Black YWCAs Discussion (March and April 1996)

Black YWCA Branches Discussion

Query: From Pamela White 22 March 1996

I have been researching the history of the Houston YWCA and still have questions concerning the development of its black branch. The Board of Directors minutes are sketchy at best and the first records of the branch are not available and presumed lost. It appears though that the black women who were responsible for its development were associated with the organization through their hostess house work at Camp Logan during WWI. Does anyone know if this is typical for black branches to originate through a specific activity such as war work? I would also be interested in knowing if there has been any research done concerning the YWCA's war work during WWI.

[Editor's note: I am not sure about the YWCA, but Nina Mjagkif discusses the importance of black secretaries during World War I in the development of black YMCAs in her book _Light in the Darkness: African Americans and the YMCA, 1852-1946_(Univ. of Kentucky Press, 1994)]


>From       Joseph O. Jewell 
     23 March 1996

Jacqueline Rouse, in her biographical study of Lugenia Burns Hope _Lugenia Burns Hope: Black Southern Reformer_, talks about the struggle to have YWCA affiliated groups started at government and foundations schools in the south, such as Spelman College, recognized as branches by the National Board of the organization.

From: Amilcar Shabazz histle@Jetson.UH.Edu 23 March 1996

I don't know how typical the origins of the Blue Triangle YWCA, the name for the segregated black branch of the YWCA in Houston, Texas, but you should not reduce its origins to "War work." See Ruthe Winegarten's _Black Texas Women_(Austin, U of Texas Press, 1995), 201-207. Her main source is a program booklet entitled "Formal Dedication and Open House, Blue Triangle Branch, YWCA, Houston, Texas," which is available (I'm almost sure) at the Houston Metropolitan Research Center.

From: Nancy Marie Robertson nmr1675@is2.NYU.EDU 23 March 1996

Yes, many African-American YWCAs started because of the dramatic expansion of YWCA work with/by/for African Americans during WWI. Teddy Roosevelt was so impressed by the work that he reportedly donated a portion of his Nobel prize money to the work.

While Nina Mjagkij's book and work is on the Y*M*C*A*, she has, in fact, written a paper on this topic. You might contact her at Bell State University. You should also look at J. Rouse's biography on Lugenia Burns Hope who oversaw much of the YWCA's efforts. Lugenia and John Hope's papers are available on microfilm. You might also take a look at Nancy Bristow's new book _Making Men Moral: Social Engineering During the Great War_.

Keep an eye out for essays or papers by Adrienne Lash Jones (in, for instance, Hine [ed] _Black Women in America_.) You should also take a look at Gerda Lerner's work--both the documentary collection _Black Women in White America_ and essays in _Majority Finds its Past_.

I have a newsletter for people researching the YWCA. Please write me privately if you want more information. NOTE THAT AS OF APRIL 1, 1996 my email address changes to

>From           Paula Pfeffer    
       23 March 1996

You might try Anna Arnold Hedgeman's _The Trumpet Sounds_. She worked for the Y for awhile. Hope this helps.

From:     Maria Elena Raymond          73113.1362      26 March 1996

I checked with a couple of friends and this is what one said..."during the First World War, the YMCA had black women with the African American Forces in France. They wore women's Army uniforms with brassards on one arm that said YMCA. The women provided canteens for the men. Those years would have been 1917, 1918, and 1919. This possibly could have been a precursor to black YWCAs."

Also: "..._Two Colored Women With the A.E.F._ by Addie D. Hunton and K.M. Johnson is a very good account of African Americans, both women and men in the First World War a long shot but might yield something useful." The other friend said, "I do remember while attending Clark College, most physical education classes were held at the Phyllis Wheatly YWCA on Hunter(now Martin Luther King Street) in Atlanta. Check with Atlanta University for more info."

From: Caroline Cortina 26 Mar 1996

There have been a few things written about black women and the YWCA which should help. The most thorough discussion is in Dorothy Salem's _To Better Our World: Black Women in Organized Reform, 1890-1920_. The last two chapters of the book deal with black women's participation in WWI. An extremely helpful primary source is _The Work of Colored Women_ which is mainly a description of black women's work in YWCA hostess houses, compiled by Jane Olcott (pub. by the "Colored Work Committee, War Work Council" of the YWCA in 1919.)

Cynthia Neverdon-Morton's _Afro-American Women of the South and the Advancement of the Race, 1895-1925_ and Jacqueline Rouse's _Lugenia Burns Hope: Black Southern Reformer_ are also quite helpful. My own project is not specifically about black women and the YWCA but I think there are a few people out there currently at work on similar projects. Good luck.

From: Bradford J. Verter 
bjverter@phoenix.Princeton.EDU 26 March 1996

I recommend Judith Weisenfield's "The More Abundant Life: The Harlem Branch of the New York City Young Women's Christian Association, 1905-1945"; PhD. diss, Princeton Univ, 1992)