YWCA of the U.S.A. Records. Record Group 6. Program: Series II. Training and Personnel
The establishment of the YWCA movement in the United States in the second half of the nineteenth century created an immediate need for women trained in "Association principles and methods" to staff the new Associations. Much of the training sponsored by the YWCA of the U.S.A's predecessor organizations took place in three-week summer study conferences where current and potential secretaries were given the opportunity "to grasp the principles of the work as fully as possible." Courses given included physical culture, recreational activities, Association principles and methods, and Bible study. Other training opportunities took place during the year at three-day to one month long Institutes held at Community Associations.
The need for trained staff continued to grow with the number of Associations, prompting the American Committee to establish a full-year, post-college training course for young women interested in making a career working in the YWCA. The course failed to attract enough students, struggled financially, and was abandoned after one year. A second attempt by the American Committee in 1904 met with more success. The Secretaries Training Institute in Chicago offered a three-term, year-long course that continued until 1908, when training activities moved to New York City to be near the new national headquarters of the merged Association.
The new National Association's Secretarial Committee was given authority for recruiting, training, and recommending individuals for employment as YWCA staff. It studied the various methods of training used by the predecessor organizations and recommended establishment of a National Training System. The System continued the tradition of summer training conferences, and a variety of short-term training institutes at Associations in various parts of the country. It also included the National Training School for intensive post-college study. The School, established in 1908, carried courses in four divisions: Bible, Christian and Social Teaching, The Association Movement, and Personal Efficiency (which included public speaking, and parliamentary procedure). As the organization grew, the School added specialized courses for different types of secretaries: student, industrial, foreign, city, etc. The general course for secretaries lasted one year, religious work directors attended for two.
The Secretarial Department also maintained a bureau of reference; and worked on "general cultivation" of the field through correspondence and "visitation to arouse interest in the question of professional training for Association workers and to bring valuable young women into line of preparation."
The tremendous growth of the Association during World War I, made the need for "an adequate supply of workers who are qualified personally, educationally and spiritually for positions of leadership in the YWCA" especially acute.
In 1923 YWCA staff formed the National Association of Employed Officers (NAEO) "to create and maintain a fellowship of employed officers who are seeking to carry out the purpose of the YWCA; to define standards of service; to encourage professional preparations; to promote that sacrificial spirit and unity which is necessary to the best development of individuals and the organization as a whole; to develop a Christian ethics for the profession that will nurture mutual confidence and loyalty." It was a dues organization with a membership that included anyone working for a salary in the YWCA of the U.S.A., whether on the national staff or working in Community or Student Associations. Through its committees, regional chapters, and constituent group and subject "sections," the group worked cooperatively with the National Personnel and Training Services Committees to raise levels of professional competence, giving input into the content and method of training. The group changed its name to National Association of Professional Workers (NAPW) in 1946. It disbanded in 1953.
By the mid-1920s, the National Training School was struggling. Few secretaries could afford to "give up" a year to a program that did not offer a graduate degree and potential candidates were much more likely to enroll in one of the growing number of Social Work graduate programs which offered credentials useful beyond the sphere of the YWCA. Beginning in 1926 the School's curriculum was broken into shorter "unit courses" which were offered both in New York and at summer conferences and in other regions of the country.
While the full-time, year-long course was losing enrollment, the shorter summer courses at Camp Maqua in Maine, at Asilomar in California, and later at Fletcher Farm in Vermont, were growing steadily. They offered general and specialized training for all types of staff with various degrees of commitment to the Association. Addressing the situation in classic YWCA style, attendees at the 1928 Convention appointed a Council on Professional Study to examine the situation and make recommendations about the future of the Training System to the following Convention. The Council's report to Convention in 1930 recommended that there should be "schools but not a school" with the result that the YWCA closed its National Training School in favor of more short-term and decentralized institutes, seminars, workshops, and conferences.
YWCA training staff was responsible for providing resources for "formal and informal learning in relation to program emphases." It emphasized the YWCA's mission, effective and efficient administration, and social group work, as well as basic personnel issues, such as recruitment, performance evaluation, hiring, and supervision. Training staff continued to offer a system of shorter courses or workshops at YWCAs around the country during the year and longer ones during the summer at one or two locations, such as college campuses. The content and method of the training was ever evolving as staff worked to find the most effective ways to meet the needs of the times. Training staff experimented with a multi-media "Venture" program in the late 1960s, incorporated units of "self-study," and established intern programs for lower-level staff to experience the job of the Executive Director. Because the Association as a whole depended on a core of dedicated volunteers, training for employed staff also focused on techniques for training and working with volunteers.
The Association made regular studies of salary ranges and educational qualifications of staff in its Community and Student Associations. When the studies revealed in the 1950s and 1960s that one quarter of the professional staff in Community Associations were not college graduates, the National Association worked to encourage college completion through scholarships and policies promoting leaves for educational purposes.
In response to changing trends, especially among the volunteer work force, the Association committed itself to a renewed emphasis on leadership training for the 1980s.
When the Max C. Fleishmann Foundation of Reno, Nevada, announced that it wanted to distribute all of its assets, the YWCA submitted a proposal for support of construction of a "leadership development center" located in the fast-growing southwestern U.S. Staff cuts in the mid-1970s had reduced staff in regional offices which left the membership feeling that National was out of touch with their concerns. Location of the center away from New York was an attempt to address that problem.
A site was selected in Phoenix, Arizona, causing some controversy among Association membership due to the apparent inconsistency of building in a state that had not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, a YWCA public policy priority since 1973. Citing the need for a "strong presence…in areas which most need the commitment of the YWCA to racial justice and equality for women," the YWCA went ahead with the construction. Dedicated in 1983, the Leadership Development Center was a year-round, non-residential training center designed to take full advantage of state-of-the-art technology. Though primarily for YWCA staff, it could also be rented by similar groups.
The logistics of administering an operation that was at such a distance from headquarters, as well as the financial burdens of staffing and maintaining the facility, were always somewhat challenging for the shrinking national staff. Part of the National Association's renewed emphasis on leadership training included, as part of Member Association accreditation, required attendance at training sessions in Phoenix. At least some cash-strapped Community Associations objected to the expense involved in traveling to Arizona for training that had previously been offered regionally. Logistical and financial conditions did not improve over time and the Association ultimately decided to sell the Center as part of the major restructuring of the National Association in 1999-2000.
Once again feeling the need of an independent association for discussion of professional and organizational issues, staff members established the National Association of YWCA Executives (NAYE), in 1985. This group played a large role in the 1999-2000 reorganization of the structure of the National Association.