Jack and Jill of America, Inc., began as a play group for children of African American professional women and the wives of black professional men. The goal of the founders, who started the group in Philadelphia in 1938, was to provide their children with social, cultural, and educational programs in a time of de facto segregation in northern cities. By the 1950s Jack and Jill had grown from a local mothers club to a national organization, and by the late 1980s there were nearly two hundred chapters serving children and families in black communities.
Miriam Stubbs Thomas called the first meeting of sixteen women to her Philadelphia home in January 1938. Thomas, who was a concert pianist, taught piano in her own studio while her children were young. Along with several others of Philadelphia's African American elite, she argued that the women in her social and professional circles had children who did not know one another but should. Developing a mothers' club for children ages two to twenty-two, the women sponsored cultural events and opportunities for their children to meet and mingle.
The club provided a local network for parents and children. Soon the network of Philadelphia's black elite extended to networks of African American professionals in other cities, where plans to organize similar clubs were in the making. In 1939, the New York chapter was founded. Like their Philadelphia friends, a group of New York City African American mothers had been meeting and bringing their children together for activities. When Philadelphia named its group Jack and Jill, the New Yorkers also decided to adopt the name.
Less than a decade after its founding, the Jack and Jill concept had spread so quickly that a national organization became essential. The first national officers were elected in 1946. Dorothy B. Wright of Philadelphia was selected president; Emily B. Pickens of Brooklyn, New York, was designated vice president; Edna Seay of Buffalo, New York, was elected secretary-treasurer; Constance Bruce of Columbus, Ohio, was chosen corresponding secretary; and Ida Murphy Smith (later Peters) of Baltimore became editor of Up the Hill, the organizations national journal. Local chapters were organized into eight regions, and emphasis was placed on building leadership opportunities for the children. Teen groups met with mothers at the yearly regional meetings and at the biannual national conventions. In later years, mothers remained in the club until their children graduated from high school and then became Jack and Jill alumni. Fifty years after its founding, Jack and Jill of America had expanded to 187 chapters across the nation.
During its thirtieth anniversary, Jack and Jill became one of the first national organizations of African American women to establish an endowment. In 1968, Jacqueline J. Robinson of the District of Columbia chaired the foundation's steering committee and became its first president. Articles of incorporation were drafted, and the foundation announced its purpose as a self-help organization that was to eliminate some of the obstacles that confront contemporary African American youth. Many of the projects sponsored by the foundation are centered at historically black colleges and universities around the nation. From 1968 to 1988, the foundation awarded $600,000 in grants to communities, serving thousands of black youth from preschool to college.
Founder Thomas, reflecting upon the legacy of Jack and Jill, believed that the organization had become an important link for contemporary black leaders. Many Jack and Jill alumni became professionals who then joined Jack
Jack and Jill of America, Inc.