In 1870, seven women joined together to ask of themselves and of the Dayton community what they could do to “elevate women in our midst.” Their response became the foundation for YWCA Dayton.
As part of the oldest and largest women’s organization in the nation, YWCA Dayton has been at the forefront of the most pressing social movements for 150 years — from voting rights to civil rights, from affordable housing to pay equity, from violence prevention to health care reform. Today, we combine programming and advocacy to generate institutional change in three key areas: health and safety of women and girls, economic advancement of women and girls, and racial justice and civil rights.
To put that in perspective: We’ve been On A Mission for all women and children since five years after the Civil War ended. Learn more by exploring the timeline below.
Through the Years
Melissa Beall, Mrs. J. Davis, Mary Hammond, Eliza Hoglen, Julia Jacobs, Ann Martin, and Mary Mitchell ask what they might do to “elevate women in our midst.” Their answer becomes the Women’s Christian Association of Dayton, Ohio, which is formally organized on Nov. 26, 1870. The average age of our founders was 36, and we are the third YWCA founded in Ohio, following Cleveland and Cincinnati.
Earlier that year, Nancy Trotter Bates — Susan’s mother, and head of the Dayton Female Association — had recognized the high number of Civil War widows, and acquired the former Orphans’ Asylum property to house these women. She then worked to transform the DFA into the Women’s Christian Association for the furtherance of such work. She died one month before W.C.A. was officially organized, and in her honor, the group asked Susan to serve as its first president, a position she held for 21 years.
The Widows’ Home opens (at what is now Miami Valley Hospital) to provide shelter and support to destitute and single women; an Employment Committee assists residents in finding jobs, food, and clothing. The Widows’ Home is owned and operated by YWCA Dayton until July 1961, when it becomes its own separate nonprofit that still operates today.
Its original policy was as follows: “Any widow or destitute women of good moral character being over the age of 60 who has also resided in Dayton for the past 5 years, is eligible to become a permanent resident.” Rooms were made available for the price of $7.50 a month.
The first Industrial School is formed on Dec. 6, 1875, to teach in-need girls (ages 8-15) sewing and leadership skills at no cost. From an initial class of just eight girls – who met in Amelia Louisa Connelly’s home in East Dayton – more than 1,000 girls enroll by the end of the 1870s.
The Martha Jane Dickey School was located in downtown Dayton at the W.C.A. Martha was the sister-in-law of Susan Bates Winters, YWCA Dayton’s first president.
34 women reside at the Widows’ Home, with some spending years of their lives there, and others only staying overnight.
The original brick house was starting to become too small, so Susan Bates Winters decided to give $5,000, while two unnamed friends gave $1,000 each, to help reach a goal of either buying new property or making renovations.
An English as a Second Language program for Mongolian refugee women begins, later becoming our Americanization Department (1916) and then our International Institute (1924).
The Nursery Basket Committee provides clothing for newborn babies in homes of “mothers who from sickness, desertion, or destitution have nothing in store for the coming babe.”
The Widows’ Home moves to a new location at 50 S. Findlay St., where it remains today. Dayton banker, William P. Huffman, donated 2.5 acres of land on which a new, 3-story Victorian brick house was built for about $20,000.
Our first Girls’ Home and a lunchroom open, as does the Women’s Exchange, providing ways for women to earn income by using their skills in cooking, baking, and handiwork. It continues for more than 30 years.
We petition the Ohio General Assembly for “better legal protection for women against assault.”
The Educational Department opens with classes in spelling, penmanship, and arithmetic (sewing courses followed). Tuition is $1 per year.
A sewing club founded by a group of Eaker Street African Methodist Episcopal Church* women started the nation’s first YWCA branch for African-American women and girls, calling themselves Women’s Christian Association No. 2. While relations with the central YWCA were strong, they would not be formally recognized by the main branch until 1918.
The founders include: Clara Avery, Mrs. William Bates, Elizabeth Bush, Maggie Cannon, Florence Chatman, Jessie Cralle, Alice Durham, Marie Gaines, Jewelia Galloway Higgins, Emma Jackson, Cordelia Johnson, Mollie Jones, Pearl Pryor, Lena Stewart, Louise Troy, Mary Ward, and Rose Ford Willis.
They conducted their work initially from the church basement. Susan Bates Winters, YWCA Dayton’s first president, noted, “I believe we are the only association in our city organized for the relief of women and children, caring for them without regard to color or nationality.”
*The Eaker Street A.M.E. Church, located near the southwest corner of Eaker and Perry streets, was a congregation of the first Black church and first A.M.E. Church in Dayton, Ohio. It became Wayman AME.
The Young Women’s Department opens, offering classes in grammar, bookkeeping, stenography, choral training, Latin, German, English literature, dressmaking, wood carving, drawing, and geography.
During the fall of this year, it was decided to purchase the Valentine Winters Home located on 130 W. Third St. The property was bought for a total sum of about $50,000.
We move into a home of our own at 130 W. Third St. (Prior to this, W.C.A. activities were housed in extra rooms at the YMCA on Fourth Street.) It was Jan. 31 when the building was finally dedicated.
The Busy Girls’ Half Hour program is started at National Cash Register to provide classes in health, dress, and morals and provide women with opportunities for community service.
World YWCA is founded in Europe.
YWCA Dayton celebrates its 25th anniversary.
A YWCA group is organized at Wilberforce “to form a more perfect union, to promote general welfare and to aid in the preparation for the great responsibilities of life.” In addition to holding prayer services, YWCA women at Wilberforce furnished a “rest room” for women students, helped purchase books and clothing for needy students.
Our first newsletter, the C.A. Record, is published in October. The publication was paid for by advertising and was a monthly paper aimed at distributing association news to its members.
Edward Barney donated the use of a beautiful park on Forest Avenue to the W.C.A. Any member of the W.C.A. was eligible to use this park and it became the site of many activities sponsored by the W.C.A.
An East Dayton Industrial School branch opens in the South Park neighborhood, meeting at NCR on Stewart Street.
Our Kitchen Garden program starts, filling a gap in services for pre-teen and teenage girls.
A room is set aside for travelers to use for rest; it later becomes a separate national organization, the Travelers’ Aid Society.
The East Dayton Industrial School branch is named after Amelia Louisa Connelly.
Our East Dayton Branch opens at Fifth and Columbus streets. It provides a third Industrial School, a Mothers’ Club, sewing classes, a reading circle, and social entertainments.
1,236 clients were served through the Relief Department, which provides care, housing, employment, fuel, and burial assistance for the sick and widowed. 1,575 pieces of clothing are distributed to those in need. 200 girls are enrolled at the Martha Jane Dickey Industrial School.
We become the first W.C.A. to employ a Bible secretary.
First Home for Self-Supporting Young Women opens with space for 30. Regular boarders paid $2.50-$3 per week, including breakfast and supper; transients and business women, 25 cents per day; and non-business women, 50 cents per day.
W.C.A. membership sees highest numbers at 1,438 adults and 164 juniors.
During this time period, around December, one of the most important events in the history of the W.C.A. in the United States took place. The merger between the American Committee and the International Board completed the organization of the National Board of the Young Women’s Christian Association. The Dayton association would go on and vote for the union of these two groups and became a charter member of the new organization.
The ground for what would become our Central Building – still in operation today – is purchased on the corner of West Third and North Wilkinson streets.
W.C.A. officially changes name to Young Women’s Christian Association.
Cornerstone for new central building laid on Sept. 29, 1912.
Seven Camp Fire groups are organized.
Central building at 141 W. Third St. opens with five floors; still functions as our main office today. It was constructed by Dayton Structural and Concrete Co.
An Americanization Department (later the International Institute) is established to “help foreign women and girls to assimilate with the better side of American life; to preserve in them the fine things they have brought with them; and to make as easy as possible the hard period of transition from the old home to the strange new environment here.”
A Hostess House is built at Wright Field to help with the World War I effort.
A Community House opens at Third and Summit streets for use by the Americanization Department. Primary populations served included immigrants from Hungary, Romania, and Poland.
Girl Reserves, a nationwide program for teen girls, is established at YWCA Dayton.
Two additional floors added to our Central Building to accommodate incredible demand for housing.
Y’s Acres, a girls’ summer camp, is purchased near Tipp City from the Miami Conservancy District for $2,500. It features six acres of land with two cottages “in a beautiful wooded setting on the Miami River.”
The International Institute headquarters are moved to 10 N. Jefferson St. with a staff of five, including two nationality workers who could speak multiple languages. A center is opened at Summit and Dakota streets.
The Montgomery County Branch of Girl Reserves is officially organized; clubs also operate in Miamisburg, Fairmont, Germantown, West Carrollton, and Johnsville. By 1929, there are 14 Girl Reserve clubs with a membership of 400 girls and 130 adult members.
Y’s Acres is sold.
First African-American woman, Mabel Evens, joins our Board of Directors.
Daytime School organized to provide free recreational and educational opportunities for young adults age 18-24. There were 31 classes and 25 faculty, with more than 300 enrolled in its first year.
The Vocational Department interviews 2,429 girls needing assistance as the Great Depression rages on.
The Cosmopolitan Club is organized for women of foreign background.
The Harry Kuhns home at 236 S. Summit St. is purchased for use by the West Dayton Branch. Its formal opening takes place Oct. 2-3, 1943.
Camp Wy-Ca-Key is founded in Morrow, Ohio, after a site near Fort Ancient is purchased for $25,000. A contest was promoted to find a name; the winning title used the YWCA initials plus the word “key” to indicate that camping would be a key to many new experiences. The camp was dedicated June 17, 1949.
“Career Clinic” program introduced for professional women.
First program in Montgomery County specifically designed for unwed mothers begins.
Child care program re-established with an expanded summer program to help working mothers
Host first meeting of what becomes ACTION Ohio, our state’s grassroots advocacy organization for domestic violence survivors
First domestic violence shelter & crisis hotline open in Montgomery County
YWCA Dayton takes ownership of Preble County domestic violence shelter
The Junior League of Dayton founds Hope’s Closet, which still serves as our in-house thrift store
Women of Influence awards celebrate 20th anniversary
Signature Girls LEAD! program launches
Sexual assault services are expanded
Full-scale renovation of central building begins