The 1980’s were a time of impactful events that would forever change the societal views of women. The Women’s Movement entered a new phase in the 1980s, a decade that was characterized by both advancement and backlash. Just as the society around it, the Newport Harbor Service League was quickly progressing.
Marcia Alder, President from 1987 – 1988, recounts, “Once you got married and settled, then you joined the League. It was what you did.” However nationally, from 1890 through 1985, women in the workforce soared from 15 percent to 71 percent. As a result, the League began to see the shift in the members’ availability. In efforts to keep up with the changing times, the League moved to hold two general meetings, one during the day and one at night, to accommodate working women. This group of women became known within the League as “The Professionals.” Even though the membership demographic was shifting, the League held steadfast in its endeavors.
The League was rapidly growing. Each year bringing in more than 60 new provisional members. Every woman in Orange County was welcome, but the underlining question was “how do we broaden our scope and impact all of Orange County.” Janet Colclaser, President from 1989 -1990, recollects, Orange County was small. San Clemente was only 400 people and Irvine had somewhere around 70,000. We were trying to build the community, the services, the infrastructure. We were determining what type of county this was going to be.
And so, began the transition of the Newport Harbor Service League to the Junior League of Orange County. By becoming a chapter of the Association of Junior Leagues International Inc. and including Orange County in the name, it would be clear to everyone the community outreach expanded beyond Newport. “We needed to reflect who were currently and that we did projects further inland.” In Marcia Adler’s opening speech on her inauguration day, she used the acronym J if for Joy, L is for Leadership, O is for Opportunity, C is for Commitment, and C is for Community. These were the pillars of the League and Marcia was going to ensure that they stood as the foundation of the new Junior League chapter.
The Presidential leadership in the League had a tendency to work in a rotation of a leader and then followed by a manager. The leader would be the President that pushed for new projects in the community and started the building blocks, then the succeeding President would manage and see out the projects. Without hesitation, Marcia and Janet agreed that during their terms, Marcia was a leader and Janet was the manager. During Marcia’s term, the Chapter started the CAST (Child Abuse Services Team) program. This program is associated with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). The program introduced a streamlined process for the abused children to only have to tell their story once instead of many times. The project was written as a three-year project, at $50,000 per year. The project duration sustained through both of their terms. Projects such as CAST allowed the women to work jointly and learn each other’s strengths to ensure the project came to fruition. Janet reminisced, I remembered Marcia saying, “I really don’t think this a good idea [on a project. I think that you should do it this way;” and after consideration, the board said no, were going to do it this other way. You have to have faith in the people you are working with, that you have given them the training and opportunity to do their jobs. Marcia learned a valuable lesson: you can be wrong and there is more than one right answer. It is okay to delegate.
Junior League is a unique experience in itself. Each President, each member, each woman is given the ability to learn new skills, become a leader, and succeed with a team.
The League’s drive during this time had the momentum of the decade. The 1980s were a time of firsts. President Ronald Reagan nominated the first woman to the Supreme Court, the first woman astronaut flew into space, and for the first time a major political party nominated a woman to run for Vice President. The League felt the sense of empowerment. “We as women could not be stopped, we could think outside the box, we could make an impact.” Overall, the League was where it was supposed to be.
There were evening Active members. We were part of what was happening in the world. Barriers didn’t exist. There wasn’t a project that we couldn’t go forward with. We had to make a difference, something that was part of who we were and part of this organization.
There was a real sense of freedom that resonated throughout the League. The women were there to make a change, to make an impact, to not just be known as ladies that lunch. However, David Threshie, publisher of the OC Register, helped the League realize that they could use “the ladies that lunch with pearls” as a positive to spread awareness on hot issues, such as adolescent pregnancy. “We don’t want any adolescent getting pregnant, but if they do, we want to make sure they are healthy and that the babies are healthy.” The League is built of strong women that have adapted to the world around them to guarantee that their message is heard and their impact is dynamic.
There have been times in the past five or seven years that Marcia and Janet have been asked what can we do to make the League how it was in the ‘80s? Their response?
The ‘80s were a new time. It was a time to create the infrastructure on a social basis. Now, it is time for enhancing the community, even if it doesn’t seem as transformational, it is just as important. Infrastructure is there, we’re now making it better.
(Stephanie White, JLOCC Historian Committee, 2016-2017)
Categories: Our History