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YWCA of the U.S.A. Records.
Record Group 6. Program: Series III. Public Advocacy, 1870-2002
Collection number: Forms part of MS 324

Records in this series document the formulation of the National Association's public advocacy program, its lobbying efforts on behalf of legislation, and efforts to "interpret" the program to its membership and the general public at local, regional, and national levels. Materials include general historical materials, committee and subcommittee records, mailings to Associations, publications, program materials, reference files on program issues, reports, surveys, and training materials. Forms part of the YWCA of the U.S.A. Records. Record Group 6. Program.

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

Historical Note

The Public Advocacy activities of the YWCA represent the Association as a social force and have been described as "prayer in motion." They encompass "[a]ny issue affecting our common life which requires collective citizen action, legislation, or the development of public policy or efforts to change or improve the conditions or quality of life for all citizens, or correct inequities."

Cover of pamphlet by Joseph Camp, 1948

Cover of pamphlet by Joseph Camp, 1948

In a January 1911 report to the Department of Method, Economic Secretary Blanche Geary, spurred a new type of activity for the National Association when she pointed out that "preventative work for the girl who is not self-supporting is to a large degree futile if it is not coupled with a determined effort to secure her [a] minimum living wage." When Geary's argument was put before the membership later that year at the Third National Convention the YWCA went on record as in "sympathy with the great purpose of securing the determination by law of a minimum living wage for women." With this resolution, the National YWCA began to make use of its influence as a Christian organization in the public policy sphere.

From this point, part of the goal of the Department of Method was to make each Association, club, and committee within the YWCA "a force for social and industrial righteousness." Most of the National Association's earliest public advocacy activities were related to employment issues in the "economic" sphere. World War I prompted the YWCA to expand its longstanding efforts to foster international understanding (known as its "World Fellowship" work) to include public policy efforts in support of international peace.

At the 1920 YWCA National Convention (the first held after passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing women the franchise), the membership voted to "make a study of social and economic conditions affecting women, and of the possibilities of improving such conditions through legislation and that it use resources and influence to help secure such legislation as shall promote the welfare of young women." The National Board's recommendation for adoption of the "Social Ideals of the Churches" of the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America as the social platform of the YWCA, reads in part: "To secure the practical application of these Social Ideals, there will be needed intelligent public opinion, social reform and wise legislation. Through the experience of the last five years [World War I] women have discovered their potential power in public affairs, and with the granting of the franchise there has come to them the responsibility for active participation in the life of the body politic. Many women are not as yet prepared to meet these responsibilities. Many have need of guidance in adjusting their private life to the challenging demands of full citizenship. There is necessity for careful study of the contribution which women can bring to national and international problems." The result was a resolution to use YWCA resources "to further the preparation of women for responsible citizenship and to direct their energies toward the achievement of social righteousness."

When the Education and Research Division was established in the following year (1921), it coordinated the work of three committees concerned with public policy issues: the Legislative Committee, the Council on International Education (originally Council on International Peace), and the Council on Economic Relations. Acknowledging the "closely related and interwoven" aspects of the work of these three committees, the YWCA decided to merge them in 1929 to form the Committee on Public Affairs.

The Public Affairs Committee had responsibility for formulating the National Public Affairs Program for action at Convention. It was also responsible for "interpretation" and implementation of the Program through the development of educational materials for use by Community and Student Associations. The Committee kept abreast of legislation in Congress and the states, kept files of "current and reliable" information related to the Program, and worked with other organizations expert in particular issues. It had responsibility for initiating suggested action on public policy and drafting statements on public policy issues for the National Board. Committee membership included "resident" (local) members and members-at-large who represented the various regions of the country and all divisions and departments of the National Association.

The Committee worked in characteristic YWCA fashion, studying existing conditions, crafting resolutions or recommendations for Convention, and, once the program was approved by that body, working in various ways to advocate for legislation and sway public opinion through community education.

To formulate the National Public Affairs Program, the Committee solicited suggestions from all departments and divisions of the staff and all members of the Committee. The tentative Program was sent to each Association for comment. Changes were then made at Convention and the final version adopted as the basis for public advocacy work during the following biennium/triennium.

From early days, the Program was organized in categories called "sections" with a Subcommittee assigned responsibility for each section. Though the terms used to describe the various sections changed over time, they generally fell into the following broad, and often overlapping, categories:

-civil liberties and democratic rights (including lynching, prayer in public schools, campus unrest, the House Un-American Activities Committee, loyalty oaths, military conscription, voting rights, gun control, and racial and sexual discrimination).

-international relations (including post-war recovery/reconstruction, international labor issues, trade policy, United Nations, status of women, world government, and peace).

-social and economic welfare (including child welfare, consumers, economic opportunity, employment training, health care and health insurance, housing, labor issues, social security, status of women, and women workers).

-ethnic groups (including affirmative action, fair employment practices, race discrimination in the armed forces, segregation, exclusion laws, alien registration, anti-semitism, and refugee issues)

-government and politics (including political party platforms, citizenship education, and the Supreme Court)

-public education (including federal aid, and support for U.S. Department of Education)

-public health and safety (including health insurance, maternity and infant care, prostitution, reproductive rights, and violence prevention)

-youth (including employment opportunities, juvenile delinquency, and franchise)

Science and the Environment became a new category in the late 1960s.

Beginning in the 1930s through the end of the 1950s, Public Affairs was not so closely allied with other Program staff, being either a separate department or part of General Administration.

In the 1930s, the YWCA worked on issues related to the Fair Labor Standards Act, Social Security Act, lynching, support for public education and the establishment of U.S. Dept of Education, refugees, world peace, and the rights of workers to organize.

Issues in the 1940s included international peace, the relocation of Japanese-Americans during World War II, alien registration, fair employment practices, race discrimination in the armed forces, immigrant exclusion laws, European recovery, international human rights conventions, and the establishment of the United Nations. In the 1950s, the Public Affairs Office focused on legislation related to the restriction of civil liberties during the McCarthy era.

Creation of the Bureau of Research and Program Resources in 1960 again grouped Public Affairs staff with other Program staff. Public Advocacy activities during the decade related to civil rights, campus unrest, gun control, the environment, economic opportunity, fair housing, and health care.

The early 1970s Organization Renewal effort called for creation of a Program Development and Public Policy Unit focused on racial justice, religion, health, and the environment. The new "Public Policy Center" (one of various "centers" in the Unit) worked on issues related to women's rights, sex discrimination, affirmative action, school busing, the Vietnam war, reproductive rights, homelessness, agricultural migrant workers, and the minimum wage. Financial struggles prevented full implementation of plans envisioned as part of the Organization Renewal.

In 1991, the National Association established an office in Washington, D.C., to enable the YWCA to become recognized presence in the national capital. To strengthen these efforts, it created the Advocacy and Research Division in 1992. The idea was to aggressively seek opportunities to speak on public policy issues and issues of concern to the YWCA, particularly child care, women's health, racism, domestic violence, and women's political participation. The Division handled financial record-keeping for the Women's Vote Project '96 sponsored by the Council of Presidents of National Women's Organizations. This Project developed a political skills training program for women known as "I Lead." After this experience, the YWCA sought funding from the Ford Foundation for an expanded Women's Political Empowerment Program to develop "program resources" and "training modules" to increase women's political participation. The resulting "I Vote" voter participation program and the "I Speak Out" advocacy training program were designed to augment "I Lead" political skills training program developed by the Women's Vote Project '96.

Administrative History
1911- Method Department, especially Economic Work Secretary
1921-22 Law Reporting Service in Research and Method Department
1923-28 [-31] Legislation and International Education in Education and Research Division
1932 Economics, International Affairs in Laboratory Division; Public Affairs Correspondence in National Services Division
1933-53 Public Affairs Office in General Administration
1954-59 Public Affairs
1960-70 Bureau of Research and Program Resources
1970 Office of Public Affairs
1971-78 Public Policy Center in Program Development and Public Policy Unit
1978-84 Public Policy Center in Program Unit
1984- Public Affairs, Public Policy in Program Services Division
1991 [Washington Office] Public Policy
Sep 1992 Advocacy and Public Policy in Advocacy and Research Division
1922- Legislative Committee, under Education and Research Division
1929-30 Public Affairs Committee under Education and Research Division
1932-33 Public Affairs Committee
1933-39 Public Affairs Committee under General Administration
1940-70 National Public Affairs Committee
1970-71 Public Affairs Core Group [during Organization Renewal process]
1971-73 Public Policy Committee
1982-96 Public Policy Committee
1998- Public Policy and Advocacy Committee
Scope and Contents

Forms part of the YWCA of the U.S.A. Records--Record Group 6. Program.

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 for a folder-level inventory of the Original Format Records. See the Microfilmed Records Reel Lists for a detailed inventory of the microfilm.

Public Advocacy files include general historical materials, committee and subcommittee records, mailings to Associations, publications, program materials, reference files on program issues, reports, surveys, and training materials dating from 1911 to 2000.

Committee records, publications and a few reference files were kept as part of the organization's Central File and were therefore microfilmed. The extensive Program Subject files, maintained separately from the Central File were not microfilmed. These chronicle the YWCA's activities in a wide variety of public policy areas and are available only in original format.

Committee and Subcommittee records document formulation of the National Public Affairs Program as well as drafting of related correspondence with legislators, letters to editors, and other kinds of public statements. It was the duty of Public Advocacy staff to keep abreast of developments related to the Program, monitoring the progress of legislation and collecting related newspaper clippings, pamphlets, and brochures to gauge public opinion and keep informed about ongoing developments.

Regular mailings to Associations and a variety of publications, including both pamphlets and serials, such as Public Affairs News Service, were tools for "interpretation" of the Program. These materials provided ideas and strategies for use by Community and Student Associations to help mold public opinion.

The records reflect the challenges of dealing with controversy stirred by some of the YWCA's more radical stances, and the effects of those stances on funding of the Association. Though the YWCA came to see its public policy work as part of its Christian duty, many in the general public expected a religious organization to stay out of the public sphere.

Microfilmed Records, 1906-70 only

[see Microfilmed Records Reel List]

Records on the microfilm consist of only those materials kept in the Central File and are less extensive than those that survive in original format. Both should be consulted.

Microfilmed records include minutes and reports of the Public Affairs Committee, general subject files on selected public advocacy issues (such as the U.S. Government, labor, peace, communism, and narcotics), and the extensive serials and other publications produced by the program. They can be found on the microfilm under:

  • Minutes and Reports
    • Public Affairs Committee
  • Subject Files
    • Government-United States
    • Labor
    • Peace
    • Public Affairs [publications]
    • Communism
    • Narcotics

Original Format Records, 1906-2000, 34 linear feet

[see Original Format Records folder list]

The original format records are arranged in two subseries:

Subseries A. General

Subseries B. Program Subject Files

Subseries A. General is divided in nine sections: General and History, Office/Staff, Committees and Subcommittees, Mailings, Programs and Projects, Publications, Reports, Surveys, and Training.

Much of the material in General and History appears to have been gathered or created as part of the 50th Anniversary of the Public Affairs Program which was celebrated jointly with the National Council of Jewish Women in 1961-62. Included are a variety of chronologies and subject indexes detailing the YWCA's public policy activities over time. There are also copies of the Program passed at each Convention.

Office/Staff contains a variety of general materials about the office and its communications with Community Associations and others about the Program and about various controversies associated with it.

Committees and Subcommittees consists primarily of minutes, reports, and rosters. A few notes and working drafts give a sense of the process for formulating the Program. The files are relatively comprehensive up to 1969, but contain almost nothing from the 1970s and 1980s and only a few items from the 1990s.

To keep the membership informed about ongoing developments related to the Program, the Committee sent regular Mailings of "Circular Letters" to Community and Student Associations. Items date from 1922 to 1950 and the late 1980s through 2000.

Records in Programs and Projects consists primarily of files related to Child Care, Political Participation, and Violence Prevention programs dating from the late 1980s to 2000. Included are funding proposals, publications, files from workshops, media kits, correspondence and clippings about events at Community Associations.

Public Advocacy Publications consist of brochures, booklets, program materials, organizing kits, and serials to inform the membership about the issues and provide suggestions for activities aimed at forming public opinon.

Reports consists primarily of Committee/Council reports to the National Board on Program activities, 1920-88.

Surveys document late 1990s-2001 questionnaires to Community YWCAs about programs they offer, particularly anti-violence and child care.

Training contains scattered study course, orientation materials, and kits dating from 1927 to 2002.

Subseries B. Program Subject Files consists of files created and maintained by Public Advocacy staff to be a central source of information accessible by subject. They were maintained separately from the YWCA's Central File and were not microfilmed.

They include copies of pending legislation, correspondence with legislators and other organizations, excerpts clipped from Committee and National Board minutes, excerpts clipped from YWCA publications, a wide variety of pamphlets, brochures, newsletters, and flyers put out by other organizations, congressional testimony, friend of the court briefs, texts of speeches, and press releases.

The files were designed to allow YWCA staff to be well-informed about each topic, including the major arguments for and against it, the Association's past activities related to that subject, and the forces aligned against its position. The files originally contained clippings from the mainstream press (including the New York Times and Post, the Washington Post, The Nation, Congressional Record, and the National Capital Reporter). Due to deterioration of the poor-quality paper, any clippings used on for reference, that did not make mention of the YWCA were discarded.

In some cases, the Program Subject Files contain carbon copies of YWCA officers' correspondence that was not retained as part of the Central File documenting activities that are not reflected elsewhere in the Records.

As is true elsewhere in the Records, not much has survived from 1970s and 1980s.

The Program Subject Files are arranged according to the categories or sections in the "Public Affairs Program" as follows:

  • Civil Liberties and Democratic Rights
  • Education
  • Ethnic Groups
  • Government and Politics
  • International Relations
  • Morality and the Media
  • Public Health and Safety
  • Science and the Environment
  • Social and Economic Welfare
  • Youth

It is not unusual for subject areas to overlap and for similar or even duplicate records to appear in more than one category.

Related Materials

In other Series in this Record Group

Materials produced for presenting the Public Advocacy goals of the National Association, can be found particularly in the SERIES IV. CONSTITUENT GROUPS, especially in Conference files, and in SERIES V. PROGRAM SUBJECTS. The YWCA magazine (in SERIES VI. PUBLICATIONS) has extensive coverage of public advocacy issues.

In other Record Groups

Educational work in international relations appears throughout RECORD GROUP 5. INTERNATIONAL WORK.

RECORD GROUP 4. CONFERENCES AND CONVENTIONS contains records of the process for formulating and approving the Public Advocacy Program including records of discussion on the floor of the Convention. The files also often contain press coverage with initial reactions to the Program as approved.

The correspondence and controversy sections of SERIES I. GENERAL ADMINISTRATION in RECORD GROUP 3. NATIONAL ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE, reveal some of the public response to more controversial positions, and the associated effects on fund-raising, etc.

Records of the Student Work in RECORD GROUP 7. reflect the students' strong influence on the Public Affairs Program.

RECORD GROUP 10. AUDIOVISUAL MATERIALS includes footage of YWCA participation in a few demonstrations, television coverage and public service announcements related to the Week Without Violence campaigns of the 1990s, and Institute for Public Leadership training sessions from the late 1980s and early 1990s.

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
Sophia Smith Collection
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063

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

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