As the Junior League of New Orleans approaches its 100th anniversary, it seems appropriate to look back at the League’s early days to get a glimpse of what membership entailed during its infancy. With the help of Sarah-Elizabeth Gundlach Lambousy, JLNO sustaining member and curator of Maps & Manuscripts at the Louisiana Historical Center, I discovered that being a member of JLNO in the 1930s involved more than service. Although voluntarism and community improvement have always been the main purposes of the League, the JLNO of the 1930s was very much about showcasing its young members and entertaining the community.
In the spring of 1930, JLNO members spent the quiet weeks of Lent in long hours of rehearsal for the fifth annual Junior League Revue. The Revue was a variety show presented by JLNO displaying the talent of its members while raising funds for its causes. The proceeds from the 1930 revue went to the New Orleans Nutrition Center and two fellowships at Touro Infirmary which were maintained by the League. According to a public service ad displayed in street cars, the Revue was touted as “a song and dance act which will glorify the New Orleans girl.”
For three weeks in March, the New Orleans Country Club was overtaken by the ladies of the League as they tirelessly rehearsed their dance routines for the upcoming Revue. The performers would arrive mid-morning, break for a few hours in the afternoon, and return for additional practice at night. One hundred fifty of JLNO’s talented young women appeared in the two-hour performance, which ran for four nights in early April at the Tulane Theater.
A highlight of the 1930 show was an act titled “Bathing” featuring Leaguers clad in pink velvet bathing suits. With the help of some revolutionary mechanical effects, these bathing beauties appeared to be swimming on stage. Another audience favorite was a fashion show sponsored by Kreeger’s Store spotlighting the latest spring fashions. An article published in The Times-Picayune the morning after opening night declared: “The Junior League Revue burst most pleasantly upon Orleanians…with a display of talent which gratified an audience in a mood to be amused”.
By 1936, the Revue had become so popular that when the box office opened on the morning of November 17, patrons lined up at 6:00 a.m. and waited in line for two hours to purchase their tickets. By then, it had moved from the spring to the fall and was performed at the Jerusalem Temple. Proceeds from the 1936 Revue also benefited the Nutrition Center, which had since been renamed the Community Center.
The Junior League Revues of the 1930s were significant undertakings. Along with the grueling rehearsals, there was a lot of time and energy involved in publicizing the events, securing the venues, and selling the tickets. The early members of JLNO set a high standard for what a dedicated group of women can accomplish in service of others.