The Junior League of Buffalo is an organization of women volunteers at the forefront of positive community change in the Western New York area. Since its inception on June 5, 1919 at the home of Mrs. Grace Millard (Seymour H.) Knox and under the leadership of Mrs. Mary Crate (Nelson) Taylor, the fledgling group of sixty-seven women has grown into the dynamic organization that it is today, ever responding to the diverse nature of its members and the varied needs of the community which it serves.
Please view our Centennial video HERE.
Recognizing the need to provide Depression Era families with quality used clothing and goods, the League purchased a Thrift Shop for a $1.00 in January of 1921 from the Red Cross. The League also operated a food store on Allen Street, with meals prepared and served by members for the area residents. Proceeds from the Thrift Shop and variety shows resulted in donations to Children’s Hospital totaling $37,086. The largest single donation of the twenties, $15,241, was made specifically for a Dental Clinic Endorsement Fund at Children’s Hospital.
As the membership grew in numbers, so did the scope of our work. League members were called upon to provide transportation for visiting nurses assisting at the Children’s Hospital Dental Clinic. The Thrift Shop and the food store continued to operate on Allen Street. In 1938, Adam Meldrum & Anderson began over fifty years of underwriting the Junior League of Buffalo’s newsletter. Our volunteers brought theater to over 2,500 area schoolchildren with a production of Sleeping Beauty. Fund-raising efforts paid the salary of a visiting teacher for homebound children and supported a health clinic on Elk Street.
The Junior League’s focus broadened beyond the immediate needs of children and encompassed the arts as well. League Headquarters opened its doors as a gallery for local artists and proudly displayed a number of their works. The Junior League sponsored a Community Radio Institute lecture series, and in 1945, began a children’s series entitled “Books Bring Adventure” on WEBR radio. In 1949, the doors of the Cerebral Palsy Young Adult Center were opened. The center, one of the first in the country, was established with the help and dedicated efforts of League volunteers. Funding in the 1940s went to the purchase of war bonds, to the Red Cross Blood Bank, Children’s Hospital, and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.
With a continued focus on children, the League branched into educational entertainment with puppetry and the Children’s Theater. As in decades past, a great deal of time and resources went to the Children’s Hospital of Buffalo. Through League support, a snack bar was opened and funds raises went toward a new laboratory for the hospital’s Pediatric Cardiac Department. The League established the Council of Social Agencies in 1956 to act as a clearinghouse between clubs, service organizations, and other groups looking for ways of serving community health and welfare agencies. The League also sponsored philharmonic concerts for Buffalo high school students.
“The Follies”, musical reviews performed by the League members and their spouses, continued as an effective way to raise funds. While maintaining an interest in children and children’s health issues, the League’s work included projects in diverse areas. In 1962, after two years of planning and financial support, the “Street of 1870” exhibit opened at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society. In 1969, the Junior League of Buffalo celebrated its 50th Anniversary with a pledge of $50,000 to the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site Foundation. This gift spearheaded a drive to restore the Wilcox Mansion. At this time, the League was participating in seventeen cultural, educational, and charitable projects in Western New York. Members served as guides at the Historical Society, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and the Buffalo Museum of Science. The Junior League branched into media as researchers, producers, and writers for educational television programs such as “Talk of the Town”. Members also provided a vision-screening service for nursery school children, prepared large-print reading material for people with impaired vision, and worked with the Volunteer Service Bureau of Buffalo and the Children’s Aid Society.
Programs for women at the Erie County Correctional Facility were the focal point of a major criminal justice initiative. Concern for the environment and related issues prompted the Junior League to provide a grant of $8,500 to develop the Environmental Clearinghouse Organization. The League also co-sponsored the successful exhibit “Mirrors, Motors, and Motion” at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Funds were also directed to agencies serving children in crisis, namely Compass House and the Day Care Council of Erie County. The Thrift Shop continued to thrive in the 1970s and Haunted Houses also served as a fund raiser. The newly created Theater of Youth Company came to fruition with the assistance of the Junior League of Buffalo. The League began to take a nonpartisan political role by issuing position statements in areas of priority concerning children’s issues, health issues, arts preservation, and the environment. The first annual Ethnic Heritage Festival took place in the spring of 1979 and was located in the new Buffalo Convention Center.
The Junior League of Buffalo added the Haunted House to its many annual fundraisers during the 1970s in support of community enhancement projects.
Continuing its emphasis on women and children, the League developed and supported programs such as: The Domestic Violence Coalition, Effective Parenting Information for Children, Inc., Haven House, The Community Dispute Program, The Victim Witness Program, and the Juvenile Mediation Project.
The Junior League of Buffalo Decorators’ Show House, in partnership with The Buffalo News, began in 1981 with the transformation of the Larkin House into a showcase of local design talent. Proceeds from this event went to the Endowment for the Waterfront Performing Arts Series at LaSalle Park. The Show House event continued biannually throughout the decade, raising over $600,000 for contributions to various community projects. League members focused on a new area of interest – downtown revitalization. The 1983, 1985, 1987, and 1989 Show Houses funded the following projects respectively: Cybernetic Light Show in Lafayette Square; Central Referral Service, Inc.; restoration of the Buffalo Light House; and Tifft Nature Preserve Education Center.
Training, advocacy, and collaboration were also the focus of the 1980s. The League moved into its current headquarters at 45 Elmwood Avenue. Support for working women was recognized through a large grant to the Western New York Child Care Coalition for the Toy and Equipment Leaning Library. In addition, the Junior League, working in collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce, developed Leadership Buffalo – a comprehensive training program for leaders in the Western New York area.
Faced with a growing crisis of substance abuse, our League designed and developed Co-Care, a drop-in child care facility of alcoholic parents. This nationally recognized pilot housed at Buffalo General Hospital, directly responded to the needs of families in our community. “Buffalo Beckons”, an access guide for the disabled, was created by League members for the community. In this decade, the Junior League also introduced its LEAF (Learning, Empowerment and Families) initiative to address the needs of economically and educationally at-risk families. A myriad of programs were designed to combat illiteracy and empower women to become self-sufficient, contributing members of society. The launch of Do It in a Day provided hundreds of hours of community service to area non-profit groups.
After seventy years in existence, the Junior League Thrift Shop continued to play a vital role in the downtown community as well as to provide major funds for League sponsored projects. In 1997, the League published Great Lake Effects: Buffalo Beyond Winter and Wings, a cookbook with illustrations by Margaret M. Martin, AWS to generate additional funding for community projects. Over 24,000 cookbooks were sold. The continued success of the Decorators’ Show House raised almost $900,000 over this decade with proceeds benefitting the Buffalo Zoo; Hospice Educational Center; continuation of the Waterfront Concert Series; Kleinhans Music Hall kitchen restoration; Every Person Influences Children; Compass House; the Theatre of Youth; and additional community projects.
Continuing to focus on families at-risk, our League developed Families United, a program designed to decrease the incidence of substance abuse and HIV/AIDS infection affecting teen moms and their families. The Junior League partnered with Child and Family Services to support a family violence intervention program. A collaboration with the Food Bank of Western New York resulted in the launch of the Kid’s Cafe project, an afterschool program that provided hot nutritious meals or snacks for children at risk. The Junior League also provided financial and volunteer support to the Literacy Volunteers of Buffalo and Erie County from 2007-2010; over 30 League members were trained as tutors. Our League proudly hosted the Great Lakes Regional Conference for Junior Leagues in collaboration with the Association of Junior Leagues International and we helped establish the Somali Bantyu Youth Council.
Proceeds raised from the Decorators’ Show Houses continued to be League’s largest fundraiser generating almost $1.5 million over this decade. The 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2009 Show Houses funded the following projects respectively: Buffalo Museum of Science Hall of Astronomy; Child and Family Services Haven House; the Darwin Martin Restoration Corporation; and Gerard Place for Single Parent, Homeless Families. Despite surviving a name change and relocation to Elmwood Avenue in 2001, the Junior League Thrift Shop closed its doors for good in 2006 due to declining sales, ending an eighty-five year Western New York tradition.
Continuing its emphasis on women and children, the League developed the LifeCoach mentorship program for single mothers at high risk of poverty in partnership with the Northwest Community Center. A collaboration with the St. Monica’s Nativity Miguel Middle School for Girls resulted in afterschool programming for students in grades 5-8. The Junior League also contributed to advancements in children’s health with their support of Kids in the Kitchen nutrition program and improvements to community spaces with the introduction of Transforming Spaces, a beautification program.
Proceeds in excess of $1 million raised from the Decorators’ Show House over this decade benefitted Jericho Road Community Health Center; the Massachusetts Avenue Project; Torn Space Theatre; and Westminster Economic Development Initiative.. The Junior League also added Casino Night and a Kentucky Derby Party to its many annual fundraisers during the 2010s in support of community enhancement projects.