The History and Impact of the YWCA on Women's Rights

Woman And Marian Anderson, important figures in YWCA history

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The YWCA advocates women on many levels internationally and in the U.S. YWCA offers safe havens for women that suffer domestic violence, rape crisis counseling, and even job training and career counseling. The YWCA also helps women with childcare, and, of course, health and fitness programs, too.

Organization Basic Information

Name: YWCA USA (Formerly called YWCA of the U.S.)

Website Address:

Contact Information: YWCA USA, 1020 19th Street NW, Suite 750, Washington, DC 20036; Email:; Phone: 202-467-0801; Fax: 202-467-0802

Size of Organization (as of 2008): The YWCA is a global women’s organization with more than 25 million members in 122 countries. In the United States, the YWCA has approximately 2.6 million members in 300 local YWCA associations.

Origins and Date Founded: The Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) was founded in 1855 in London by Emma Robarts and Mrs. Arthur Kinnaird.

In 1858 the YWCA movement made its first appearance in the U.S. when New York City and Boston opened women's residences. Only two years later, in 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.

Mission Statement: “YWCA is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.”

Purpose and Services

If you think "fitness and social club" when you hear “YWCA,” you’d be conjuring the wrong image. The YWCA is the oldest and largest multicultural women's organization in the world.

The YWCA advocates for women and minorities on many levels both internationally and in the U.S. The YWCA offers safe havens for women that suffer domestic violence, rape crisis counseling, and even job training and career counseling. The YWCA also helps women with childcare, and, of course, health and fitness programs, too.

History of the YWCA

During its long history, the YWCA has contributed to women in a variety of ways. The YWCA has played a key role in many of the major movements in the U.S. in race relations, labor union representation, and through developing and implementing empowerment programs for women.

YWCAs Global Outreach Begins

  • 1894: In 1894 the YWCA established Traveler's Aid and offered chaperons to liners' crews to protect women traveling in steerage from violent crimes.

YWCA “Firsts”

  • 1915: The YWCA held the first interracial conference in the south, which was conducted in Louisville, Kentucky.
  • 1919: The YWCA was the first organization to hold a meeting for women doctors. This meeting, the International Conference of Women Physicians, had attendees from 32 countries for six weeks and focused on women's health issues.

Women’s Empowerment Programs

  • 1975: Expanding on their existing health and fitness programs for women, the YWCA started the ENCORE program and exercise and support for women who have undergone breast cancer surgery.
  • 1995: The YWCA began its Week Without Violence® initiative. This public awareness program is observed the third week annually in October in a national effort to unite men and women against violence in our communities.

Labor and Women’s Employment Relations

  • 1920: As women began to take on more jobs in labor industries, the YWCA responded. To improve the work environment for women in industrial plants, the YWCA Convention voted for "an eight-hour-per-day law, prohibition of night work, and the right of labor to organize."
  • 1930s and 1940s: YWCA trained women for “men’s” jobs including New York City bus drivers, “Rosie the Riveters,” and as lathe operators.
  • 1966: Participated in Project Equality and began refusing business dealings with companies that have discriminatory employment practices including withdrawing funds from banks that overtly participated in the South African Consortium.

Race Relations and Equality for Women

  • 1890s: A visionary promoter of equality, the YMCA opened the first African American YWCA branch in Dayton, Ohio, and the first YWCA for Native American women in Oklahoma. Years later, in 1909, the YWCA began offering bilingual instruction to help immigrant women.
  • 1930s: YWCA worked toward desegregation and to protect African American civil rights in the U.S. It actively encouraged YWCA members to openly speak out against lynching and mob violence against black Americans.
  • 1940s: In 1942 the YWCA opened its services to Japanese American women and girls incarcerated in World War II Relocation Centers. And, in 1946, the “YWCA adopted its Interracial Charter—eight years before the United States Supreme Court decision against segregation.”
  • 1950s: During the 1950s, the U.S. YWCA sent leaders to address local villages of African countries that were becoming independent. The YWCA inspired and helped women establish their own leadership and pooled resources to create YWCAs in Kenya, Uganda, Rhodesia, South Africa, and other regions.
  • 1960s: The YWCA refused to abide by segregation practices and integrated its own black YWCA branches into the organization. It opened the Atlanta YWCA cafeteria, the first desegregated public dining facility in Atlanta.
  • 1992: The acquittal of four white Los Angeles police officers in the beating of Rodney King, a black man accused of a crime, resulted in riots and racial tensions throughout the nation. In response to the incident, the YWCA adopted The National Day of Commitment to Eliminate Racism held each year on April 30th.