I learned how to swim at the Germantown Young Women’s Christian Association
(a.k.a the YWCA).
Following basic swimming instruction I was tested on my skills so I could use the
pool on a daily basis. I swam half the length of the pool and treaded water for about
one minute. Then came the hard part. Diving. I tucked in my head, raised my arms,
and surrendered my body to the water. My dive wasn’t perfect, but at least I passed
the elementary part of learning how to move my arms and breathe in rhythm. I
made it at the Y!
Since then, the requirement of learning how to dive was eliminated from the youth
swim class. Years later, I watched in dismay how multiple branches of the YWCA
closed and new chains of health and fitness centers opened. Enrollment in the new
health and fitness centers quickly filled and replaced the popularity of community
centers. My friends no longer flocked to the YWCA, which is known as the oldest
and largest multicultural women’s organization in the world. Yet, the YWCA never
forgot its’ origin as a pioneer in race relations, labor union representation, and the
empowerment of women.
The YWCA USA has since re-branded itself to focus on eliminating racism and
empowering women. While the organization debated this summer on gender issues,
we all should be grateful to the organization for its many accomplishments. A few of the
the YMCA milestones are:
● 1855 – Young Women’s Christian Association was formed in London by Emma
Robarts and Mrs. Arthur Kinnaird
● 1858 – The YWCA movement was introduced to the United States.
● 1870s – Recognized the women’s needs for jobs. The YWCA held the first
typewriting classes for women, formerly considered a man’s occupation, and
opened the first employment bureau.
● 1909 – YWCA’s International Institutes held bilingual instruction to help
● 1919 – The YWCA convened the first meeting of women doctors, known as
the International Conference of Women Physicians. The meeting focused on
women’s health issues.
● 1930s – YWCA encouraged members to speak out against lynching and mob
violence, for interracial cooperation rather than segregation and for efforts to
protect African American’s basic civil rights.
● 1946 – YWCA adopted its Interracial Charter – eight years before the United
States Supreme Court decision against segregation.
Today, YWCA USA has almost 250 associations throughout the country.
Services are provided in over 1,300 locations across the nation and YWCA’s
are established in more than 100 countries. World YWCA is held every
April 24 to celebrate the work and women of the YWCA.
In your own way I hope you celebrate the efforts of youth in your