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Young Women's Christian Association of Springfield (YWCA) papers

 Collection
Identifier: MS-BC773

Abstract

History of the Young Women’s Christian Association in Springfield from 1909 to 2009.

On 8 April 1909 several Springfield women met at the home of Mrs. Arthur Prince to discuss what they could do to improve the intellectual, moral, physical, and social needs of women within the community. On 11 May 1909, nine women signed the YWCA charter and commenced writing a constitution and governing by laws to guide the executive board. The ladies of the YWCA remained faithful in keeping their endeavors centered on Christianity and healthy living. The YWCA building was completed by 23 March 1913. There were many clubs within the YWCA such as the Industrious Girls, Business Girls, Tall Girls, the Fun Over Forty, Alouette, Phyllis Wheatley, and the Victory Club, and others. Each club had its own focus and program goals. Women participated in a variety of physical fitness programs including, calisthenics, dance, volleyball, basketball, and swimming. They had youth programs and daycare. Funding was by grants, fundraisers, United Way, etc.

The collection consists of information about the early history of the Young Women’s Christian Association in Springfield that began in 1909. Contains information about the various clubs that formed during early years, athletic programs, annual meetings, fundraising events, program brochures, newsletters, newspaper clippings, miscellaneous items related to the organization, and records of the YWCA Executive Director Office. The files include publicity information about legal cases against the YWCA, legal correspondence, the creation of an international hostel, and other information related to programming at YWCA, membership and personnel information, the financial records of the Young Women’s Christian Association of Springfield which include billing slips, receipts, balance sheets, board minutes, expense accounts, program material, and public relations information pertaining to fundraising and promoting YWCA programs. Contains several volumes of scrapbook material related to the various clubs and activities of the YWCA.

Transferred photographs, albums, disks, records, cassette, and broadsides to Audio Visual on January 21, 2015.

Transferred Flag Streamer-JFK Assassination, 1963 to Artifacts.

Dates

  • 1909 - 2009

Historical Sketch

The Springfield, Illinois Young Women’s Christian Organization (YWCA) first came into existence in 1909 when a group of like minded Christian women met to discuss the creation of a local YWCA. The YWCA was born in London, England in 1855 during the Crimean War. The organization founded by Mary Jane Kinniard and Emma Robarts originally served as a hostel for nurses travelling to and from military hospitals. The Industrial Revolution also facilitated the development of the YWCA in London. The organization expanded to provide women and girls with a respite from the often harsh realities of city life. Along with bible study and moral instruction, the YWCA offered hot meals, boarding, and recreational programs. In 1858 a YWCA was established in New York City and remains the headquarters of the national organization today. Over the next several decades YWCA organizations continued to emerge throughout Europe and the United States, including the YWCA of Springfield. On 8 April 1909 several Springfield women met at the home of Mrs. Arthur Prince at 502 South Second Street to discuss what they could do to improve the intellectual, moral, physical, and social needs of women within the community. Among those in attendance were some of Springfield’s most prominent female citizens including Mrs. Vachel Lindsey, Miss Alice Orendorff, Miss Alice Conkling, Miss Emma Post, Miss Susan Lawrence Dana, and several others. The governor’s wife, Mrs. Charles S. Deneen was also in attendance and remained active with the YWCA during her husband’s political tenure as the 23rd Governor of Illinois from 1905-1913. Also in attendance was Miss Harriet Broad, a representative from the Chicago YWCA. She spoke before the group about the history and success of the Chicago YWCA that had been established in 1876. The Chicago YWCA provided valuable services for women, particularly working women who utilized the YWCA for boarding, hot meals, exercise programs, and Christian fellowship. After the establishment of the Chicago YWCA, other Illinois cities such as Champaign and Peoria also established YWCAs during the nineteenth century. Well into the twentieth century YWCA organizations continued to emerge throughout Illinois including cities such as Decatur, Canton, Alton, Quincy, and other cities. The Springfield women readily accepted Miss Broad’s recommendations and agreed that establishing a local YWCA would be an ally in promoting healthful and moral lifestyles for young women and girls living in Springfield and the surrounding area.

At the turn of the century, Illinois’ capital city had begun to lose its backwoods character. Growing industry and businesses as well as existing government jobs, brought both men and women into the city for employment at state offices, factories, retail businesses, and as domestic servants in hotels and private homes. The city of Springfield had grown exponentially from 1890-1910, with the population doubling from 25,000 to 50,000. New neighborhoods emerged, as well as new churches and schools. Downtown businesses such as food and clothing stores, bars, and restaurants thrived in the growing city. As the capital city, Springfield was also rife with political and social activity. In spite of its prosperity rooted in the nineteenth century, Springfield also had an ugly underside. Day laborers, coalminers, and other locals prone to drink, filled the saloons. With railroad lines into the city, people from surrounding towns made their way to the capital city for various reasons beside employment, including entertainment, shopping, and religious revivals. While many individuals participated in wholesome recreational pursuits at the many churches, theaters, and parks, others joined local merrymakers at the various saloons and brothels where men drank, gambled, and participated in other vice. The latter endeavors often led to much mischief making that kept constables busy and the jails full. Amidst the rapid population growth, crime and vice thrived and poverty persisted.

Bar room brawls were common and racial tensions were prevalent. At the time of the YWCA’s creation, Springfield was a mostly segregated city and was still recovering from the Springfield Race Riots of 1908 that resulted in the death of a white teenage boy and two black men. The white mob destroyed numerous black businesses and homes in the Levee district and also targeted white sympathizers. By all accounts, Springfield was a city in need of a moral cleansing or at least a good bath in the waters of Christianity.

In 1909 Springfield was home to at least thirty churches, two missions, and the YMCA. Many of these institutions hoped to curb the enthusiasm of wayward citizens and return them to productive citizenship, Reform was nothing new for Springfield with its rich history of temperance and benevolent activities. During the nineteenth century into the twentieth, area churches hosted a variety of evangelists and moral reformers to speak at public venues. For example, during the spring months of 1909 a series of sermons were given by a gregarious and charismatic speaker by the name of Billy Sunday. To protect those in attendance from the elements, a temporary tabernacle was erected at 409 East Adams next to the building where the newly formed YWCA conducted it meetings. Sunday’s message was geared toward converting the drunkard, redeeming the prostitute, reforming the gambler, and saving as many souls as possible from the wickedness of the world. Sunday, a former professional ball player and heavy drinker from Chicago enjoyed great appeal among Springfield citizens ready for a change in the social climate. Many citizens readily embraced his hell fire and brimstone tactics and gave themselves to the Lord. During one of Sunday’s meetings on 13 April 1909 more than 4, 000 citizens flocked to hear him preach. Among those citizens were the women from the YWCA. Sunday supported the YWCA’s mission of Christian fellowship for women as well as women’s reform movements such as temperance and suffrage. During the revival meeting, Sunday invited Miss Helen Barnes to join him on the stage to speak about the mission of the YWCA. That evening nearly 1, 300 women became members of the Springfield YWCA.

On 11 May 1909, nine women signed the YWCA charter and commenced writing a constitution and governing by laws to guide the executive board. The YWCA continued to meet at the building at 409 East Adams or conducted their bible study programs at area churches. The early YWCA’s outreach programs informed young women about the perils of city life and helped them navigate the workplace environment. The ladies of the YWCA remained faithful in keeping their endeavors centered on Christianity and healthy living. The YWCA attracted women and girls who sought Christian companionship and a respite from work. Over the next several months membership grew under the leadership of Mrs. Arthur Prince, Mrs. Vachel Lindsay and other organizers. However, the local YWCA lacked the facilities until 1913 to house the many programs that encompassed the mission of addressing women’s spiritual, intellectual, social and physical needs. Within a year, the YWCA had secured land at the corner of Fifth and Jackson on which to build. By 27 May 1912 over $100,000 had been raised and plans were made for a new building. The YWCA members held bazaars, hosted fundraising galas, collected donations through churches, and solicited funds from various local businesses.

On 29 June 1912 a “Laying the Corner Stone” ceremony was held and speeches were given by Governor Deneen, Mayor Schnepp, and Dr. Harriet S. Taylor. Members of the YWCA sang hymns and read poetry to celebrate the event. After the ceremony the women worked tenaciously to secure additional funds to furnish and staff the building. The YWCA was completed by 23 March 1913 and ready for occupation. The three story raised basement brick building at 421 East Jackson is a simple design with a dentil cornice along the roofline. The building housed a gymnasium, a cafeteria, a music room with a stage, and rooms for bible study, health classes, and educational courses such as English, History, and Arithmetic. The YWCA also offered rooms for working girls seeking temporary lodging and lunch and supper meals in the cafeteria for any of the members. The YWCA regularly hosted guest speakers, theatrical events, and other activities for members and the community. Membership grew to over 1,800 the first few years. Over time, clubs and programs continued to emerge based on the YWCA’s Christian mission and individual member interests. Among the many clubs were the Industrious Girls, Business Girls, Tall Girls, the Fun Over Forty, Alouette, Phyllis Wheatley, the Victory Club, and others. Although the programs and clubs remained segregated until after World War II, the building remained a beehive of activity. Each club had its own focus and program goals.

For example, the Victory Club came into existence on Armistice Day 11 November 1918. The club was created by business girls who either attended one of the area business colleges or worked in offices in Springfield. Since the first meeting was held the day marking the end of World War I, the group decided to call themselves the Victory Club. The Victory Club met on Monday nights for Christian fellowship and supper and to talk about workplace issues and college coursework. When the United States entered World War II the Victory Club sponsored numerous war related programs, hosted military recruitment events for the Red Cross and women’s service branches, and assisted with USO parties. Some of the Victory Club members also enlisted in the military during the war. During club meetings the young women discuss their jobs, families, and enjoyed Christian fellowship. After the war years the club worked to raise monies for war relief efforts in foreign countries and to encourage the rebuilding of peace. The Springfield YWCA Victory Club enjoyed the greatest longevity of all the clubs and did not disband until 2003.

The YWCA Phyllis Wheatley Business and Industrial Club also began during the years following WWI. The African American women’s club was founded 4 March 1925. YWCA Executive Director Hester McGauhey spoke at the first meeting and Mrs. Logan Hay served as coordinator. Although the segregated Phyllis Wheatley Club was part of the YWCA it did not hold meetings at the Y building until after WWII. Instead the club met at the Douglas Community Center and gradually grew to about fifty members. With limited space at the community center however, the club did not reach larger numbers. The primary goal of the Phyllis Wheatley Club was to promote leadership, education, and Christian fellowship. In some African American churches black women had limited roles and the club gave them an opportunity to develop leadership skills. Many of the club members were working women who found support among their peers. The club women also conducted fundraisers and held events to raise monies to fund conference travel, support meetings, and help needy black children. Although the Phyllis Wheatley Club met in separate facilities for many years, they did however; join white women and girls in participating in weekend and summer camps at Camp Glen Olive They also attended annual meetings and conventions together. Talk of integration began during the aftermath of World War II; but was not fully realized until 1971 when the national YWCA board pushed for full integration. During the fight for civil rights, both black and white members travelled to states such as Florida and Mississippi to join protests and show support for the movement. It is not clear when the Phyllis Wheatley Club ceased to exist; however, there are photographs and club memorabilia into the 1970s.

Physical fitness was always an emphasis of YWCA programming. Women participated in a variety of physical fitness programs including, calisthenics, dance, volleyball, basketball, and swimming. As part of the fitness program women participated in nutrition classes and weight management programs such as Ladies Be Slim and Weigh Down. Summer camps and retreats were often held at the YWCA’s Camp Glen Olive, in nearby Riverton. YWCA members participated in a variety of activities including, hiking, canoeing, swimming, making crafts, archery, cooking, and enjoying time outdoors. A central feature of the camp setting was the swimming pool. Hundreds of members enjoyed happy hours poolside. In 1928 the YWCA added a swimming pool to its downtown location and created a variety of aquacise and swim programs that became widely popular.

Youth programs at the YWCA emerged in the 1940s that included both boys and girls. The Y-Teen Sky Ranch program was hugely successful and was held weekly at the downtown location. Teens met for Christian fellowship, dancing, theatrical performances, sports, and other activities. Sometimes they entertained family and community members by acting in plays and skits around various themes and community concerns. The teen program encouraged youth to participate in civic and charitable work. Teens assisted the elderly, helped the war effort during WWII, and raised funds for charity. The teens enjoyed holiday parties, healthful exercise, and wholesome fellowship in a supervised setting. The YWCA also offered a variety of camps for children, provided swimming lessons for a nominal fee, and offered childcare programs, particularly in the summer months when children were home from school. All of the programming was geared at promoting a cooperative learning environment focused on the physical, intellectual, social, and moral health of all participants.

Over the years YWCA programming was sustained through financial bequests and trusts, membership fees, and various fundraisers conducted by members. The YWCA held annual galas, basket suppers, and fund drives to assist the organization in maintaining the building, pay salaries, and fund programs. Among the most popular events were the 19th Century Style Basket Suppers and Galas, the Ice Cream Socials, and the German food sales at the Springfield Ethnic Festival. The YWCA was also funded in part by the United Way, Community Chest grants, and donations from members of the community. Over the years the YWCA was plagued by a variety of financial problems. In 1949 a fire nearly destroyed the building and the YWCA appealed to the community to raise the $150,000 needed to rebuild the structure. During the renovations the stairwells were fireproofed, the installation of an elevator, a new heating ventilation system, shower rooms were updated, new windows installed, and a new kitchen was added. Within in a year, the YWCA once again opened its doors to Springfield area women.

Programs during the 1970s shifted to social service programming including workforce development, violence prevention, the prevention of child sexual abuse, childcare programs, and providing shelter for the homeless. In keeping with the mission of the YWCA, physical health classes continued to be a vital part of programming. Women participated in swimming, aerobic classes, dance, yoga, and weight management programs. YWCA programming also continued to provide members with educational programs including art classes, language courses, financial management programs, and personal classes on aging and other attributes of daily life.

During the 1990s an aging membership led to further decline and monetary support for YWCA programming and building maintenance dwindled. Moreover, social service programming funded through the United Way and state grants did not generate revenue to offset the loss of membership revenue. While existing members continued to hold fundraisers, monies raised were not sufficient in sustaining the YWCA. Additional programs to raise funds were piloted including the opening of an international youth hostel, but the program did not succeed in the midst of executive leadership problems at the YWCA. By the 1990s the building was rapidly deteoriating and adequate funds could not be raised for repairs. The YWCA began having difficulty with daily operational expenses as well and ran existing programming with only five staff members. By 2003 it became evident that the YWCA could not survive on United Way funds and states subsidies. Many members left the YWCA for more modern facilities for their fitness and social needs. In 2007 the YWCA moved its programs to rented space at the First United Methodist church, just one block away at 501 East Capitol Avenue. Effective February 2009 the Young Women’s Christian Association of Springfield was dissolved. The Springfield Urban League agreed to absorb the remaining YWCA programs and hired the five remaining staff members. The Springfield YWCA was not the only YWCA to experience problems after the shift from social and athletic programs to social service programming. Some YWCA’s merged with YMCAs, while others simply ended their organization.

Extent

39 Linear Feet (29 archival boxes, 1 1/2 MS boxes, 36 bound volumes, and 11 oversize items)

Language of Materials

English

Scope and Content

The collection consists of 39 linear feet of information about the early history of the Young Women’s Christian Association in Springfield that began in 1909. Contains information about the various clubs that formed during early years, athletic programs, annual meetings, fundraising events, program brochures, newsletters, newspaper clippings, and miscellaneous items related to the organization, and records of the YWCA Executive Director Office. The files include publicity information about legal cases against the YWCA, legal correspondence, the creation of an international hostel, and other information related to programming at YWCA, membership and personnel information, the financial records of the Young Women’s Christian Association of Springfield which include billing slips, receipts, balance sheets, board minutes, expense accounts, program material, and public relations information pertaining to fundraising and promoting YWCA programs. Contains several volumes of scrapbook material related to the various clubs and activities of the YWCA.

* Series I: Clubs, History, and Programs (Boxes 1-8) contain information about the early history of the Young Women’s Christian Association in Springfield that began in 1909. By 1912 the organization was housed in three story building at 4th and Jackson Streets. The series primarily contains information about the various clubs that formed during early years, many of which continued until the YWCA closed in 2009. In addition to the clubs, the series also includes information about athletic programs, annual meetings, fundraising events, program brochures, newsletters, newspaper clippings, and miscellaneous items related to the organization.

* Series II: Director Files, Condemnation Case, Capitol Development, Fundraising, Hostel Program, Personnel, and Publicity (9-21) contain the records of the YWCA Executive Director Office. The files include publicity information about legal cases against the YWCA, fundraising events, legal correspondence, the creation of an international hostel, and other information related to programming at YWCA. The series also contains membership and personnel information.

* Series III: Administrative, Board, Budget, Finance (Box 22-30), contain the financial records of the Young Women’s Christian Association of Springfield. The documents include billing slips, receipts, balance sheets, board minutes, expense accounts, program material, and public relations information pertaining to fundraising and promoting YWCA programs.

* Series IV: Correspondence, Scrapbooks, and Miscellaneous (Box 30 and Shelves) contains correspondence from Kathryn L. Neely about her time as a WAAC and correspondence from war brides in WWII. The series also contains several volumes of scrapbook material related to the various clubs and activities of the YWCA. Many of the scrapbooks are a combination of newspaper clippings, news letters, photographs, and other memorabilia. Also in this series is a story about Clara Taylor and her experiences in Russia.
Language of description
Undetermined
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscript Collection Repository

Contact:
112 North Sixth Street
Springfield IL 62701 US
(217) 558-8923