Anyone who has collected cookbooks for any length of time has to be aware of the Junior League cookbooks. They are the crème de la crème of community cookbooks. I thought as much in 1993 when I wrote an article titled “POTPOURRI…REGIONAL AMERICAN COOKBOOKS” for a newsletter called The Cookbook Collectors Exchange and I still think so, today.
Per a visit to Google, I learned that the Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc. (AJLI) is a non-profit organization of 292 Junior Leagues in Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom and the United States. Junior Leagues are educational and charitable women’s organizations aimed at improving their communities through volunteerism and building their members’ civic leadership skills through training. According to its mission, “The Association of Junior Leagues International Inc. (AJLI) is an organization of women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Its purpose is exclusively educational and charitable.”
In 1901, Mary Harriman, a 19-year-old New York City debutante with a social conscience, formed the Junior League for the Promotion of Settlement Movements. Harriman mobilized a group of 80 other young women to work to improve child health, nutrition and literacy among immigrants living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Inspired by her friend Mary, Eleanor Roosevelt joined the Junior League of The City of New York in 1903, teaching calisthenics and dancing to young girls at the College Settlement House.
The second Junior League was formed in Boston, MA in 1907 and was soon followed by the founding of the Brooklyn, NY Junior League in 1910. In 1912, The Junior League of Montreal becomes the first League in Canada.
Junior Leagues began to shift their focus from settlement house work to social, health, and educational issues that affected the community at large. The Junior League of Brooklyn successfully petitioned the Board of Education to provide free lunches in city schools. In 1914, the founders of the Junior League of St. Louis marched for women’s suffrage.
During World War I, Junior Leagues played an active role, selling bonds and working in Army hospitals. The San Francisco Junior League formed a motor delivery service that served as a model for the nationwide Red Cross Motor Corps.
Junior Leagues responded to the Great Depression by opening nutrition centers and milk stations. They operated baby clinics, day nurseries for working mothers, birth control clinics and training schools for nurses. Junior Leagues also established volunteer bureaus to recruit, train and place much-needed volunteers in the community.
During World War II, Junior League members played a major role in the war effort by chairing hundreds of war-related organizations in virtually every city where Junior Leagues operated. Canadian and American League members served overseas.
In 1940, the first Junior League cookbook, a compilation of recipes by The Junior League Augusta titled “Recipes from Southern Kitchens”, was published and began a tradition of fundraising through cookbook publishing. (It should be noted, however, that church and club cookbooks, the first community cookbooks, originated during the American Civil War when women wanted to raise money for the Sanitation Commission. Sanitation was a huge issue during the Civil War) – so community cookbooks have been around for a very long time – almost 150 years!
By the 1950s, nearly 150 Junior Leagues were volunteering in remedial reading centers, diagnostic testing programs and programs for gifted and challenged children. Leagues collaborated in the development of educational television and were on the forefront of promoting quality programming for children. By the end of the decade, Junior Leagues were involved in over 300 arts projects and multiple partnerships in many cities to establish children’s museums. The 1950s also marked the growth of regional Junior League cookbooks as a key fundraising tool, spearheaded by the Charleston League who aggressively and successfully markets its Charleston Receipts cookbooks to food editors and critics around the country.
During the 1960s, Junior Leagues met many challenges. As the decade progressed, nearly half the Leagues had health and welfare projects, including alcohol programs, adoption services, clinics, convalescent care and hospital services, and many Junior Leagues began to add environmental issues to their agendas.
Throughout the 1970s, Leagues expand their participation in public affairs issues, especially in the areas of child health and juvenile justice. In 1973, almost 200 Leagues worked with the National Commission on Crime and Delinquency and the U.S. Justice Department on a four-year program seeking to improve the criminal justice system. In Canada, the Canadian Federation was formed to promote public issues among the Canadian Leagues.
During the 1980s, Junior Leagues in the U.S. gained recognition for advocacy efforts to improve the child welfare system. U.S. Leagues also helped gain passage of the first federal legislation to address domestic violence. More than 100 Leagues developed the “Woman to Woman” campaign that actively and comprehensively tackled the impact of alcohol abuse on women. The Canadian Federation held its first national conference focusing on violence against women and the negative impact of pornography.
In 1981, Junior League of Phoenix member, Sandra Day O’Connor, became the first woman to be appointed a Supreme Court Justice of the United States.
In the early 1990s, 230 Leagues participated in a public awareness campaign to encourage early childhood immunization called “Don’t Wait to Vaccinate.”
In 2006, over 225 Junior Leagues participated in the launch of Junior Leagues’ Kids in the Kitchen, an initiative to address the problems associated with childhood obesity and poor nutrition. The initiative was taken on long-term in 2007, with over 255 Junior Leagues participating across four countries.
In 2008, The Association of Junior Leagues International won the Award of Excellence in the 2008 Associations Advance America Awards program, a national competition sponsored by the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) & The Center for Leadership, Washington, D.C. for its Kids in the Kitchen program.
Four First Ladies have been members of the Junior League – along with Eleanor Roosevelt, other notable members have included First Ladies Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan, and Barbara Bush.
Today, approximately 200,000 women in nearly 300 communities throughout the USA, Canada, Mexico – and Great Britain – are members of the Junior League. And happily for me and other cookbook collectors, many of these groups have compiled and published cookbooks! While I am reasonably certain that I don’t have a copy of the first Junior League Cookbook from the Junior League of Augusta, (Recipes from Southern Kitchens), there are many other Junior League cookbooks from all over the USA in my personal collection. Today, over 200 Junior League cookbooks are currently in print and available for purchase. Many of these can be purchased through the Cookbook Marketplace (www.cookbookmarketplace.com). Some of these have retained the status of being the most recognized, most frequently published community cookbooks of all time. Cookbooks such as Charleston Receipts, originally published in 1950, and the very first River Road Recipes, originally published in 1959, still delight cooks and cookbook collectors today. The Junior League of Baton Rouge, compilers of River Road Recipes went on to compile and publish River Road Recipes II, III and IV. (All are available through cookbook marketplace).
A few of the favorites on my bookshelves would include:
TEMPTATIONS, Junior League of Lansing (Michigan)
MAINE INGREDIENTS, Junior League of Portland, Maine
APPLEHOOD & MOTHERPIE, Junior League of Rochester, NY
OUR BEST TO YOU, Junior League of Battle Creek, Michigan
WEST OF THE ROCKIES, Junior League of Grand Junction, Colorado
VERY VIRGINIA, Junior League of Hampton Roads, Newport News, Virginia
A TASTE OF NEW ENGLAND, Junior League of Worcester, Mass.
SOUPCON I AND SOUPCON 11, Junior League of Chicago, Il.
COOKBOOK, Junior League of Grand Rapids, Michigan
THE GASPARILLA COOKBOOK, Junior League of Tampa, Fl
ATLANTA COOKNOTES, Junior League of Atlanta, GA
DISCOVER DAYTON, Junior League of Dayton, Ohio
A TASTE OF ALOHA, Junior League of Honolulu, Hi
PIG OUT, Junior League of Waterloo-Cedar Falls, Iowa
AMERICA DISCOVERS COLUMBUS, Junior League of Columbus, Ohio
And there are many, many more. I also like very much The Junior League Centennial Cookbook, containing over 750 recipes from 200 Junior Leagues – and my newest favorite, “RECIPES WORTH SHARING, A collection of America’s Most Loved Community Cookbooks”, published in 2008 by Favorite Recipes Press (mostly Junior League contributors).
Some years ago, a food writer for the Los Angeles Times called me one day (I never discovered where she got my name—the purpose of her call was actually to ask me about a cookbook store in Burbank) – and one of her questions was “Which is your favorite cookbook?” As someone who has been collecting cookbooks for over forty years, I’d be hard pressed to narrow it down to a hundred favorites, never mind one or two! When I lived in Florida for three years, I endeavored to find as many Florida community cookbooks as possible. When I am visiting relatives in Ohio or Michigan, Florida or Washington, I am constantly on the look out for community cookbooks in those states. Where ever I travel, where ever I go, I am always looking for new community cookbooks that may have escaped my notice (airport bookstores are sometimes a good source). Last year in Canada, I had the good fortune to ‘inherit’ my friend Sharon’s collection of community cookbooks that had been her mother’s –they were all created by groups in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and St Catharine’s in Ontario. I couldn’t get them all home in one trip—she had to send a box of them to me.
Of all the community cookbooks, those compiled by the Junior Leagues are undoubtedly among my favorites. Other favorites are those that my sister or I had a hand in compiling, such as my local PTA’s cookbook “Recipe Roundup” for which I was the editor, or “HAPPINESS IS, Cheviot PTA Cookbook” for which my sister contributed many recipes and created the graphics. I love “THE OFFICE COOKBOOK” which I was deeply involved in creating, and “GRANDMA’S FAVOITE” a collection of Schmidt family recipes. These aren’t anywhere near as sophisticated and well-done as any of the Junior League cookbooks, of course – but they are all still very much loved and well used.
Isn’t that the bottom line for all cookbooks? That they should be read, used, enjoyed, and shared with family and friends?