No More Pearl Girls
The Junior League of Wilmington has shed its old reputation. Now it’s for anyone and everyone who wants to help add to its impressive record of service.
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The Junior League of Wilmington traces its founding in 1918 to Mrs. William Bergland, who was a friend of Mary Harriman. Early members were wives and daughters of the pillars of the Wilmington community. Because it was a time of war, the first activities focused on soldiers’ needs.
Later projects included raising funds to start an orthopedic hospital, founding the state’s first school for hearing-impaired children, managing a consignment shop, which provided an income for needy families, and distributing fresh fruits and vegetables to city residents during the Depression. In the 1920s, when the state could no longer afford to maintain a health center, the league stepped in to buy the building and paid the salary of a nurse for a year. It also paid for the services of a visiting doctor at another clinic.
The list goes on. League members were the first tour guides at Winterthur museum. They put on plays and puppet shows for schools and hospitals. They helped the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects inventory pre-1850 buildings in the area. They started the Wilmington Senior Center in 1956 and later helped establish the adjacent apartment house for low-income seniors. And they raised funds to save their current headquarters in the restored 18th-century Lea-Derickson House in Old Brandywine Village from the wrecking ball.
The other half of the league’s mission is personal and unique to each member, notes Agne, who worked as a policy analyst on Capitol Hill before moving to Wilmington.
“Our goal is to develop the leadership potential of women through hands-on community service and fundraising. And once they get the training at our organization, they are able to go out and work in other community service organizations and to join other boards in the community. Our members are very dedicated, and service and training are really priorities in their life”
Delaware Senate Minority Whip Liane Sorenson was an active member of the group for 15 years and served a term as president. The organization gave her an entree into the legislative process that she now navigates professionally. She was part of a league team that lobbied Dover to make the Foster Care Review Board, which overseas the progress of children through the foster care system, a permanent entity. The board was set to expire under the state’s sunset law. “The first time I was in Legislative Hall was for the Junior League,” Sorenson says. “The first time I testified in front of the Finance Committee was for the Junior League.”
Sorenson recalls when league membership in the 1980s transitioned from housewives to working mothers. That’s when daytime membership meetings were dropped. Today a room is always set aside for children who accompany their mothers to evening meetings. And an installment plan for paying dues ($100 for active members) can be negotiated. “We have become a very family-friendly organization,” Agne says.
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