Looking Back at the NYJL’s Leadership in Legislative Advocacy

Today’s members of the New York Junior League are undoubtedly familiar with the fantastic Advocates for Public Policy committee, which establishes and disseminates the Leagues’ position statements on particular political and social issues and lobbies the appropriate city and state legislative bodies. But few realize that this group was founded way back in 1992, and even fewer are aware that the League’s legislative and advocacy actions span back to the late 1960s.

Public Affairs Committee – Legislators Luncheon, Margo Lyden speaking.
Date: January 1990 (est.)

For decades, advocating for political causes members care most about has been a cornerstone of the League’s work. We see this work continued today as APP advocates for the Michelle Alyssa Go Act in honor of the late NYJL member who was fatally pushed in front of a subway by a mentally ill man in January of 2022. Of note, this year’s Legislative Luncheon was held at the Astor House on February 1st with a focus on the intersection between mental health and community safety.  The event welcomed 50 guests including elected officials, policy makers, community partners, and members of the NYJL Board of Directors who engaged in lively conversations regarding community needs and potential solutions.

Advocates for Public Policy committee members at a meeting.
L-R: Gena Lovett (chair), Barbara Paxton (manager), Beth Waldo and Sara Moose.
Date: January 21, 1999

The origins of these fantastic efforts can be found with the League’s Public Affairs Committee, which was established in 1969 and has brought about positive change for decades. The Public Affairs Committee sought to be a force for political good by studying issues of interest to members, assessing related position statements, and empowering volunteers to become skilled legislative advocates. With roots in the Education Committee, the Public Affairs committee evolved from a group focused more on policy research to an incredibly action-oriented committee. For these women, it was not enough to just think about existing policy – they wanted to exert their power to change policy and make New York City a stronger, more equitable city. 

The Public Affairs committee also stayed busy by creating publications and hosting events with elected officials. Beginning in 1979, the Public Affairs committee and Public Policy Research committee joined forces to host a Legislators’ Luncheon for City and State legislators. They also drafted and shared a legislative Public Affairs committee handbook with members in 1981.

But the legislative work did not stop there. The Junior League NYSPAC (New York State Public Affairs Committee of The Junior League) – a subcommittee of the Public Affairs committee – also furthered these focus areas by training volunteers in public affairs on a state and federal level. At its peak, the group communicated with all 21 New York state regional Junior Leagues to join efforts and maximize impact. They hosted events, including a Pro-Choice Day Trip to Albany in March 1980. 

City Legislators Luncheon with Andrew Stein speaking.
Democratic politician who served on the New York City Council and was its last President, and as Manhattan Borough President.
Date: January, 1991

Today, the committee – which now operates under the moniker of Advocates for Public Policy (after being changed in 1992) –  still advocates on behalf of the NYJL at the city and state levels, focusing their energy and attention on policy issues that directly impact the NYJL’s top priority issues. Quite remarkably, these priority issue areas have largely held constant from the League’s earliest advocacy days. Below is a list of top-priority issue areas which the Public Affairs committee previously focused on and which the League continues to prioritize to this day: 

  • Domestic Violence (PAC focus in 1986)
  • Education (PAC focus in 1977-1986)
  • Voluntarism (PAC focus in 1978-1985)
  • Child Abuse (PAC focus in 1977-1982)
  • Equal Rights Amendment ERA (PAC focus in 1977-1982)
  • Abortion (PAC focus in 1973-1981)
  • Environment (PAC focus in 1977-1980)
  • Gun Control (PAC focus in 1976-1980)
  • Juvenile Justice (PAC focus in 1975-1980)

The League’s long legacy of legislative reform is no doubt inspiring, and the League’s current members are carrying the torch of their forebears by continuing this work.