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Women's History Month

2011 - Our History is Our Strength: YWCA

“Our History is our Strength” is the national Women’s History Month theme for 2011.

2011 is also the centennial anniversary of the YWCA of South Hampton Roads. The ODU Libraries would like to take this month to promote and celebrate the YWCA which "has served as a source of strength to over a quarter million women and children in Hampton Roads." This Web site and a corresponding exhibit feature materials from the archives of the YWCA of South Hampton Roads which are held in Special Collections of the ODU Libraries.


YWCA Web site

YWCA: 1911 - 1961. Norfolk, VA: Young Women's Christian Association, 1961.
40-page history of the Young Women's Christian Association in Norfolk, Virginia from 1911-1916.

2009/2010 Annual Report for YWCA, South Hampton Roads.

The Papers of the YWCA of Hampton Roads. Special Collections and University Archives, Patricia W. and J. Douglas Perry Library, Old Dominion University Libraries, Norfolk, VA 23529.


Robertson, Nancy Marie. Christian Sisterhood, Race Relations, and the Ywca, 1906-46, Women in American History. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007. BV1340 .R58 2007

Spain, Daphne. How Women Saved the City. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001. HQ1420 .S64 2001


Gerritsen Collection of Aletta H. Jacobs
Contains full text of books, pamphlets and periodicals reflecting the evolution of a feminist consciousness and the movement for women's rights. This collection was started in the late 1800's by Dutch physician Aletta Jacobs and her husband C.V. Gerritsen, and has since become the greatest single source for the study of women's history in the world. Sample item:

Moor, Lucy M. Girls of yesterday and to-day the romance of the Y.W.C.A. London: S.W. Partridge, [1911?]

Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000
Provides a wide variety of resources relating to the history of women in social movements in the United States. The collection includes the online version of "Notable American Women".

DATABASES for finding articles:

Gender Studies Database
Combines Women's Studies International and Men's Studies databases with the coverage of sexual diversity issues, providing the full spectrum of gender-engaged scholarship inside and outside academia. 1972 - present

Women's Studies International
Covers the core disciplines in Women's Studies to the latest scholarship in feminist research. Essential sources include: journals, newspapers, newsletters, bulletins, books, book chapters, proceedings, reports, theses, dissertations, NGO studies, Web sites & Web documents, and grey literature. 1972 - present

Exhibit Poster

About the YWCA South Hampton Roads

The Young Women's Christian Association is the oldest and largest women's membership association. It began in London in 1855 and first came to the United States in 1858. Although similar in name, the YWCA has no affiliation with the YMCA.

The YWCA was an independent movement that arose out of women's church groups as a way of making life better for other women. These first YWCAs provided boarding houses, skills training, recreation, and a social environment for single, working women. After World War II, the YWCA's emphasis shifted to the family -- mother and children. In 1946, the YWCA adopted an Interracial Charter. Its purpose became the empowerment of women and the elimination of racism.

Throughout the world YWCAs are in 122 countries serving 25 million women and their families. The YWCA has been at the forefront of most major movements in the United States as a pioneer in race relations, labor union representation, and the empowerment of women. There are nearly 300 YWCA associations nationwide employing about 15,000 staff members and utilizing 70,000 volunteers.

The YWCA of South Hampton Roads started as housing for working girls in 1893 -- "the Girls Home of Norfolk." In 1899, the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA began offering community services to African-American women. By 1911, the Central YWCA of Norfolk was officially chartered by the national YWCA.

YWCA South Hampton Roads: Highlights 1911-1961

1910s –

  • Provided a residence for single women leaving their homes to find work in the city
  • Established their headquarters at 127 College Place, with the residence at 210 Brewer Place
  • Offered classes in cooking, tailoring, millinery, stenography, Bible studies, typing, gymnastics
  • Opened a cafeteria as a service project to provide a social atmosphere where women did not have to be escorted by men
  • Created a vacation lodge for “working girls” on Tanners Creek at the end of 48th St.
  • Emphasized the importance of physical health to working girls
  • In 1919, the Central YWCA moved to 300 Freemason Street

Mrs. C. P. Shaw was the founding president of the Norfolk YWCA

Mrs. Laura E. Titus was the first president of the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA which was founded in 1899 and named for Phillis Wheatley, America's first African-American published poet and author.  Located on Cumberland Street, they offered a residence hall for young women, job training, recreation programs, summer camp (Camp E.W. Young), youth clubs and critical social services.  In 1925, the Wheatley YWCA and the Central YWCA began to collaborate.

1920s -

  • Girl Reserve Club program was created for “character building” of school age girls
  • An Employment Service began
  • Many industrial-oriented clubs formed, including the Business Women's Club, with this aim: "that the girl of today be a well balanced person, for the YWCA activities embrace classes to train her to be well, to look well, to speak well, and to live well."
  • Camp Owaissa was established as a permanent summer camp for girls

1930s -

  • Programs continued during the Depression
  • A Practice School was set up to help girls keep skills of typing and dictation until they found employment
  • Variety Shows were provided to raise money
  • YMCA and the Boy’s Club shared some of their services with the YWCA
  • Norfolk Division of College of William & Mary (now ODU) rented its pool facilities for YWCA swim classes

1940s -

  • YWCA offered “traveler’s aid” to military wives visiting Norfolk
  • YWCA opened their own USO in 1942 – the 300 Club -- which provided hostesses for servicemen
  • Ladies’ Day Out program launched to give women "a needed break from children and chores" -- 80 women attend. A nursery was available for the children.
  • Merry Matrons program for older women
  • “Girl Reserves” became the Y-Teen program
  • Norfolk YWCA urged the establishment of the United Nations
  • Phyllis Wheatley branch move to Washington Avenue
  • The US Army commandeered the cafeteria during the war
  • After the war, YWCAs throughout the country turned attention to housewives and mothers

1950s -

  • Central YWCA moved to 253 Freemason Street at Granby
  • Phyllis Wheatley branch moved to 927 Park Ave, where they housed administration, operated programs and provided residence for 51 girls
  • Membership and enthusiasm increased
  • Fun After Five program offers evening classes and activities to "women who have more time available"
  • Junior “Y” program opened to girls under 12
  • Interest in physical fitness made women’s exercise classes more popular
  • YWCA residence was filled "with girls from the surrounding area who came seeking work in the city, or to take commercial and beauty school classes"
  • Community Understanding Committee was formed in 1957 with women from B’nai B’rith, United Church Women and YWCA, and later with the Norfolk Council of Catholic Women and the Unitarian Alliance.  The first program was on prejudice.
  • Other YWCA groups began organizing:  Virginia Beach, Bayside, Little Creek

YWCA South Hampton Roads: Highlights 1961-2011

1960s -

  • The original residence hall on College Place was torn down to clear the way for a parking lot
  • Residence facilities at Freemason Street house "38 semi-permanent young ladies and 11 transients"
  • Integrated swimming programs were offered to help break down barriers of racism
  • Ladies Day Out program continues to expand its courses, including investments, flower arranging, golf, horticulture, drama, cooking, sewing, exercise, bridge, art, table setting, and "How to Conduct a Meeting" -- over 3,000 women attend.
  • Men are invited to attend some co-ed courses

1970s -

  • All local branches officially merged in 1972
  • Phyllis Wheatley branch closed in 1972 after later sold their building to Norfolk State University
  • Classes and programs continued to expand
  • Nursery School opened for children three to five years old at the Virginia Beach branch

1980s -

  • Women in Crisis program opened shelter for battered women
  • Women in Transition program implemented to help economically disadvantaged women find employment or gain job skills
  • Winners Dinners, where women of achievement are recognized, are established (later, "Women of Distinction" luncheons)
  • YWCA Kids, a before and after school program, was begun to prevent for elementary age children from being left at home alone

1990s -

  • Women in Crisis domestic violence shelter adds 24-hour hotline for victims and their children
    • Individual and group counseling and legal information provided to domestic abuse victims
    • A children's center offered education and fun
    • Sessions also available to batterers to eliminate their violent behavior
  • Y-Prep program for younger girls
  • Centennial celebration of the Phyllis Wheatley branch

2000s -

  • Offices moved from Freemason Street to 5215 Colley Avenue in 2002. The new building also houses the Response/Sexual Assault Support Services and stores clothing and food for the Y's shelter.
  • YWCA USA changed their logo and branding to include - Eliminating Racism Empowering Women
  • Mosaic Partnerships Program established with representatives of the YWCA, Norfolk United Facing Race, TCC, and the Urban League of Hampton Roads to accomplish the common mission to eliminate racism
  • TechGYRLS program implemented to steer girls toward careers in technology and engineering
  • "The local YWCA now includes a day-care center, career guidance and life-skills training, domestic violence shelters, crisis intervention for rape victims, and substance-abuse treatment programs."
  • Regina Malveaux was named Executive Director (2010)

2011 -

  • YWCA South Hampton Roads celebrates 100 years
  • YWCA continues to “serve victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, to provide quality, affordable childcare, and to host community events directed at empowering women and eliminating racism.”