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YWCA of the U.S.A. Records. Record Group 06. Program, 1870-2002
Collection number: 324_rg6

This record group documents national staff and committees' work to achieve the overall goals and program of the Association as directed by the National Convention. Series within this Record Group document Public Advocacy; work with Employed Women, Immigrants, Teen-agers, and Young Adults; Racial Justice work; War Work; and program materials on camping, health, recreation, music, pageantry and drama, and religion. Materials include committee and department minutes, reports, correspondence, programs and projects files, publications, conference files, reference files, studies, subject files, surveys, and training materials. Forms part of the YWCA of the U.S.A. Records.

Terms of Access and Use:

Restrictions on access:

The records are open to research according to the regulations of the Sophia Smith Collection without any additional restrictions.

Access to audiovisual materials may first require production of research copies.

Restrictions on use:

The YWCA of the USA retains copyright ownership of the records, but has authorized the Sophia Smith Collection to grant permission to publish reproductions or quotations from the records on its behalf.

Copyright to materials authored by persons other than YWCA staff may be owned by those individuals or their heirs or assigns. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights for permission to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use."

Sophia Smith Collection
Smith College
Northampton, MA

Scope and contents of the collection

[Forms part of YWCA of the U.S.A. Records]

NOTE: For the most part, the Microfilmed Records and the Original Format Records do not duplicate each other and both should be consulted. This description covers materials in both formats. See the "Contents List" within each series for a folder-level inventory of the Original Format Records. See the Microfilmed Records Reel Lists for a detailed inventory of the microfilm.

This record group is divided into the following Series and Subseries:

Folder for "Call to Dialogue and Action" Kit, 1968

Folder for "Call to Dialogue and Action" Kit, 1968

In October 1970, Beth Marti, chair of the newly formed Program Coordination Core Group, described the YWCA's multi-faceted use of the word "Program" as follows: "Program in a very real sense is everything we do! It encompasses not only the positions we take and the goals we set, but also the ways we determine to work at them."

The word "Program" is used to refer to the overall agenda of the Association, as well as efforts on behalf of specific "constituent groups" (such as employed women, girls/teens, and immigrants), and in various key areas of concern (such as international and interracial relations, religion, and health). It is also used when referring to the various materials and techniques used to communicate the Association's principles and carry out its mission of bringing "abundant life to all."

From the founding of the National Association in 1906, its basic areas of concern have remained remarkably consistent while the methods for addressing those concerns and the language for describing them changed with the times. The Association has worked for the betterment of life for all human beings worldwide, with a particular emphasis on young women and girls. The YWCA always defined "betterment of life" in broad terms. Programs were designed to encourage women to take their place in society as leaders and informed citizens, to work for social and economic justice, to facilitate women's economic advancement, to help them live healthier lives and to express themselves creatively. The YWCA movement saw building and maintaining a diverse membership across barriers of race, economics, religion, and nationality as crucial to its mission.

The National Association determined its overall program at its periodic National Conventions. National Committees developed aims and goals for the Association in consultation with regional committees and staff. They presented these to the membership prior to Convention in the form of Convention Work Books containing draft language of prioritized program goals for the Association. After preparatory discussions at the local level, Community and Student Association members selected representatives to attend Convention where they would vote to approve or advocate for change in the proposed program for the National Association.

Once the overall program was approved at Convention, national staff and committees set to work using a variety of techniques aimed at addressing the concerns and achieving the goals of the program. These techniques included public advocacy through lobbying of lawmakers and working in a multiplicity of ways to shape public opinion; carrying out "studies" to determine needs that the YWCA could address; organizing conferences and other kinds of training/educational events and programs; and developing, publishing, and distributing a wide range of "program materials" in the form of handbooks, study guides, "work tools," manuals, bibliographies, guides, project suggestions, kits, discussion outlines, etc., for use in local Associations.

The period from the founding of the National Association through World War I saw dramatic expansion of the size and scope of the Association. The new Association spent its first few years making a careful study of the "field," examining the needs of young women and the existing organizations working to meet those needs. Gradually, it established national programs for traditional YWCA constituents, such as employed women, and initiated new efforts on behalf of others, such as immigrant women and their first generation daughters. It transformed somewhat haphazard programming for younger girls into a vibrant "Girl Reserve" of future members and leaders for the National Association, and began work with "Colored" women. [For more information see SERIES IV. CONSTITUENT GROUPS .]

Effective methods for achieving YWCA goals were developed and tested in Conference settings and disseminated via a vibrant publication program. Conferences provided opportunities to bring members together regionally and nationally for sustained training along with recreational and enrichment activities. Week-long summer conferences, based on a model developed by various student Christian movements, were particularly intense and broadening experiences for members and staff alike. [see SERIES II. TRAINING AND PERSONNEL, and Conference files in SERIES IV. CONSTITUENT GROUPS.]

As part of its general expansion, the National Association decided to enlarge its already active publishing program in 1916 and founded the Womans Press to try to fill a gap in the publishing market with general interest publications specifically aimed at girls and at helping "the modern-day woman to adjust herself to the world in which she lives." It was hoped that this new venture might help pay for the extensive "technical" materials produced by the National Association for use by Community and Student Associations. [For more information see SERIES VI. PUBLICATIONS]

In addition to its work with "constituent" or "membership" groups, the National Association worked to sway public opinion and advocate for legislation to benefit its constituency and to address the "un-Christian elements in our so called 'Christian Civilization'." These efforts became more central to the mission of the Association after passage of the Nineteenth Amendment granting women the franchise in 1919. [For more information see SERIES III. PUBLIC ADVOCACY .]

The influx of funding associated with World War I allowed for an especially dramatic expansion of program [see SERIES VII. WAR WORK AND DEFENSE SERVICES] that proved difficult to sustain once that special funding was exhausted, especially during the Great Depression. Lack of funds caused a considerable reduction in staff. The Association was hesitant to abandon altogether work begun with war funding, decisions about the future of various programs were postponed and the remaining staff did its best to sustain them. In 1933, the Association established the Committee on Review of Program and Budget to make recommendations about how to prioritize national program while reducing its budget deficit.

Hoping that the challenging economic situation would be temporary, the Committee recommended an emphasis on the development of the Association as a whole rather than the "special groups" within it, transferring the already considerably reduced program staff from specialist work to a "general advisory" role. The idea was to "foster the unique contribution of women to the life of the nation and the world" through "the interpretation of religious values, the development of the technique of fellowship, and…releasing the power of religion to meet the present most pressing needs of individual girls and women, and of society." This translated in part into "less time and money spent for preparation of printed and mimeographed material on administrative problems and on program." It also meant a reduction in programs for individual constituent groups and emphasis on more general "group work" training.

What began as a response to a short-term financial crisis gradually became the norm for the National Association which never re-established the national level, wide-ranging program development of its early years. The Program Planning Committee (established in 1939 to develop long-range, centralized program planning) identified five overall objectives for the Association: providing effective direct service to local associations; encouraging a diverse membership; fostering religious commitment; developing a program of social action; and encouraging international cooperation, particularly through participation in the World's YWCA. With these objectives in mind, the Committee considered which subjects should remain in the program and how much staff would be needed to "carry the subject." As part of their deliberations, the Committee analyzed whether some YWCA programs had outlasted their usefulness and if the YW remained the most effective organization to operate such programs in light of a growing state- and nationally-funded social service infrastructure.

World War II provided a temporary influx of funding similar to the first World War, but budget problems returned in force with the end of post-war reconstruction. A major study of the National Association's finances in 1947 forced another examination of "what program, essential and vital to the life of the whole Association, the National Board should carry." Having decided it would like to work toward balancing its national budget, the National Board established in 1948 a Program and Budget Apportionment Committee responsible for continuing study of the national program, making budget recommendations that would match program with available funds, and recommending appropriate structure to achieve effective administration and correlation of program. The Committee identified three major areas of work: strengthening the religious life of the YWCA, developing an active and responsible membership, and world citizenship.

Staff and members interested in developing programs in these areas submitted proposals to the Committee. Approved proposals might be forwarded for inclusion in the regular budget, or the applicants might receive permission to seek outside funding.

From this point on, the few programs or projects initiated at the national level tended to be limited-term projects funded by grants from the U.S. Government and charitable foundations. They were administered at the national level, but tended to take place at selected local associations, not nationwide.

Paper shortages during World War II forced curtailed operations of the Womans Press. After a brief attempt at revitalization, the National Association decided to abandon the venture and sell its rights to the general interest titles in 1952. A much-reduced publishing program continued to generate some "technical" materials for Convention and for use by Community and Student YWCAs.

Continued financial struggles along with the move to emphasize the development of the Association "as a whole" helped to shift the remaining program-related activities at the national level toward an increase in public advocacy. One of the major areas of activity was interracial relations [see SERIES III. PUBLIC ADVOCACY and SERIES IV. CONSTIUTENT GROUPS]. Other programs, such as the Juvenile Justice Program and Job Corps Training Centers, were designed to take advantage of U.S. Government funding.

The political upheaval of the late 1960s and early 1970s fostered a few relatively short-lived program efforts at the national level. These tended to be information "clearinghouse" style centers including a women's resource center, racial justice center, public policy center, and staff specifically designated to work on health and environment issues, as well as religion.

In 1991, the National Association opened an office in Washington, D.C., and the following year it established the Advocacy and Research Division to enable the YW to become a recognized presence in the national capital which could "aggressively seek opportunities to speak on public policy issues and issues of concern to the YWCA. One of this Division's activities was the Women's Political Empowerment Program. [See SERIES III. PUBLIC ADVOCACY]

By the 1990s, most of the national-level YWCA programs tended to be corporation- or foundation-funded. They included public awareness campaigns, such as the Week Without Violence and the National Day of Commitment to Eliminate Racism; health and sports programs such as ENCORE plus (originally a post-mastectomy program, it was expanded to include breast and cervical cancer screening and education) and Nike Basketball and Volleyball programs for girls; as well as youth development programs such as TechGYRLS, the Mott Pregnancy Prevention Program, and YWCA/PespiCo Girls Leadership Program. [See SERIES IV. CONSTIUTENT GROUPS and SERIES V. PROGRAM SUBJECTS]

Organization of the collection

This record group is divided into the following Series and Subseries:

Information on Use
Terms of Access and Use
Restrictions on access:

The records are open to research according to the regulations of the Sophia Smith Collection without any additional restrictions.

Access to audiovisual materials may first require production of research copies.

Restrictions on use:

The YWCA of the USA retains copyright ownership of the records, but has authorized the Sophia Smith Collection to grant permission to publish reproductions or quotations from the records on its behalf.

Copyright to materials authored by persons other than YWCA staff may be owned by those individuals or their heirs or assigns. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights for permission to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use."

Preferred Citation

Please use the following format when citing materials from this collection:

YWCA of the U.S.A. Records, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Mass.

Additional Formats

A copy of the microfilmed records of the YWCA of the U.S.A. Records is available to borrow from the William Allan Neilson Library at Smith College via Interlibrary Loan.

To request the microfilm from our library you will need to submit the following information to your library's Interlibrary Loan department:

  • Author: Young Women's Christian Association of the U.S.A. National Board
  • Title: Records, 1876-1970 [microform]
  • WorldCat Accession Number: OCLC 57415795
  • Notes: "Call # 689" and reel number(s) you want to borrow

Full descriptions and reel lists of the microfilm are available online.

History of the Collection

The YWCA of the U.S.A. donated a portion of its records to the Sophia Smith Collection in 1964 and the remainder in 2002 and 2003.

Processing Information

Processed by Maida Goodwin, Amy Hague, Kara McClurken, Amanda Izzo, 2008 FY 07-08

Record Groups

Additional Information
Contact Information
Smith College Special Collections
Young Library
4 Tyler Drive
Northampton, MA 01063

Phone: (413) 585-2970
Fax: (413) 585-2886

Processing of the YWCA Records was made possible by the generous support of the National Historical Records and Publications Commission and the estate of Elizabeth Norris.

Search Terms
The following terms represent persons, organizations, and topics documented in this collection. Use these headings to search for additional materials on this web site, in the Five College Library Catalog, or in other library catalogs and databases.

  • Adult education--United States--History--Sources
  • Women--Services for--United States
  • Working class women--United States--History--20th century--Sources

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