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Young Women's Christian Association (Northwestern University Chapter)



The Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) is an international, non-denominational, Christian organization, patterned after, but independent of, the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) which started in London, England in 1844. The YWCA, established in England in 1855, set as its goal to “protect and direct” young women, while instilling Christian values. By the middle of the nineteenth century, both the YM- and the YWCA were firmly established in the United States. The YM- and YWCA, past and present, had city, state, national, and international chapters, offering yearly memberships, community activities, and international conventions.

From the late 1800s to the mid-1960s, campus Y chapters, which operated independently from community Ys, had a strong university presence nationwide. The YMCA, Northwestern University Chapter, was established in 1869. It became affiliated with the National Intercollegiate YMCA movement in 1890, and in the same year the Northwestern University YWCA was formed. The Northwestern University YM- and YWCA were responsible for initiating and nurturing many organizations and services on campus which later became independent, such as Student Employment, Settlement House, Student Clubs, and the Inter-Racial Council.

The YWCA had an active presence on the Northwestern University campus between 1890 and 1963. Operating money was raised by the Advisory Board(s) and through the voluntary contributions of faculty, alumni, parents, and “other friends.” Several faculty wives were active in the initial organization of the YWCA, and members of the Advisory Committee included Mrs. Patten, Mrs. Dyche, and other prominent Evanston women.

Activities hosted by the YWCA were social, civic, and religious. Over the years, activities included a Universal Day of Prayer, Mission Study Program, Peace Week, Teas, Vespers, Mixers, Bridge Tournaments, Sunday Breakfasts, as well as fieldtrips to a variety of places of worship. A specific contribution of YWCA was the Practical Aid Committee. In the early 1900s this committee reported that it had “placed 15 girls to work for their board and residence”; this service later became the University Employment Service.

The YWCA's activities mirrored concerns of the time. The 1908-1913 Scrapbook documents the beginnings of the Northwestern University Circus, which remained a traditional annual event for Northwestern University and community until 1950. The Circus began in the form of a County Fair, organized by the YWCA for the benefit of the Northwestern University Settlement Association. In later years Circus proceeds went to support both the YW- and YMCA, as well as the University's Student Loan Fund. In the 1940's, during World War II, the YWCA had a War Services Committee that cooperated with the University War Council. The Scrapbook for 1941-1952 contains a photograph of young women on this committee making bandages for the Red Cross. The YWCA also gave U.S.O. parties and helped promote “war work for girls.” As the war came to a close, the YWCA Public Affairs Committee, which was part of the National Intercollegiate Christian Council and the National YWCA, hosted events addressing such issues as “Will there be jobs for returning service men?” and “What will be the role of women?” In the late 1940s the YM- and YWCA hosted a series entitled “Daily Adjustments in Married Life.” In the late 1950s and early 1960s the Y's General Assembly of the Northwestern Model United Nations created a program to foster world peace, with the goal of enabling students “to envision man as a member of a world community.”

In 1895, 30% of all Northwestern undergraduate students belonged to either the YMCA or the YWCA. Students of all faiths and socio-economic backgrounds were accepted; sororities and fraternities also assigned representatives to recruit members for the Y. Membership continued to rise until after World War II, when individual denominations created their own independent organizations on campus. In 1939-40, 44% of the Y's yearly operating budget came from the University; the percentage declined over the next few years until, in 1942-43, 0% of the Y's operational money came from the University. By that point, the Administration had decided that it could not continue support the Y without offering support to the other organizations. As a result, at the end of the 1942-43 school year the YM- and YWCA moved off campus. The Y's University Chapter continued to provide student activities, through an off-campus location, until 1963 when it disbanded, at the decision of the Advisory Board, due to lack of membership.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Records of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), Northwestern University Chapter

Identifier: 31/6/59
Abstract The Northwestern University YWCA records document the activities and operation of the organization. The collection fills one archival box, one small and two large drop front boxes and spans the years 1901-1962, with the bulk of the records dating between 1940 and 1950. The records consist of a variety of formats of books and scrapbooks, falling into two categories: Histories and Records, and Scrapbooks. ...
Dates: 1901-1962