Mary Harriman

Inspiring a movement

Marry Harriman

The Junior League of the City of New York

Causes/Issue Area(s): child welfare, literacy, health & nutrition, consumer rights

Honors/Achievements: Founder of The Junior League Movement, Chair of the Consumer Advisory Board, appointed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

We all know her as the founder of The Junior League, a woman who led a remarkable life.

At 19, this New York debutante, daughter of one of the richest men in America, mobilized a group of 80 other young women to work to improve child health, nutrition, and literacy among poor immigrants living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

At 27, after her father’s death, she took over management of her family’s estate, now a National Historic Landmark, becoming in the process an accomplished farmer and a lifelong advocate of farming cooperatives.

At 29, she married for love, but beccame a young widow at 41 when her husband—the athlete and sculptor Charles Cary Rumsey—was killed in a car accident, leaving her with three young children.

At 47, defying her family’s political tradition, she publicly joined the Democratic Party, a move significant enough that The New York Times memorialized it as an important political news story of the day.

At 53, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her to chair the first government consumer rights group, the Consumer Advisory Board (CAB) of the National Recovery Administration (NRA), and she went on to promote the formation of consumer groups across the country. In that role, she was one of the highest-ranking women in the Roosevelt’s administration.

Less than a year later, she died of injuries suffered in a horseback-riding accident.

At her memorial service, held a year later at the League’s clubhouse in Manhattan, political, civic, and philanthropic leaders came to pay tribute. Eleanor Roosevelt, her friend for decades and colleague in the earliest days of The League, said, “She helped all those she came in contact with who needed her assistance.”