The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) calls itself America’s largest provider of battered women’s facilities. According to its website, the organization has more than 25 million members in 122 countries, including 2.6 million members and participants in 300 local associations in the United States. Its mission is “to eliminate racism and empower women … provide safe places for women and girls, build strong women leaders, and advocate for women’s rights and civil rights in Congress.”
Founded by temperate Protestant women, the organization from its beginning expressed a religiously based concern for the worth of all human beings. The first YWCA was opened in Boston in 1859, but the organization came to prominence during the Industrial Revolution by creating a safe haven for young working women. The move from farms to factories had created a crisis in affordable, decent living for unmarried women. The first YWCA in New York City provided a boarding house for young women as early as the Civil War era. The YWCA spread to college campuses that admitted women, and by 1890 there were over 100 such chapters.
After becoming incorporated in 1907, the YWCA began to hold national conventions. In 1911 it advocated for a minimum-wage law as a measure to protect young women from turning to prostitution to supplement their meager factory wages. During that period, the organization introduced the concept of positive health, which included sex education, known at the time as “social morality.” Essentially a program to teach avoidance of venereal diseases, the social morality program was eventually adopted by the War Department’s Division of Social Hygiene in 1918.
In the 1960s this program changed focus and sought to encourage “frank facing of current sex practices in our culture as they affect young women of different backgrounds.” In 1970, the YWCA convention voted to join with other feminist organizations and advocate for human sexuality as an integral part of school curriculum. Today, with federal grants, the YWCA continues this tradition with peer-led discussions of sexuality, sexual behavior, sexual violence, sexually transmitted diseases, rape, incest, and sexual preferences and lifestyles. The organization advocates more Title X public funding to discuss sexually transmitted diseases, but opposes abstinence education. The YWCA now regards homosexuality as a lifestyle “choice” for young girls.
Former National Organization for Women (NOW) President Patricia Ireland served as the YWCA’s Chief Executive Officer from May to October of 2003. A member of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, the YWCA has been a longtime sponsor of NOW’s “Fight the Right” campaign started by Patricia Ireland in 1996 to respond to the Republican takeover of Congress. Stating that it “seeks to eliminate racism,” the YWCA sponsors many national race-related events and in 1997 persuaded President Bill Clinton to declare April 30th the YWCA National Day of Commitment to Eliminate Racism. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the YWCA put out press releases calling for “tolerance” and it opposed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. It also opposes school vouchers; supports universal access to taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand; and supports voter-education and get-out-the-vote programs sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the AFL-CIO. The YWCA was a partner in the AFL-CIO’s “Working Women Vote 2000,” which was heavily concentrated in Florida and focused on electing Al Gore for President.
The YWCA receives substantial corporate support from Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, Pepsi-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Xerox, and many others. It has also received enormous amounts of federal funding — nearly $49 million through 2001. Many foundations have given large grants to the YWCA as well. Among these are the Allstate Foundation; the American Express Foundation; the Annie E. Casey Foundation; the AT&T Foundation; the Bank of America Foundation; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; the David and Lucille Packard Foundation; the Fannie Mae Foundation; the Ford Foundation; the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation; the Minneapolis Foundation; the New York Times Foundation; the Public Welfare Foundation; the Sara Lee Foundation; the Target Foundation; the Turner Foundation; the Verizon Foundation; the Vira I. Heinz Endowment; and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
The YWCA is also a member organization of the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE), a coalition of groups that believe the American workplace is rife with sexism and discrimination against women. Each year the YWCA recognizes “Equal Pay Day,” signifying “how far into the year the average woman must work to earn as much as a man earned by the end of the previous year.” In 2006, this date fell on April 25.