When thinking of the mission and scope of The Association of Junior Leagues International (AJLI), we think of women coming together to celebrate sisterhood and to support the communities in which we live through voluntarism and advocacy. The Junior League of New Orleans (JLNO) celebrates a rich heritage of community engagement and voluntarism dating back to the 1920s. That commitment to service continues to this day as the women of the League support the members of their community through education.
Before it was known as the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), the imposing City Park structure was known as the Isaac Delgado Museum of Art (IDMA). JLNO is credited with not only having prepared and sponsored a vast variety of exhibits at IDMA but also soliciting and supporting the attendance of students from public, parochial and private schools through sponsored field trips. Students were introduced to works of magnificence such as the 1949 display of Marco Polo paying homage to his travels into Persia and beyond with authentic carpet weavings, clay tomb sculptures and other ceremonial pieces (Times-Picayune – April 4, 1949).
Inspired by a growing national interest in the rich history of Africa, JLNO sponsored “Spotlight on Africa” (1954), an exhibit celebrating the culture of African nations through displays of masks, figures and cooking utensils.
The League also supported the United Nations’ Declaration on Human Rights through the exhibit “United Nations” (1951). This displayed legal articles written by the United Nations General Assembly and adopted on December 10, 1948 in support of basic human rights, such as the freedom to seek asylum in any country, the affordment of all peoples regardless of race, nationality or religion and “equal rights as to marriage, during marriage, and its dissolution” (General Assembly resolution 217 A, Article 16).
The artistic education efforts of the League permeated into the performing arts through theater, presenting performances such as “Marco Polo” at the Municipal Auditorium for a meager fee of seventy-five cents.
Community participation was encouraged, and talent was displayed during various stage plays and marionette shows.
With a keen understanding of the importance of a healthy community, JLNO continued their community support efforts in the 1980s and 1990s through endeavors such as teaching parenting skills and an educational series on substance abuse, which was free and open to the public. Prompted by the proliferation of child abuse across the country, JLNO offered courses presenting information and strategies on topics such as nutrition, step-parenting and toddler development to parents of all ages.
Continuing its heritage of education through the arts, JLNO sponsored one of the most profound national and memorable educational efforts, entitled Kids on the Block (KOB), a puppet show created by schoolteachers to educate children about various disabilities, including physical impairments. Children across the country were captivated by one-to-one dialogue with puppets representing various disabilities. A founder of KOB was quoted saying, “They [the puppets] dress and act like real children. They are nearly life-size…and — like real children — some are handicapped, and some are not.”
Today, JLNO remains a pillar of support within the community through various independent efforts and partnerships. One such partner is Kingsley House, where the League lends its support through engagement, education and service to its board of directors.
CEO of Kingsley House, Keith Liederman, notes, “JLNO has been an incredible resource and partner to Kingsley House and to so many other vital nonprofits, public entities and corporations in our city, helping to change the fabric of our community and improve the wellbeing of all of its citizens.”
As the interest in partnering with the AJLI continues to broaden, we can expect increased partnerships and monumental service to the community. The Junior League is devoted to continuing its heritage of community support and engagement through education, arts and voluntarism for the next 95 years and beyond.