The history of the YWCA is the history of progress in America.
Established in 1858 as a voice for women’s issues, we opened the first employment bureau for women several years later. That was only the beginning of more than 150 years of active advocacy and programming for women’s rights and civil rights.
We continue to evolve to meet today’s challenges in eliminating racism and empowering women. We’ve shifted to a bottoms-up, grassroots structure. We’ve launched a revitalized brand that reaffirms the mission of working aggressively for women and people of color. And we’re engaging women 18- to 34-years old to carry on the YWCA mission for years to come.
The YWCA advocacy issues reflect our mission and the values of our organization. We promote solutions to improve the lives of women, girls and people of color across the country.
From lobbying for pay equity and hate crimes legislation to the increased funding for Head Start and the Violence Against Women Act, the YWCA advocates on Capitol Hill while employees and volunteers empower women and girls in our communities.
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.
The first association in the U.S., Ladies Christian Association, was formed in New York City.
The first boarding house for female students, teachers, and factory workers opened in New York City.
“YWCA” was first used in Boston.
In a YWCA Boston residence for girls, board members installed pulley weights on the back of closet doors, allowing girls from farms to continue to exercise in the city.
The YWCA opened the first employment bureau in New York City.
The first YWCA student association is established in Normal, Ill.
The YWCA opened a low-cost summer “resort” for employed women in Philadelphia.
The Boston YWCA offered a course in calisthenics for young women at a time when women are considered too frail for exercise.
The YWCA Chicago provides medical services at the homes of the sick, becoming the forerunner of the Visiting Nurses Association.
The first African-American YWCA branch opened in Dayton, Ohio.
The first YWCA for Native American women opened at the Haworth Institute in Chilocco, Okla.
The United States of America, England, Sweden, and Norway together created the World YWCA, which today operates in over 125 countries.
YWCA helped to establish Travelers’ Aid, a program created to protect women traveling to cities alone.
The YWCA was the first organization to introduce the positive health concept and sex education in all health programming.
YWCA of the USA was incorporated in New York City.
The YWCA was the first industrial federation of clubs to train girls in self-government.
The YWCA National Board created a commission on sex education.
The YWCA held the first interracial conference in Louisville, Ky.
The YWCA was the first organization to send professional workers overseas to provide administrative leadership and support to U.S. Armed Forces.
YWCA’s program on social morality became the official Lecture Bureau of the Division of Social Hygiene of the War Department “to cultivate an attitude of honest, open, scientific interest in the subject of sex.”
The YWCA held the International Conference of Women Physicians, the first gathering of medical women.
Based on its work with women in industrial plants, the YWCA Convention voted to work for “an eight-hour/day law, prohibition of night work, and the right of labor to organize.”
Grace Dodge Hotel completed construction of a Washington, D.C. residence initially designed to house women war workers.
A YWCA National Board Member was sent to Decatur, Ala. to monitor and assess the administration of justice in the Scottsboro case.
The YWCA encouraged members to speak out against lynching and mob violence, and for interracial cooperation and efforts to protect African Americans’ basic civil rights.
YWCA delegates supported birth control services and worked to make it more widely available to the general population.
The YWCA held the Interracial Seminar, marking the first intercollegiate, interracial, co-ed conference in the South.
The YWCA in Columbus, Ohio, established a desegregated dining facility and is cited by the Columbus Urban League “for a courageous step forward in human relations.”
The YWCA extended its services to Japanese American women and girls incarcerated in World War II Relocation Centers.
The National Board appeared at the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate hearings in support of permanent Fair Employment Practices Committee Legislation.
Interracial Charter was adopted by the 17th National YWCA Convention, establishing that “wherever there is injustice on the basis of race, whether in the community, the nation, or the world, our protest must be clear and our labor for its removal, vigorous and steady.”
The National Convention pledged that the YWCA will work for integration and full participation of minority groups in all phases of American life.
National Convention committed local associations and the National Board to review progress towards inclusiveness and decides on “concrete steps” to be taken.
The Atlanta YWCA cafeteria opened to African Americans, becoming the city’s first integrated public dining facility.
The YWCA National Board became a sponsoring agency in 1963 for the summer March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in Washington, D.C., where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
The National Board of the YWCA created the Office of Racial Justice to lead the civil rights efforts.
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.
YWCA convention voted to emphasize the importance of repealing laws restricting or prohibiting abortions performed by a duly licensed physician.
YWCA established ENCORE, an education, exercise and support program for post-mastectomy patients.
The 26th National Convention held a silent march and sets up a defense fund to protest the treatment of American Indians at Wounded Knee Reservation, S.C.
YWCA established “Fund for The Future,” designed to help with the cost of operations and education programs.
The YWCA National Board urged Congress to support legislation that opposes the South African policy of apartheid.
The YWCA National Day of Commitment to Eliminate Racism began in response to the beating of Rodney King, an African American man, the acquittal of four white Los Angeles police officers accused of the crime, and the subsequent riots and unrest across the country.
The YWCA Week Without Violence was created to united people against violence in communities. The annual observance is held the third week of October.
Igniting the collective power of the YWCA to eliminate racism, the YWCA USA’s Summit on Eliminating Racism, was held in Birmingham, Ala.
YWCA of Trenton, N.J. and YWCA Princeton, N.J. establish the “Stand Against Racism” campaign, which spreads to 39 states with over a quarter million participants.
The YWCA celebrated its Sesquicentennial Anniversary, 150 years of service, with the launch of the “Own It” campaign. The campaign focused on igniting a new generation of 22 million young women aged 18 to 34, inspiring them to get involved with important issues facing women and the country today.
Today over 2 million people participate in YWCA programs at more than 1,300 sites across the United States.