National History

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National History

A complete history of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce (now officially the U.S. Jaycees) will probably never be written, for it would have to contain more 6,700 chapters--one for each local organization in the Jaycee movement. The dramatic story of the Jaycees lies in what has been accomplished by these thousands of locals at grassroots level in their attempts to build a greater America through developing better communities.

At the same time, it is interesting to trace the Jaycee movement to its beginnings in St. Louis, Missouri, for the basic purposes of the organization have not changed since the days of founder Henry Giessenbier, Jr.

The Jaycees resulted from the budding of a very simple but valid idea: the thought of utilizing the young manpower of the community for public service, with a firm conviction that youth is not a handicap for participation in municipal, state, and national affairs.

On October 13, 1915, the actual founding date of the Jaycee movement, 32 young men gathered at the Mission Inn to form the Young Men's Progressive Civic Association. Although the Jaycees evolved from the Herculaneum Dancing Club, which had only four members when it was originated by Giessenbier in 1910, our founder would not be surprised by the strength of the Jaycee movement today if he were alive. Giessenbier was a visionary, and as early as 1920 said: "I can not but think that the future will bring a total enrollment of at least 500,000 young men actively engaged in civic activities."

After returning from World War I, Co. L, Giessenbier had been busy contacting other cities with young businessmen's groups and spreading the so-called "St. Louis plan" of organization. Both he and Howard felt that a national body should be formed and on January 21 and 22 of 1920 a caucus was held in St. Louis with 29 cities represented. The USJCC was organized at this caucus, a convention called for the following June, and Giessenbier elected provisional president. The St. Louis group, which numbered about 3,000, was the hub of the new national organization. Twelve of the 27 cities represented at the June convention became charter members of the USJCC, and Giessenbier was chosen first president.

A big step was taken in 1935 when it was decided to cease the city-hopping and settle in St. Louis, after declining an offer of space in the Washington D.C., headquarters of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States. The USJCC headquarters remained in St. Louis until 1938 when they were switched to Chicago.

Before World War II, the USJCC became the first young men's organization to back Selective Service, and the war years saw 85 percent of all Jaycees enter the armed forces. The ones staying home topped all other organizations in scrap collecting, blood donations, and bond sales. A positive development to emerge from the war was Junior Chamber International, established at a meeting in Mexico City in 1944. Attempts to found such a group date back to the 1930's.

The idea of a War Memorial for the Jaycee dead was proposed at the Omaha War conference inn 1944. Tulsa was subsequently chosen as the site for this War Memorial Headquarters after citizens pledged $100,000 towards its construction. The USJCC moved its national office to the Oil Capital in 1947. Raising additional funds made construction possible and the cornerstone was laid on December 7, 1950 and final dedication ceremonies held August 4, 1951.

Of course, history has arched on for the Jaycees. In 1956, the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce officially changed its name to the United States Jaycees. Since then the organization has continued to grow and expand its chapter and membership base not only nationwide, but also worldwide.

The year 1984, saw a momentous turning point in the Jaycee movement when the United States Supreme Court declared that the United States Jaycees could no longer exclude from membership females. With this ruling, the dissolution of the U.S. Jaycee Women was inevitable with many of their members joining the ranks of the United States Jaycees. The transition from an all male organization to a mixed one has not been easy in some cases, but for the most part the addition of women has caused a reborn growth and spirit in many of the chapters and their achievements and accomplishments to date can only be considered a positive influence.