The Junior League of Duluth 1960-1969

Submitted by Mary Hamerston Mitchell Olin, 1964-75 active member

The 1960’s were a period of dramatic social change for women in the United States after the rather placid domesticity of the 1950’s. The AJLA leadership was questioning the traditional methods of the Junior Leagues as government agencies and other organizations began meeting society’s needs.

Here are some of the great changes in society which were happening in the 1960’s:

1961 The Freedom Riders
1962 Publication of Rachel Carson’s The Silent Spring
1963 Equal Pay Act
March on Washington
Publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique
1968 Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X assassinated
Democratic National Convention in Chicago

The Association of Junior Leagues of America began a very focused effort to find relevance for the Junior League during this decade. The organization needed to study, focus, and make changes to stay abreast of new conditions and to continue to train and develop volunteers, valuing the past, yet stepping into the present. Urban poverty, the environment, and public education were new areas to be explored. Where were the opportunities to train members for community leadership in a changing world? Did the JLD need to expand its membership base? The provisional class of 1964 totaled seven members. By 1966, the provisional classes grew in size exponentially.

One way to step beyond the 50’s was organized at the University of Minnesota by two St. Paul league members to provide opportunities for intellectual stimulation for women outside the home. It became known as “rusty ladies,” and JLD member Janet Hoeg established such a program at UMD. Although not a JLD program, many of the participants were JLD sustainers who had been very active during their League careers or JLD actives whose children were now in school during the class time. Once a week during the school year, UMD professors such as Steve Hedman, Tom Bacig, and Walter Baumler gave morning lecture sessions at the college.

After all of the urban renewal of the 1950’s and early ’60’s, interest in historic preservation blossomed, culminating for the JLD in the first Tour of Historic Homes in 1970, which earned the (then) colossal sum of $12,000. Five stately homes in Duluth which had never been open to the public were studied and featured on the tour, including Glensheen.

A JLD member served on the Duluth Public Schools Desegregation Task Force. Members were starting to return to school for additional training and to take full or part-time jobs. How would that affect the traditional practice  of JLD meetings and volunteer work taking place during the day? Could you work outside the home and be a JLD member? Marge Whitney became employed at the Duluth City Planning Department and later became head of Downtown Duluth Development. Sally Sneve went back to school and began a long career as a nurse at a Duluth hospital. Did Marge Whitney’s employment at the City Planning Department provide the seeds for the JLD’s extensive city creeks hiking trail projects in the early 1970”s?

The JLD supported the efforts to enact a sign ordinance for the City of Duluth.

The Marty Mann House, Duluth’s first home for chemically dependent women, was a JLD project.

In the late 1960’s, the Minneapolis League hosted a seminar on civil rights, attended by Duluth delegates. The JLD sponsored a film, “This Human Race,” for its members’ education, followed by listening sessions in members’ homes, attended by members and also guests from the African-American and Native American community.

We look at the listed projects of the JLD in the 1960’s as stated in written records. You can see that most of the first projects listed were of a traditional nature: children and youth education, arts support.

Foster Family Recognition Night
Tweed Gallery Youth Art Lectures
Tweed Gallery docent program
Friends of Tweed
Junior Puppeteers
Educational Television established in Duluth
Youth Library Project
Rehabilitation Center Building Funding
Mental Hygiene Clinic
Next to New Sale fundraiser

The above are more traditional League projects.

Then we find the study of the old Soo Line Depot as a cultural facility. Duluth was turning from urban renewal to an interest in its architectural history. The JLD was very active in that venture and the first director of the St. Louis County Heritage and Arts facility was a JLD sustainer, Shirley Bergum.

As the 60’s drew to a close, the active and sustaining members of the JLD had risen to the occasion of new challenges. The 1970’s would bring fruition to many of the trends begun by these members.

Photo credit: Newton, George A. Union Depot, Duluth, Minnesota. 1892?. University of Minnesota Duluth, Kathryn A. Martin Library, Northeast Minnesota Historical Collections, Accessed 13 Mar. 2021.