Who Were the Jaycees?
The United States Jaycees began, unusually, as the Herculaneum Dance Club of St. Louis in 1910. Originated by Jaycees founder Henry Giessenbier, Jr – the Herculaneum had as its purpose the social elevation of its members. By 1914, it was the outstanding dancing club of its day in St. Louis and merged with six other similar clubs to become the Federation of Dancing Clubs. The club underwent another name change to the Young Men’s Progressive Civic Association in 1915, after a politician had stressed they take a more active interest in public affairs. The YMPCA began to gain much respect from various individuals, but none more valuable than St. Louis Chamber of Commerce president, Clarence Howard.
In his inaugural address as Chamber president, Howard called for a group capable of drawing young men into public affairs. The next day, Giessenbier and an associate contacted Howard and educated him on the YMPCA. As a result, Howard became an enthusiastic proponent of the group, and even secured an old art museum as their headquarters. At about this time the club’s name was changed to the Junior Citizens (the original moniker behind the JC abbreviation.)
In 1918 the JC’s formally affiliated with the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce and officially became the Junior Chamber of Commerce, which is still the present day connotation behind the Jaycees name.
Flash forward to 1939, and the birth of the Maryland Jaycees. The Cumberland Jaycees organization was formed in May, 1939 as one of the six founding chapters of the Maryland Jaycees. Included in those original chapters, was also the Frostburg Jaycees, which is part of the present day Western Maryland Jaycees. Additionally, the other founding chapters were in Hagerstown, Hancock, Frederick and Baltimore – lending support to the notion that Western Maryland was a crucial part of the formation of the state organization.
Within two years of forming, the Cumberland Jaycees began a series of projects related to the C&O Canal that have continued into our generation. A Canal Parkway Committee was formed that year, in 1941, however was delayed due to WWII. Following the war, the Jaycees spearheaded cleanup campaigns and tourism promotion of the canal. The Jaycees were also an influential partner in 1976 with its contribution to the C&O Canal Boat Project.
The Jaycees continued to grow solidly, especially locally where by the mid 1980’s there were well over 200 male members of the Greater Cumberland Jaycees. The Jane-cees, or Jaycees women’s auxiliary, was also a well attended group of the wives and girlfriends of current Jaycees at the time.
In 1984 and the following years, the U.S. Supreme Court became involved in a lawsuit which was aimed at the exclusion of females into the parent organization. The St. Paul/Minneapolis chapters had allowed women into the organization, and were sanctioned by the governing body as violating Jaycees code. The ruling of Roberts vs. US Jaycees indicated that the sanctioning of the St. Paul chapter for allowing women was unconstitutional, and that the practice of not permitting women to participate was also unconstitutional. Over the following years, unfortunately, participant numbers of Jaycees chapters nationwide fell rapidly due to that ruling.
Who Are the Jaycees today?
Currently, the Western Maryland Jaycees are undergoing a process much like that of Mr. Giessenbier in the early 1900’s. We are growing, diversifying, gaining support of local Chamber and community partners, and receiving accolades for our achievements in membership growth and civic involvement.
The path of the current Western Maryland Jaycees bears an uncanny resemblance to that of the Junior Citizens and early Junior Chamber in St. Louis. We have officially become affiliated with our local Chamber of Commerce, we have received open support from Chamber presidents, and we have held our monthly meetings in an art museum (Allegany Arts Council.)
The Western Maryland Jaycees continue to grow with our involvement in events such as Special Olympics, Christmas Shopping Tour, and various other endeavors all while paving the way for new stand-out events such as the Tri-State Wing-off and the Celebration of Young Professionals. While the Western Maryland Jaycees are not at the 200 member level heyday of the 1980’s, we have incorporated several membership strategies that have helped us to receive state honors for the membership growth as recognized at state conventions in 2008 through the current year. And we continue to show great increases yearly. We are striving and succeeding to re-establish ourselves as the premiere young professional’s organization in the area.
And as a new member, you have now become a driving force in the continuing history of the Western Maryland Jaycees…
*Special Thanks to Al Feldstien, 1982 President of the Greater Cumberland Jaycees, for the above Jaycees history.