior League of Austin has demonstrated its commitment to volunteerism and community service through its projects. League members volunteer in all funded projects as well as in other community placements each year.

The Junior League of Austin’s oldest fundraiser and community service program was the Resale Shop. The Resale Shop sold gently worn clothing, accessories, toys, house wares, appliances, and home furnishings. It began as The Thrift Shop in 1914 at a location on 9th and Red River. Due to the construction of IH-35, the League needed to find a new location. In 1969, A Thrift Shop Relocation Committee was appointed to study a possible new location for the Thrift Shop. The perfect building was found at 522 East Sixth Street and was purchased in December of 1970.

For almost 20 years, the Thrift Shop was located in the renovated building on East Sixth Street. Due to space restraints of the store, the 1996 Junior League of Austin Board of Directors approved a recommendation from an ad hoc committee to move to 6555 Burnet Road.  The JLA Resale Shop closed it doors in May 2009.

In 1976, The Junior League of Austin undertook a new direction in fundraising, A Christmas Affair, a four-day holiday shopping market that brought together the finest in holiday gifts, decorations and celebration. In recent years, A Christmas Affair has raised roughly $1,000,000 a year to be given to the community through the League’s projects and programs.

Also in 1976, the League’s first cookbook, The Collection, was published featuring favorite recipes from The Junior League of Austin membership, with an initial printing of 10,000 copies. Selling out in the first year, it was reprinted in 1977 and profits from sales of the second year completely financed the second run of 15,000 copies. In 1981 and 1982, The Collection was reviewed in Harper’s,Reader’s Digest and several out of state newspapers.

In 1987, The Junior League of Austin celebrated the release of Necessities and Temptations. Touted as one of the best reference cookbooks on the market, it serves as an invaluable kitchen resource and reference guide for beginner cooks and is a favorite of brides to be. In 2001, Necessities and Temptations entered its eleventh printing, winning the McIlhenny Tabasco Community Cookbook Award for selling over 100,000 copies and was inducted into the Tabasco Hall of Fame as a best seller.

In November 2000, The Junior League of Austin introduced its third cookbook, Austin Entertains. Named “The Official Cookbook of the City of Austin,” Austin Entertains features a plethora of delectable recipes and is conveniently menu driven to accommodate in-home entertaining.

In 1983, The Junior League of Austin purchased The Square on Parkcrest Shopping Center at 5416 Parkcrest. This retail-oriented center houses the League’s headquarters as well as wide range of tenants. Net revenues from The Square help support the League’s operations.

Over the years, The Junior League of Austin has contributed millions of dollars to programs and agencies that benefit the Austin community. Click here to see a list of the League’s current projects and programs.