YWCA of the U.S.A. Records. Record Group 6. Program: Series III. Public Advocacy
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."
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.