During World War II, the news received from devastated Poland was very grim. Helena Lenard, Adela Preyss and Henryka Mankowna, women raised in Poland, now living in the United States, were deeply concerned for the women and children of their native county. Unable to be passive about the atrocities of war, they felt compelled to help in any way possible. This immediate response set the tone for the work the Legion continues to do today.
On September 2, 1939, Helen Lenard Pieklo and a group of her friends founded the Legion of Young Polish Women (Legion Młodych Polek). Their initial purpose was to help the people of Poland in their time of need. These visionary women and those whom they inspired to follow their lead for over 75 years – all volunteers, then and now – have collected and donated over one million dollars to many worthy causes.
During World War II, the Legion sent food and clothing to Polish prisoners of war, and to the Polish Army Hospital in Great Britain in the form of medical equipment, hospital beds, and ambulances.
The end of the War and the occupations of Poland by an Oppressive Communist regime created an even greater need. Assistance was given to the Polish Veterans in Italy, the Polish Mission in Argentina, the Polish Library in Paris, and the Sikorski Institute in London. Within Poland, the Legion continues a tradition of assistance, including Laski Institute for the Blind, the Catholic University of Lublin, and various senior and children’s homes. The Legion supported the Solidarity Movement proving financial aid for the purchase of food, clothing, and medicine. Its “Medical Supplies to Poland” Project provided over $88,000 in assistance to smaller Polish clinics.
The Legion helps ensure that Polish culture, heritage, and traditions remain an integral part of our ethnically diverse country. The Legion helped to establish the professorship of Polish Language and Literature as the University of Chicago in 1961. In recent years, it supported the Loyola University Chicago Polish Studies Program. The Legion supports the Polish Museum of America and the Lira Ensemble. It has given support to the film makes or documentaries about Polish involvement in World War II, “Irena Sendler: In the Name of Their Mothers” and “The Officer’s Wife” as well as to the concert in memory of Pope John Paul II and activities of the Paderewski Symphony Orchestra (PaSO).
For many years, the Legion has supported the young people of the Polish American community through substantial donations to the Polish Scouting Organization (Harcerstwo), Polish Language schools and dance groups, and to scholarship funds of the Chicago Intercollegiate Council, the Knights of Dabrowski “Crusade for Education” and the Council of Educators in Polonia. The needs of new immigrants from Poland are addressed through assistance to the Polish American Association and the Polish American Congress Charitable Foundation.
The Legion’s concerns reach out beyond its ethnic scope, as evidenced by donations to the Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly, the Providence Soup Kitchen at St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, Special Olympics, and the Salvation Army.
With the money it raises, the Legion supports Polish and American cultural and educational projects and thus the heritage of its members.