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The Young Women's Christian Association is a worldwide movement which aims to develop the leadership of women and girls to achieve human rights, health, security, dignity, freedom, justice, and peace for all people.  The Sophia Smith Collection is home to the historical records of the YWCA of the U.S.A., the World YWCA's American national affiliate.

The YWCA of the U.S.A. was formed in 1906 when two predecessor organizations made up of Christian Associations in cities and on college campuses agreed to merge.  The National Association took on the work “which the associations have found by experience that they can do more effectively together than alone.” This included (among other things) “interpretation” of the YWCA for the general public, recruitment and training of staff and volunteers, research and study into the needs of women and girls, coordination of international work, and development of a wide variety of tools and techniques to further the YWCA's aims within its own membership and the general public.

Fundraising pamphlet

Fundraising pamphlet published by one of the YWCA
of the U.S.A's predeccessor organizations in 1889

These tools and techniques reflect the YWCA's most fundamental principle, that it is a membership-directed organization for “all kinds of women and girls.” Arguing that we are all enriched through an understanding of the struggles of others, the National Staff worked out a host of methods to help diverse groups of women learn to work together effectively.

Regional, national, and international meetings of various groups of YWCA members gave them the opportunity to formulate recommendations for the program of the National Association.  These were put to a vote at periodic national Conventions.  Once such recommendations were adopted, it became the task of the National Staff to translate Convention Actions into “living form.”

Fundraising brochure

Fundraising brochure, “The World and the Girl,” 1932

Program Packet, 1947

This Program Packet folder from fall, 1947 gives an idea of the range of program materials distributed by the National Association.  The YWCA's goal of bringing “abundant life to all” or helping women to "lead larger lives” has always been concieved in very broad terms.

“The movement changes to meet the needs of the time, the girl, and the group.  Every year brings new demands, new responsibilities and new perplexities to women, therefore the Association cannot remain static.  It keeps its direction and its great, tried principles but revises its ways of working.  Meanwhile it tries to learn more; to think more deeply and truly what its aim and purpose may mean in the life of each new organization….

It is the ideal of the Association that…people shall because of it begin to think differently about women…, especially young women may begin to think more consideringly about themselves – their place in the work of the world and in their homes.”

From Membership Leaflet, Volume I, Number 1: “What is the Young Women's Christian Association? A Christian Movement of Women and Girls,” circa 1924

Group Sing, 1973

A group sing at the 26th National YWCA Convention, 1973

“The YWCA has been from its beginning a membership- participating organization in which final responsibility rests in the voting membership….  [It] is organized as a democracy and not as a welfare organization in which one group of more privileged women works for another group of less privileged girls….

“All of this means very careful attention to the way in which decisions are reached and plans built up, and a continuing effort to draw upon new sources for members who will share in carrying Association responsibility.  This is a slow, painstaking work but is essential if our democracy be more than a theory.

“It is now many years since the YWCA ennunciated the principle that it is a movement with all kinds of women and girls.  This principle grows out of the conviction that an organization with the corporate religious purpose of the YWCA cannot make distinctions of race or nationality or class or creed.  The experience of the organization in acting on this principle has further established this conviction, for it has shown the enrichment and new understanding that have come to the organization itself and to the individuals who make it up, from the contributions of such varied groups.”

From Constitution for City Associations, 1929

Display Card, 1920

Display card with Girl Reserve illustration by Neysa McMein,
circa 1920

"The Young Women's Christian Association specializes in girls.  As the American woman has grown and developed, the Association has enlarged the scope and nature of its work, keeping pace with her progress.  Its national organization is the source of ideas, methods, and programs.  Through the…local association centers these ideas, methods and programs are made concrete accomplishments"

      From "Doings and Dollars," 1921

“The Y.W.C.A. begins with people where they are, but always it has been moving toward a time when it can bring them to a place where they should be.”

From “Findings of an All-Day Meeting of YWCAs of Eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware for Consideration of Interracial Relationships,” December 1, 1936

Fundraising Brochure, 1930

Fundraising brochure, “Where the Roads Lead,”
Rural Communities Department, 1930

Membership Flyer, 1949

Membership flyer, 1949

See Additional Sources
Next: Interracial Education

Original exhibition curated by Maida Goodwin, 2007.  Online exhibition designed by Fraenkel intern
Annie-Sage Whitehurst (Class of 2011), Margaret Jessup, and Maida Goodwin, 2009.

Processing of the YWCA Records was made possible with the generous support from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the estate of Elizabeth Norris (Smith 1936) and the Studwell Fund.

Copyright and use

These collections are open for the use of the public. All items in this exhibit are owned by the Sophia Smith Collection. Copyright of materials may be held by the authors or their heirs or assigns.

The materials available on this website are for research only. Publication and/or broadcast in any form (including electronic) requires permission from the Sophia Smith Collection and the appropriate copyright holder.

For more information on obtaining permissions and how to cite materials, see Terms of Use.

Talking Hands Award

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