On the 18th of April 1940, a group of young Athens women formed a new garden club dedicated to preserving the ideals of the first garden club in the nation, the Ladies Garden Club. In addition to flower arranging and horticulture, the newly formed Junior Ladies Garden Club decided to focus on beautification and preservation of both community and national landscapes.
In December 1941, the club voted to suspend meeting and to devote their time to defense activities. Almost half the members followed war-bound husbands to distant places or took jobs. The other half of members focused their energy on growing Victory Gardens.
Within two years of founding, Junior Ladies joined the Garden Club of Georgia and staged their first flower show, with proceeds funding a cast-iron gate for the new Founders Garden.
The club was invited to join the Garden Club of America in 1958. Numerous community projects followed, including creating a sunken garden beside the Athens Regional Library, landscaping the grounds at the Municipal Airport, establishing a fragrance garden at the new library site, and developing of a boxwood garden for the historic Taylor-Grady House.
In a town rich with university faculty and local experts of horticulture, conservation, historic preservation and art, the Junior Ladies had incredible opportunities for educational programs for the community and the club. As early as 1947, members gave demonstrations and shared plants with children at the library and local schools.
In 1956 the club created for their daughters the Junior Misses Garden Club, which served as a model throughout the state. A partnership established with a local elementary school resulted in increased environmental awareness among the students and the Junior Misses.
The Junior Ladies’ first permanent project began in 1946 when a seedling propagated from an acorn of the Tree That Owns Itself was planted at the site where the original aged white oak fell on the ground deeded to the tree. For fifty years the club maintained the historic tree site. In 1996 a community birthday celebration was held with local officials and Junior Ladies’ original president in attendance. Special guests included the members of the Athens Garden Club Council, organized by the Junior Ladies in 1951, and “favors” were seedlings of acorns from the famous tree.
Interest in trees continued, and the club donated thirteen native American hollies to the State Botanical Garden of Georgia in honor of the nation’s bicentennial. “A Tree Registry for Athens and Clarke County”, created by members of the club, laid the groundwork for the formation of the Athens Tree Commission. In 1980 the club sponsored the first annual Tree Day with tree walks and a “Tree Babies” project.
In 1974 and 1984 the club sponsored two British landscape architecture students through the GCA Interchange Fellowship Program. The club supported projects such as the new bog garden, supplied educational materials for the Georgia Endangered Plant Stewardship Network, and helped provide a scholarship for a student intern.
The Junior Ladies celebrated its fiftieth birthday in 1991 by presenting fifty trees to the city of Athens. To celebrate the Garden Club of America’s Centennial Birthday, the GCA encouraged each member club to sponsor a Centennial Tree Project. The Junior Ladies planted trees at the Historic Oconee Hill Cemetery and on a large parcel on South Lumpkin Street that was once covered in kudzo, wisteria, privet and other invasive plants.
Further commitment to conservation prompted a study with the Georgia Trust for Public Lands on issues which affected local land use plan. A project benefiting the Oconee Greenway provided funds for a forged metal plaque and life-sized figure depicting the work of William Bartram in the Athens area. Club members participated in the projects such as: an ongoing restoration of the historic Oconee Hill Cemetery, a stream project tracing sources of water in Clarke County, the harvesting of black cohosh in North Carolina, and the elimination of a stand of privet at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia.
Since the founding, flower shows have held an instrumental element of Junior Ladies as well as source of enjoyment. Over the years members have served as both flower arranging and horticulture judges, staged workshops at the local and zone level, and participated with merit annually in the Southeastern Flower Show. Annual workshops are held for members for education and plant sharing.
Individual members have held positions on almost all GCA committees; two members served as national directors. Junior Ladies have received a number of zone awards including horticulture, conservation, historic preservation and creative leadership; the Eloise Payne Luquer Medal National Medal was presented to a member for her outstanding work in the field of botany. In 1999 the club, with the endorsement of all the clubs in Zone VIII, created the Laura Ann Segrest Mentoring Award. This award is a tribute to a former Junior Ladies president whose support and encouragement were felt both here and throughout the zone in all facets of garden club work.
From 2001-2003, to our great honor, Junior Lady Ann Frierson, served as the Garden Club of America president. Junior Ladies’ winners of the Laura Ann Segrest Mentoring Award include Ann Frierson and Lili Outz. Winners of the prestigious Zone VIII Creative Leadership Award include Mimsie Lanier, Ann Frierson, and Tootsie Adams
To celebrate the Junior Ladies’ 75th Anniversary in 2015, several special events were held, including a wonderful spring luncheon in Ann Frierson’s garden welcoming back many sustainers and former leaders of the club. Awards were presented and the success of 75 years was celebrated. Junior Ladies also planted 750 heirloom variety bulbs at Oconee Hill Cemetery to mark the anniversary.
For over 80 years, Junior Ladies has thrived on continuing to seek ways to enhance the environment, promote conservation, and serve their community through volunteerism and education.
Edited June 2021