The League began in December 1929 when Edna Bayouth, a secretary from the YWCA in Lebanon, encouraged a group of young Cleveland women of Lebanese and Syrian descent to form “The Zenobia Club.” (Zenobia being a warrior queen in ancient Syria.) Meetings were held at the YWCA at 18th and Prospect at the International Institute. The club’s name was subsequently changed to the Syrian Junior League, and several name changes later, was chartered as the Lebanese-Syrian Junior Women’s League in 1968. In spring of 2009, the name was changed to its current incarnation: The Lebanese Syrian American Junior League.
In 1948, at the urging of celebrated member Edna Shalala, the League established its Scholarship program and began overseeing funding and distribution of scholarships. In the early years of the program until the start of the Middle East War, scholarships controlled by American trustees were awarded at the International College of Beirut and the College of St. George in Lebanon. The Scholarship Committee now oversees the distribution of scholarships to Cleveland area students. Funding for League Scholarships is provided by donations from individual donors and League members. Additionally, the Committee oversees Memorial and Honorary Scholarships established by businesses and individuals of the local community.
Although the League participated in charitable acts from its earliest days, it wasn’t until 1955 that a formal Welfare Committee was formed. Money is raised for needy causes locally and globally through a variety of fundraisers, including reverse raffles, fashion shows, clambakes, and Monte Carlo nights. Welfare money has been used to build a handicap accessible ramp, donations to homeless shelters, hunger centers, senior centers, and homes for both abandoned children and the mentally challenged. The focus of the Welfare Committee has currently shifted from financial donations to participation in charitable events through “sweat equity.”
The gem of our social calendar is the Debutante Ball presentation which began in 1958 at the urging of member Jerri Haddad. The first presentation took place at the Lakeshore Country Club. In 1960, it was held at the Westlake Hotel. The event was held every other year from 1960 until 1971, when it became an annual event due, in part, to the Baby Boomer children coming of age. Starting in the late 1980s, it changed to being held every other year, moving from the Grand Ballroom at Stouffers Inn on the Square to Executive Caterer’s at Landerhaven in 1987.
The 39th Ball will be held at the Silver Grille in downtown Cleveland, on July 14, 2018. We are very excited for the return to downtown and the grandeur of the event in the city!
In the early 1980s, the League recognized a shift in our demographics and expanded our membership guidelines to include those women married to men of Lebanese or Syrian descent. In the early 2000s, again recognizing a shift in our demographics, the League expanded our membership borders to include members who had moved outside of Cleveland city proper and into outlying communities.
We are proud of our rich history, proud of our members, and proud of what we have accomplished as an organization since 1929.
Western Reserve Historical Society
The LSAJL is honored to have its contributions to Greater Cleveland be recognized and archived for the ages by the esteemed Western Reserve Historical Society. A Library Gift Agreement was signed in October of 2008 with the WRHS assigning possession of donate Leagues archives. Funding for the archiving was underwritten in memory of founding member Tillie Mady by her daughters, Lucy Salhany and Jane Seidman.
The collection of letters, correspondence, financial reports, meeting minutes, events and photographs from 1920 to 2008 is housed in three series and registered under the name “The Lebanese-Syrian Junior Women’s League Records” and can be located under MS No. 5030 at the WRHS. It is available to both the casual observer as well as scholars, historians , and anyone else wishing to learn more about the role the Ladies of the Leaguehave played in the Greater Cleveland community.