From Ohio History Central
Group of students in front of home extension classroom in YWCA hall, ca. 1910-1919.
Young Women's Christian Association, initially, hoped to assist young women in coping with the tremendous changes occurring in Europe and the United States during the late nineteenth century.
Economically, these United States and Europe were shifting from an agricultural economy to an industrialized one. Many women found employment in factories. Working conditions, in most cases, were dreadful for all types of factory workers, but women faced additional problems due to their gender. These problems included an inability to be promoted due to sexism and less pay for doing the same work as men.
In 1855, the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) was founded in England. The YWCA hoped to assist women in the cities by providing them with a support system, low-rent housing, educational opportunities, religious instruction, and numerous other services. Originally, YWCAs were local organizations. While each group shared the same goals, they did not necessarily work together, and they did not have a centralized leadership. Larger cities developed YWCA offices much more quickly than in smaller cities and towns. The principal reason for this was the increased number of factories and factory workers in large cities like New York, New York and Boston, Massachusetts. The first two YWCA chapters in the United States were located in these two cities. The first YWCA organization in Ohio formed in Dayton in 1870. A chapter also opened in Cincinnati, Ohio, the same year as the one in Dayton. The first African-American YWCA chapter in the United States opened in Dayton, in 1889. By 1890, more than one hundred YWCA chapters existed in the United States. In 1907, the YWCA chapters established a national governing board to direct better the organization's efforts. The group's headquarters was located in New York City, and it is currently (2004) housed in the Empire State Building. Also, in 1907, the YWCA formed the Industrial Department, which provided women in the industrial workforce with both a social and support organization
The YWCA has also played an important role in the Civil Rights Movement. Not only has this group's members fought for the rights of women, they also have battled for African Americans, Native Americans, and Japanese Americans. The YWCA was one of the first private organizations to desegregate its meetings in the South, allowing African Americans to attend gatherings and to become full members. During World War II, the YWCA helped Japanese-American women cope with the difficulties that they faced in internment camps. The YWCA also established chapters on Native American reservations.
One of the YWCA's primary missions has been to improve the rights of women. YWCA members called for extending the suffrage to women during the late 1800s and the early 1900s. The group demanded equal pay for equal work since the late nineteenth century. The YWCA also has battled for sex education in schools. While not all members support abortion or birth control, the YWCA officially endorsed the legalization of these items during the twentieth century. At the start of the twenty-first century, the organization continues to offer counseling and assistance to abused women and their children. It also sponsors job-training programs for women and provides daycare facilities for working mothers. In 2004, the YWCA had 302 chapters across the United States.
- Robertson, Nancy. Christian Sisterhood, Race Relations, and the YWCA, 1906-1946. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2007.