“The tenacity of those first few women has been evident in every subsequent generation.”
– Jean Brown, Executive Director, YWCA St. Joseph
This year marks the 130th anniversary of the YWCA St. Joseph and over 100 years since we broke ground on the building we still call home today.
In its earliest years, the YWCA provided housing for young ladies coming to St. Joseph in pursuit of work and education. Later on, we reached into the wider community with help during the years of the Great Depression. In the mid-1900s, the YWCA was on the forefront of efforts toward racial integration and racial justice. Those goals continue to drive us and lay a foundation for all that we do.
It’s true — what started as a group of women going door to door for donations in the late 19th century has grown to beyond what those founders could have imagined. In recent years, the YWCA has served over 500 women a year and given over 16,000 nights of shelter to women and children in need.
Below you’ll find a quick (and fascinating) glimpse into our past 130 years:
Original YWCA St. Joseph founders created the vision and set to work for helping women achieve their goals, and began providing services
The YWCA was home to many young women, who had a “home away from home” while they begin working or attending business school in St. Joseph. Classes were offered in cooking, shirt making, home nursing and first aid. In this same era, we provided a cafeteria where women who worked could eat lunch, as it was unacceptable for a woman to eat lunch alone or with men who weren’t family members! We also provided safe room and board for many young women who worked or attended school for many years.
A handful of women supporters of the YWCA went door-to-door and raised $150,000 in two weeks (well over $3 million in today’s dollars) to build the building we still call home one hundred years later. Just let that sink in – in 1913 these women didn’t even have the right to vote yet, but went door-to-door in horse and buggy and managed to collect the equivalent of $3 million dollars in two weeks! During the Great Depression, volunteers canned surplus fruits and vegetables in our kitchens for families on relief. During World War II girls took welding classes here to assist with war efforts, and volunteered as USO hostesses.
The Blue Triangle Association was added to support African American women.
We celebrated the complete racial integration of the YWCA with a concert featuring Coleman Hawkins. So many people showed up that the windows of our auditorium were opened so that the overflow crowd on the lawn could hear the music.
The YWCA was home to 74 young women, who rented rooms for $8 to $12 per week and were provided with breakfast and evening meals.
The YWCA Shelter for Abused and Homeless Women and Children opened. Over the past 32 years our shelter has almost always been full, currently housing well over 50 women and children daily in a facility designed for no more than 45.
The YWCA has been a part of many of your lives, and we’d like to hear your stories. Did you take dance lessons here? Attend the Young Matrons Club? Swim in the original pool in the basement? Send us an email or post your story on our Facebook page. We’d love to hear from you.