History of the YWCA USA

Throughout our history the YWCA has been in the forefront of most major movements in the United States as a pioneer in race relations, labor union representation, and the empowerment of women.

1855 – Young Women's Christian Association was formed in London by Emma Roberts and Mrs. Arthur Kinnaird

1858 – The YWCA movement was introduced to the United States. New York City and Boston opened women's residences.

1860 – The YWCA opened the first boarding house for female students, teachers and factory workers in New York City as women moved from farms to cities.

1870s – Recognizing women's needs for jobs, the YWCA held the first typewriting classes  for women, formerly considered a man's occupation, and opened the first employment bureau.

1890s – First African American YWCA branch opened in Dayton, Ohio. First YWCA for Native American women opened in Oklahoma.

1894 – The US American Committee, England, Sweden and Norway joined together to create the World YWCA.

1894 – YWCA established Traveler's Aid. Implemented chaperones to liners' crews to protect women traveling in steerage.

1909 – YWCAs International Institutes featured bilingual instruction to help immigrant women.

1915 – YWCA held the first interracial conference in the south, at Louisville, Kentucky.

1919 – The YWCA convened the first meeting of women doctors, the International Conference of Women Physicians, with attendees coming from 32 countries for 6 weeks to focus on women's health issues.

1920 – Based on its work with women in industrial plants, the YWCA Convention voted to work for "an eight-hour per day law, prohibition of night work, and the right of labor to organize."

1930s – YWCA encouraged members to speak out against lynching and mob violence, for interracial cooperation rather than segregation and for efforts to protect African-American's basic civil rights.

1930s and 1940s – YWCAs trained New York City bus drivers, Rosie the Riveters, lathe operators and others.

1942 – YWCA extended its services to Japanese-American women and girls incarcerated in World War II Relocation Centers.

1946 – YWCA adopted its Interracial Charter – eight years before the US Supreme Court decision against segregation.

1950s – As African countries became independent, the United States sent leaders who moved from village to village to tell the YWCA story and help women marshal their own leadership and resources to create indigenous YWCAs in Kenya, Uganda, Rhodesia, South Africa and elsewhere. Uganda achieved remarkable participation – 90 percent of women were YWCA members by the 1990s.

1960 – The Atlanta YWCA cafeteria opened to blacks, becoming the city's first desegregated public dining facility. Separate black YWCA branches and facilities were integrated into the whole.

1963 – The National Board of the YWCA became a sponsoring agency for the summer March On Washington in support of civil rights. The National Board voted support for A Direct Action Program, two-year project to complete desegregation of Community YWCAs.

1965 – The YWCA National Board created the Office of Racial Justice to lead the civil rights efforts.

1966 – The National Board voted to participate in Project Equality and reassessed its business dealings with companies that have discriminatory employment practices. The National Board withdrew its funds from the Chase Manhattan Bank and others that overtly participated in the South African Consortium.

1967 – After thoughtful and extensive debate, the 2000 delegates at the YWCA Convention adopted the first of three abortion resolutions leading to the freedom of choice position.

1969 – Racial Justice Institutes were held in eight locations around the United States.

1970 – The YWCA National Convention, held in Houston, adopted the One Imperative. “To thrust our collective power towards the elimination of racism, wherever it exists, by any means necessary.” The resolution passed and renewed effort went into racial justice work. The National Board's Office of Racial Justice convened four conferences for women of color seeking input; affirmative action workshops were held to teach YWCAs how to implement strategies; nationwide Web of Racism conferences helped members recognize the layering of racism in jobs, housing, schools, institutions and daily lives.

1975 – The YWCA started the ENCORE program, exercise and support for women who have undergone breast cancer surgery.  The program was expanded in 1991, 1992 and 1994.

1980s and 1990s – Work on racial justice continued through public policy action on legislation, through collaborations, and by hosting the YWCA Racial Justice Convocation  bringing together key civil rights leaders, public officials, and university representatives  to develop blueprints for racial justice training.

1998 – A major reorganization of the YWCA of the USA was inaugurated. The National Association of YWCA Executives convened a meeting where more than 400 members called for radical restructuring of the organization. During the next four years hundreds of volunteers and staff developed a plan entitled “Steps to Absolute Change”

2001 – “Steps to Absolute Change” was adopted. The YWCA shifted from a top down to a bottom up grassroots organization. Local associations joined regions and elected their representatives to the National Coordinating Board. They also adopted a focus on Hallmark Programs – the Economic Empowerment of Women and Racial Justice, set in place the goal for a revitalized brand identity and put a renewed emphasis on advocacy, developing leaders under 30 and enhancing connections with the World YWCA.

2004 – YWCA of the USA became YWCA USA and the organization launched a revitalized brand that reaffirms the mission and firmly positions the organization for today and the future.

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