10 Decades of Community Leadership

As we celebrate our centennial, Junior League of Nashville President Jenny Barker takes us on a journey through the League’s history of community leadership and devotion to Nashville by highlighting a decade each month, starting with the 1920s to the present day. 

1920s | 1930s | 1940s | 1950s | 1960s
1970s | 1980s


1920s: New Freedoms and Responsibilities

Starting with the 1920s in July, I invite you to consider how JLN and the backdrop of women’s social history have evolved through our first century. What was happening in the world as Cornelia Keeble Ewing founded JLN in 1922?

The Roaring Twenties brought a new feeling of self-confidence and capability among women. Their public roles expanded during WWI and continued to strengthen after earning the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment.

A growing middle class enjoyed new conveniences such as Model Ts, refrigerators, and radios. Bobbed hair and shorter hemlines made popular by flappers shifted how women dressed, and flapper culture changed how women acted.

In a decade named for its carefree high spirits and sense of fun, the Junior League held great appeal by combining an opportunity to do admirable community work while fostering friendships.

As Dorothy Whitney Straight, the first president of the Association of Junior Leagues, said in 1922:

“In accepting membership in the Junior League, a woman steps forthwith into the wider citizenship of her city…It is only as we add our contributions of service that we can be rightly said to have won our final citizenship papers.”

As we look back on our history, I hope you will find inspiration in being part of a century-old movement that has had such a profound effect on modern life.

Jenny Barker
President, 2021-2022

Dig deeper into the 1920s:

Originally published in the July 6, 2021 Tuesday News


1930s: The Depression & Voluntarism

As we look back on the next decade of JLN’s history, you may find the uncertainty associated with 1930s feels strangely familiar.

When the stock market crashed on Oct. 29, 1929, triggering the Great Depression, President Hoover assured Americans it would be over in 60 days. By 1933, 15 million people were unemployed and nearly half the banks had failed. The Depression would last until 1939.

Meanwhile, a mysterious disease that paralyzed children wasn’t showing any signs of letting up. It would be 1955 before the polio vaccine was developed.

JLN members didn’t let the uncertainty bog them down and responded with unstoppable energy to address community needs. Let me share a few highlights:

      • On January 1, 1930, they convinced the Tennessee governor to attend the opening of their new, state-of-the-art Home for Crippled Children on five acres on White Avenue (near Franklin Road).
      • Members evolved the Palm Sunday Paper Sale (a fundraiser for the Home) by partnering with the Shriners of Al Menah Temple. With their help, League members were able to fan out across 41 counties selling the paper door-to-door and triple the revenue.
      • Members channeled their creativity into providing hope and education through exposure to the arts. Nashville Children’s Theatre, begun by JLN in 1931, remains the oldest established continuing children’s theatre in the United States. JLN introduced theatre to children who otherwise would have never seen live performances.

Junior League member Eleanor Roosevelt is known to have said, “A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.”

How true that is! No one knows when the COVID-19 pandemic will be over, but JLN members have what it takes to respond to the needs of Nashville with the same tenacity of those who came before us.

Jenny Barker
President, 2021-2022

Dig deeper into the 1930s:

Originally published in the August 3, 2021 Tuesday News


JLN in the 1940s: “We Can Do It!” 

JLN’s work through the 1940s brings to mind how wars have a way of shaping us. I had just moved to Nashville 20 years ago when the 9/11 attacks occurred, and I will never forget that day or how it changed the world as we knew it.

I can only imagine what JLN Member Cornelia Fort must have felt on December 7, 1941, as she witnessed the attacks on Pearl Harbor. She had been teaching a young man to fly over Honolulu when she spied the Japanese bomber.

Shortly after, she became one of the first members of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS). Sadly, at the age of 24, she became the first American woman in the war to die on active duty. (Cornelia Fort Airpark in East Nashville is named in her honor.) 

Amid the backdrop of WWII and the changes it brought, League members mobilized to not only support the war effort abroad but to continue to fight the war on polio. Here are a few of JLN’s milestones from the 1940s:

      • The 1941 Endowment Trust Fund is established from various bequests to support JLN’s Home for Crippled Children.
      • The 1942 Palm Sunday Paper Sale (a fundraiser for the Home) breaks an AJLI record for a single money-raising venture.
      • JLN sells over $792,000 in war bonds at a 1942 event at Belle Meade Theater.
      • JLN donates $500 toward establishing a community mental health organization
      • JLN celebrates its 25th anniversary in 1947 with a dinner and musical skit

The 1940s (like the events of 9/11) brought major changes to modern society, yet JLN members dug deep and rolled up their sleeves to improve lives. Then and now, WWII icon Rosie the Riveter’s “We Can Do It!” slogan still rings true. Together, we can make Nashville a better place.

Jenny Barker
President, 2021-2022

Dig deeper into the 1940s:

Originally published in the September 7, 2021 Tuesday News


1950s: Courageous Conversations

As we enter a new month and spotlight the 1950s as part of our Centennial year, I am struck once again by how Junior League of Nashville members mobilize ourselves to tackle community needs.

As WWII ended and women were sent home from their war-time jobs, a Baby Boom commenced, along with a boom in suburban living and a marked increase in women entering the job market to supplement the family income.

It was a period of societal shifts as the Cold War heated up and the Civil Rights Movement started to take shape. In response, the League shifted its focus to therapeutic needs for children and addressing mental health. For example:

      • 1952 – JLN partners with well-known puppet master Tom Tichenor to form Nashville’s first puppet troupe for children. Members make the puppets, write scripts and master the mechanics of puppet performance to help children work through challenges in their own lives. (Many of the puppets are still in use today at the Nashville Public Library via Wishing Chair Productions performances and The Puppet Truck.)
      • 1956 – Nashville’s first community mental health center (later named the Dede Wallace Center) is established at 2410 White Avenue, next to the Junior League Home for Crippled Children. JLN funds its construction and supports it with dollars and volunteers over the next 40 years. (Today it’s known as Centerstone, a not-for-profit health system providing mental health and substance use disorder treatments.)
      • 1959 – JLN coordinates the first Tennessee Conference on Handicapped Children sponsored by the Tennessee Pediatric Society and expands services at the Junior League Home to serve medically crippled as well as orthopedically crippled children.

Perhaps most pivotal during the 1950s were the courageous conversations League members were having around the right thing to do. Black children had access to outpatient clinics at the Junior League Home, but inpatient admissions were not yet allowed. This decade brought a bold re-examination of policies.

Progress was admittedly slow, yet the Junior League Home managed to integrate without a hitch long before leaders in Nashville’s public school system figured out how to do so.

While we still have work to do in advancing equity in our city, I am inspired by the bold women who came before us. May we continue to keep having courageous conversations and pushing forward to make Nashville stronger!

Jenny Barker
President, 2021-2022

Dig deeper into the 1950s:

Originally published in the October 5, 2021 Tuesday News


1960s: A Changing World

Our journey through the decades of JLN’s history in honor of our centennial brings us to the 1960s this month.

The Sixties were dominated by the Vietnam War and Cuban Missile Crisis and marked by civil rights and anti-war protests. JFK and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated, and our country put a man on the moon.

The music of the decade revolutionized many genres and brought new sounds, and the richness and diversity of music coming out of Nashville’s recording studios helped further cement our “Music City” moniker.

Using funds raised through sales of Nashville Seasons (its first cookbook), JLN advanced music and art education in public schools.

      • 1962 – The Junior League Home is accredited by the Joint Commission, and members vote to be represented on a board for a proposed future Children’s Hospital.
      • 1965 – JLN partners with the Nashville Symphony to record “The Beast With Five Heads,” by local composer Tupper Saussy, for public schools.
      • 1966 – JLN partners with Cheekwood to develop visual arts curricula for public school students and later creates a nature education series.
      • 1967  – JLN’s choral group produces “Video ’67”, a history of music for educational television.
      • 1968 –  JLN and the Nashville Chamber sponsor “This Younger Generation,” a seminar on youth crime and delinquency. Renowned puppeteer Tom Tichenor hosts a workshop for Junior League puppet makers and players.
      • 1969 – The Volunteer Placement Service (later The Volunteer Center, a United Way Agency) is formed in partnership with the Council of Community Services. Today it’s known as Hands On Nashville.

I hope you’ll listen to a 1960s playlist today and dwell on the power of women coming together to strengthen communities. We are part of something truly special as members of the League.

Jenny Barker
President, 2021-2022

Dig deeper into the 1960s: 

Originally published in the November 2, 2021 Tuesday News


1970s: Reshaping Voluntarism

We are spotlighting a decade each month in honor of JLN’s Centennial, and December brings us to the 1970s—a time when the League once again retooled itself to meet the needs of its members and the community.

By the end of the 70s, about half of American women had careers, which meant less time and energy to devote to volunteering.

JLN found new ways to volunteer, and many projects in this decade were influenced by the US Bicentennial in 1976.

1970 – The Nashville Mental Health Center JLN helped establish is renamed in memory of member Dede Wallace. We now know this entity as Centerstone.

1971 – The Home for Crippled Children moves to Vanderbilt Hospital (now Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt), and JLN’s White Avenue facility becomes home to the Regional Intervention Program (RIP), which treats behavioral problems in very young children.

1972 – JLN celebrates its 50th anniversary. JLN and the Council of Jewish Women provide initial funding for the Nashville Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Center.

1973 – JLN’s Operation Earlybird for Metro Schools kindergartners provides developmental testing and therapy. League members partner with the Metro Historical Commission to create cultural heritage films for schools.

1974 – JLN donates $25,000 to the endowment fund for Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC).

1976 – JLN partners with the Council of Jewish Women to co-sponsor a free Bicentennial Arts Celebration and the Children in Crisis Conference, which brought support of Family and Children’s Services and a residence for teen girls run by the YWCA. JLN also produced “Hill Country Sounds,” a history of country music featuring Minnie Pearl, for WDCN-TV (now known as NPT) and published a book on the history of Union Station with sales benefiting its preservation.

1977 – “Nashville Seasons Encore” (JLN’s second cookbook) sells 6,900 copies in four months.

1979 – “Ice Cream for Nashville,” a JLN variety show based on Nashville history, brings over 6,000 people downtown to the Tennessee Theater. JLN supports the new Nashville Institute for the Arts for its innovative approach to arts education. JLN Headquarters opens at 2202 Crestmoor Road.

Even through the backdrop of inflation, a recession and a gasoline crisis in the 1970s, JLN pressed on undeterred to make Nashville a better place while adapting to the changing needs of members. May we be inspired and energized in looking back to ignite JLN’s future as we consider how to best serve in the years to come.

Jenny Barker
President (2021-2022)

Dig deeper into the 1970s:

Originally published in the December 7, 2021 Tuesday News


1980s: A Powerful Voice for Positive Change

As our journey through JLN’s 100 years continues, it’s time to look back on the 1980s. As someone who was born in the early part of this decade, I’m personally humbled when I think about the ’80s.

These years were filled with new projects and affiliations that helped shape the Nashville we know today:

1980 – The Children’s Regional Medical Center (housing the Junior League Home for Crippled Children) becomes the Children’s Hospital “within a hospital” as Vanderbilt Hospital opens its new building.

1982 – A JLN event with Martha Stewart garners national publicity. Encore! Nashville, the Junior League’s third cookbook also goes country with Minnie Pearl lending visibility to the publicity campaign. JLN initiates an Artist-in-Residence program at the Nashville Institute for the Arts (it merged with TPAC in the late 1990s).

1983 – In coalition with the National Council of Jewish Women, JLN sponsors CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), a 2-year pilot program of foster care follow-up. The Neil E. Green Fund is established to purchase wheelchairs, braces, and other equipment at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital.

1984 – The Junior League Children’s Lung Center at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital is established. “Cookmania!,” a Junior League fundraiser at Municipal Auditorium, raises $70,000.

1985 – The Junior League raises the age limit for “provisional” members to 35, trains its largest class ever, and expands service in the community to many new agencies.

1986 – JLN hosts its inaugural Show House fundraiser, raising $120,000, and also hosts AJLI’s annual conference, welcoming over 900 delegates from 269 Junior Leagues to Nashville.

1987 – Our Kids, a child abuse intervention program, is started by JLN in partnership with Metropolitan General and Vanderbilt University Hospitals. The League founds Recovery Residences, a halfway house program for chemically dependent teens.

New funding relationships and renewed partnerships with a wide range of agencies, such as the YWCA Domestic Violence Program, Second Harvest Food Bank, PENCIL, Reading is Fundamental and the League for the Hearing Impaired broadened the scope of the League’s outreach for the rest of the decade.

The 1980s also brought major involvement by JLN with Cumberland Science Museum (now Adventure Science Center), the Tennessee State Museum and the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC). Like many of you, I have frequented these Nashville institutions with my own little family over the years.

Seeing how League members have used our voices to create positive change in this city makes me proud to be part of this organization, and I hope it inspires you too.

Jenny Barker
President (2021-2022)

Dig deeper into the 1980s:

originally published in the January 4, 2022 Tuesday News


Check back as we continue to update this page each month.