What do cookbooks have to do with community service? In the case of the Junior League of Tampa, one helps pay for the other.
The organization, which is dedicated to volunteer work, is celebrating its 85th anniversary this April. Those years have been filled with service projects, cultural events and fundraisers, which help the Junior League meet the challenges of the times.
The local group grew out of a meeting attended by 22 women on April 2, 1926. Two weeks later, they finalized the by-laws and formed the Junior Service League. Annual dues were $10 ($123 in today's dollars), meeting attendance was mandatory, and fines were an integral part of fundraising. According to an early history of the Junior League, "Death was the only excuse for missing a meeting. One girl explained she was absent because her house caught on fire and was fined summarily for lack of a suitable excuse."
In 1928, the group joined the Association of Junior Leagues of America. The early years of the Junior League were filled with a number of initiatives. The group's first project was partnering with the Pine Heath Preventorium, a children's tuberculosis home, to assist in the care of children stricken with the respiratory disease.
To help fund this and other projects, the league established a lending library and gift shop in the Crescent Apartments in Hyde Park, later expanding to include library/shops in the Mirasol Hotel on Davis Islands, the Tampa Terrace Hotel, the Floridan Hotel, and the Maas Bros. department store in downtown Tampa, and a branch on Platt Street in Hyde Park.
The Junior League also operated a tea room. It opened in the Mirasol in 1928, moved to the Tampa Terrace in 1929, then to space in Maas Bros. the following year. Money raised through sales in the libraries and tea room helped support the group's philanthropic activities.
The Great Depression had a profound effect on everyone, and members of the Junior League were no exception. But they managed to keep moving forward and even pitched in to help those less fortunate. For one project, they worked with the City Unemployment Council, employing 36 women at $1.50 a day ($21 in today's dollars) to mend clothes collected by the American Legion Auxiliary.
The Pine Heath Preventorium came under the control of the Junior League on April 1, 1931. During the next seven years, two wings and a pavilion for children with the most common form of tuberculosis, affecting the lungs, were added to the building. The home closed on Jan. 1, 1938, having met the need for assisting children with tuberculosis, and finding no more patients "in the right age group."
World War II also had a profound effect on Tampa and the Junior League. The organization stopped its fundraising activities for the duration of the war because it did not want to compete with government war bond drives.
But war-time did not deter members from their volunteer activities. They devoted their time to a number of organizations, such as the Army Filter Center, Traveler's Aid, Red Cross and USO. They also helped start and finance the Civilian Defense Volunteer Office.
The end of World War II brought a renewed focus by the league on child welfare issues. In 1953, the Junior League took on a new major project - the Drew Park School for Retarded Children, now known as the MacDonald Training Center. The school operated under a partnership between the league, HARC (Hillsborough Achievement and Resource Centers) and the school system, and utilized the old Army buildings at Drew Field. The school still operates today in a facility on Cypress Street just west of Westshore Boulevard.
The 1960s ushered in two milestones that are still important to the league today. On Nov. 7, 1961, the group released its first and still most-recognized publication, the "Gasparilla Cookbook." It is the most successful Junior League fundraiser to date.
Next came another move toward continued stability: construction of a permanent clubhouse. Work began on the Davis Islands building in March 1963, and it was dedicated on March 8, 1964.
The same year construction started on the new league headquarters, another long-term fundraising effort began. The annual Junior League thrift sale, which continued for 40 years, raised money through the sale donated household goods, toys and other items. The thrift sale was replaced in 2004 by a holiday gift market.
The past three decades have seen considerable growth in Tampa's Junior League. Membership exceeded 1,000 for the first time during the 1980s, and the group's activities grew in proportion. In 1989, the league initiated its More Health project, which provides health and nutrition information to schoolchildren throughout Hillsborough County.
Cookbooks continue to be a staple of the league's fundraising. Following the success of the Gasparilla Cookbook, the group published "A Taste of Tampa" (1978), "Tampa Treasures" (1992) and "Capture the Coast" (2010). The league supports a number of civic projects, with the Glazer Children's Museum among the most notable.
Over the past 85 years, members of the Junior League of Tampa have shown an unwavering dedication to the city of Tampa, its people and its future. Given the diversity of league projects over the years, it's impossible to predict what new projects the coming decades might bring. But we can be sure they'll benefit Tampa. And cookbooks will help pay the way.
Rodney Kite-Powell is the Saunders Foundation Curator of History at the Tampa Bay History Center and fondly remembers his time as a volunteer at the MacDonald Training Center when he was a student at Roland Park Sixth Grade School. He encourages your questions and comments. He can be reached by email, email@example.com, or by phone, (813) 228-0097.