Tracing the Young Women’s Christian Association through ‘Women’s Studies Archive: Female Forerunners Worldwide’

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Gale Review Team

We upload guest posts on behalf of our visiting writers and editors.

|By Rachel Holt, Acquisitions Editor, Gale Primary Sources|

Rachel is the Acquisitions Editor managing Gale’s Women’s Studies Archive series.

This month Gale is proud to announce the launch of the fourth module in its multi-award-winning Women’s Studies Archive series, Female Forerunners Worldwide. Publishing in March 2022 this latest edition to Gale’s Gender Studies programme coincides not only with International Women’s Day but with Women’s History Month, hopefully giving scholars of women’s history, social history, and gender studies much to celebrate.

International Women’s Day is working towards a gender equal world; a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. The history of this wonderful organisation has already been explored in a past blog post but this has inspired me to trace another international organisation which is also working towards the empowerment, leadership and rights of women, young women and girls – the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). It struck me that the YWCA appears in several places across Female Forerunners Worldwide and given the similarities between their initiatives and those of International Women’s Day, this seemed like a wonderful opportunity to explore them further.

History of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA)

The YWCA began in 1855 when the philanthropist Lady Mary Jane Kinnaird founded the North London Home for nurses travelling to or from the Crimean War. The World YWCA was later founded in 1894, with the USA, Great Britain, Norway and Sweden as its founding mothers but the YWCA would go on to spread across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, the Pacific, the Caribbean and Latin America. It initiated projects promoting women’s welfare including adult literacy classes, vocational training, physical education and infant health. Today it is a global movement that engages women and girls from diverse backgrounds, beliefs and cultures. With a presence in over 100 countries across eight regions, the YWCA has over 130,000 volunteer leaders in thousands of local communities across the globe.

“Key Years in YWCA History.” All She Wrote, spring 1984, p. 4-5. Archives of Sexuality and Gender
“Key Years in YWCA History.” All She Wrote, spring 1984, p. 4-5. Archives of Sexuality and Gender, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/OTBHOY715903548/GDCS?u=webdemo&sid=bookmark-GDCS&xid=253be6bd

Material from the State Library of New South Wales

The YWCA appears several times in Female Forerunners Worldwide across different collections and representing many different nations. From the State Library of New South Wales, we have two exciting collections – ‘Australian and New Zealand Women’s Organisations, 1835-2002’ and the ‘Hidden Treasures of the Mitchell Library: Sydney Periodicals, 1886-2016’ – which not only track the activities of the Young Women’s Christian Association of Sydney but also the National Young Women’s Christian Association of Australasia. Mrs Mary Jane Barker launched the YWCA of Sydney, the first permanent YWCA in Australia, to help migrant women, “the shop girls, factory hands and domestic servants,” who were vulnerable to exploitation.

Over the next few decades, branches of the Australian YWCA appeared in Adelaide, Melbourne and Queensland before YWCA Australia was formed in 1907. Today YWCA Australia is an evolving intersectional feminist organisation focused on working towards a future where gender equality is a reality for young women, women, and people of marginalised genders.

The two collections for the State Library of New South Wales contains a variety of fascinating items including collections of prayers, runs of The Australasian Young Women’s Christian Association Quarterly (later the The Australian Y.W.C.A. : the quarterly magazine of the Young Women’s Christian Association) from 1913 to 1975, and monographs such as What it Means to be a Member of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA Of Sydney, 1909).

[Citation Pending] – This digital archive is currently under production. The full citation for this source (including a direct URL) will be available at a later date – check back later to obtain!

Material from the Yale Divinity School

The YWCA next appears in the ‘Yale Divinity School Periodicals’ collection where we are transported to Asia. YWCA has a presence in a number of countries in Asia, including Bangladesh, China, India, Korea, Nepal, and Thailand. From 1890-1930 the YWCA is said to have had a significant role in the development of the Chinese Women’s Movement. In this collection we find runs of Young Women’s Quarterly, later the Y.W.C.A. Magazine from 1919 to 1923, published in Shanghai. These publications are a wonderful illustration of how the Chinese branch of the organisation evolved during the interwar years.

[Citation Pending] – This digital archive is currently under production. The full citation for this source (including a direct URL) will be available at a later date – check back later to obtain!

Material from the Smithsonian Institution

Travelling across to the United States, the YWCA appears again in the ‘Caroline Jones Collection’ sourced from the Smithsonian Institution and the ‘Women’s Joint Congressional Committee’ collection sourced from the Library of Congress. This time the primary sources are not the output of the organisation itself but rather others who interacted with them, allowing for a different viewpoint. These include promotional materials created by Caroline Jones (one of the first female African American advertising figures) designed to promote the 135th anniversary of the organisation.

Women First for 135 Years. 1993. MS Caroline Jones Collection: Series 2: Business Papers; Subseries 2.6: Business, Civic, and Political Organizations and Activities Box 17 Folder 17. Smithsonian Institution. Women's Studies Archive
Women First for 135 Years. 1993. MS Caroline Jones Collection: Series 2: Business Papers; Subseries 2.6: Business, Civic, and Political Organizations and Activities Box 17 Folder 17. Smithsonian Institution. Women’s Studies Archive, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/CVYJCO555063022/WMNS?u=omni&sid=bookmark-WMNS&xid=01f6be25&pg=1

Material from the Library of Congress

There are also multiple mentions of YWCA across the Women’s Joint Congressional Committee’s reports and meeting minutes. The Women’s Joint Congressional Committee was a coalition of American women’s rights organisations formed with the aim of coordinating lobbying around women’s issues at the national level. The YWCA National Board was one of the women’s organisations involved in the Committee and this is a great opportunity to see how the YWCA collaborated with groups such as the National Council of Jewish Women, American Federation of Teachers, and the American Nurses Association, as well as many others.

Minutes of Meetings. 1965. MS Women's Joint Congressional Committee: Minutes of Meetings MS 18849/5/8/M. Library of Congress. Women's Studies Archive
Minutes of Meetings. 1965. MS Women’s Joint Congressional Committee: Minutes of Meetings MS 18849/5/8/M. Library of Congress. Women’s Studies Archive,  https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/HRWMZZ804235499/WMNS?u=omni&sid=bookmark-WMNS&xid=37111f2a&pg=34

Material from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library

Speaking of nurses, an unexpected place where the YWCA appears is the ‘National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses Records’, a collection sourced from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses was a professional organisation for African American nurses founded in 1908 to achieve higher professional standards, to break down discriminatory practices facing black nurses, and to develop leadership. Among one of the Association’s many fights was their 1945 campaign for the inclusion of an anti-discrimination clause in the pending nurse draft bill to prevent “discrimination against Negro nurses in the U.S. armed forces”. Among the organisations supporting this campaign was the YWCA, demonstrating the interconnected support of these women’s groups.

Clippings (Miscellaneous). 1945. MS National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses Records, 1908-1951 Box 6 Folder 2. New York Public Library. Women's Studies Archive
Clippings (Miscellaneous). 1945. MS National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses Records, 1908-1951 Box 6 Folder 2. New York Public Library. Women’s Studies Archive, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/NOBUPU375236110/WMNS?u=omni&sid=bookmark-WMNS&xid=0234dfac&pg=74
Clippings (Miscellaneous). 1945. MS National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses Records, 1908-1951 Box 6 Folder 2. New York Public Library. Women's Studies Archive
Clippings (Miscellaneous). 1945. MS National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses Records, 1908-1951 Box 6 Folder 2. New York Public Library. Women’s Studies Archive, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/NOBUPU375236110/WMNS?u=omni&sid=bookmark-WMNS&xid=0234dfac&pg=61

An archive of interconnected collections with international scope

Hopefully this whirlwind tour through Female Forerunners Worldwide, tracing the path of the YWCA, has not only been interesting, it has demonstrated both the international scope and interconnectedness of these fascinating archival collections. There are many examples of this across the digital archive, so I urge you to dive in and discover more for yourself!


If you enjoyed reading about the Young Women’s Christian Association and Women’s Studies Archive: Female Forerunners Worldwide, you might like:

Blog post cover image citation: Design made by combining image of YWCA poster (circa 1918), available on Wikimedia, with other images from this blog post.

About the Author

Rachel has worked in a variety of roles across the publishing industry and joined the Gale Primary Sources acquisition team in 2017, taking on responsibility for the Women’s Studies Archive programme.  Although women’s history is a personal passion, her other area of focus is fringe politics and Rachel is also in charge of Gale’s Political Extremism and Radicalism series.