- Young Women's Christian Association
- What would later became known as the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) began in the 1850s as a set of disconnected efforts in England and the United States to assist young unmarried women, especially working girls who had migrated from the countryside to the cities. In England, several homes for young women and some all-female prayer unions were established. Among the first was Lady Mary Jane (Mrs. Arthur) Kin-nard's boarding home in London, and Miss Emma Robarts Prayer Union in Barnet. Robart's group began to use the name "Young Women's Christian Association," borrowed from the already existing Young Men's Christian Association. Over the next decades, other boarding homes and prayer groups formed around the country.Similar works emerged in New York and Boston in 1859 and 1860, respectively. Mrs. Marshall O. Roberts of New York City formed what is generally credited with being the first YWCA under the name Ladies' Christian Union. The name Young Women's Christian Association was first used in Boston in 1866. The association in New York City provided a boarding home for young women as early as 1860; one opened in Boston in 1868. In the 1870s, the New York YWCA pioneered in job training, which included the first typewriting instruction for women and the first sewing machine classes. The work in Boston spread to college and university campuses. The first exclusively campus group emerged at Illinois State Normal University (now Illinois State University at Normal, Illinois) in 1873. By 1890, there were more than 100 YWCAs across the United States.In 1877, Robarts and Kinnard met and effected a union of their work under the name, "The London Young Women's Institute Union and Christian Association" with the goal of "prayer and work on behalf of Young Women of all classes." Step by step, the organization developed around six centers, each with its own officers: London, England and Wales, Scotland, Ireland, outside of Great Britain, and Colonial and Missionary.In 1894, representatives from Great Britain, the United States, Sweden, and Norway met to form the World YWCA. Its first international conference in London in 1898 drew 300 representatives from 20 countries. The various YWCAs in the United States did not create a national body until 1906. In 1912, a national headquarters was opened in New York City, where it has remained.Beginning as strictly a women's organization, the YWCA has responded to the Civil Rights movement and to feminism. Its current programs serve girls and young women of all religious, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. The 1958 national convention in the United States voted to work for greater inclusiveness in YWCA leadership, membership, programs, and services. As early as 1965, an office of Racial Justice was established at the national level. Today, the Y sees itself as an organization run by women for women with the goal of improving the status and role of women and eliminating racism.International headquarters of the YWCA are now located in Geneva, Switzerland. There are more than 100 national chapters serving some 2 million members.Further reading:■ Marion O. Robinson, Eight Women of the YWCA (New York: National Board of the YWCA, 1966)■ Mary S. Sims, The Natural History of a Social Institution: The Young Women's Christian Association (New York: Woman's Press, 1936); , The Purpose Widens, 1947-1967 (New York: Woman's Press, 1969)■ Judith Weisenfeld, African American Women and Christian Activism: New York's Black YWCA, 1905-1945 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.