Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) from Philip's Encyclopedia

Christian association for young women; the counterpart of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). Two YWCA groups founded simultaneously (1855) in different parts of England, and the associations merged in 1877. The YWCA provides accommodation, education, recreation facilities, and welfare services to young women. It has local branches in more than 80 countries.


Summary Article: Young Women's Christian Association from The Columbia Encyclopedia
Fig 0702 01
Image from: A 1917 poster shows a young woman reaching out... in Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: An International Encyclopedia

(YWCA), organization whose stated mission is "to empower women and girls and to eliminate racism." The movement is nondenominational. It grew out of the homes for young women and female prayer unions established throughout Great Britain during the mid-19th cent., most notable of which was the London boardinghouse created (1855) by Lady Kinnaird, generally taken to be the first YWCA. In 1877 a number of these organizations merged officially to form the Young Women's Christian Association. The movement spread to the British colonies and to the Continent. Meanwhile, in New York City, a prayer group known as the Ladies' Christian Union, generally considered the first YWCA in the United States, had been organized in 1858 by Mrs. Marshall O. Roberts. In Boston, another group formed (1866) the first U.S. association officially to call itself the Young Women's Christian Association. The movement spread rapidly, and a national body, the Young Women's Christian Associations of the United States, was established in 1906. National headquarters have been in New York City since 1912. In 1894, a World Young Women's Christian Association was formed; its headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland; 101 national YWCAs belong to the organization. In the United States there are YWCA buildings in all cities of appreciable size. YWCAs may provide child-care, shelter, physical-fitness and health-education programs and social-justice discourse. The YWCA has some 2 million members.

  • See YWCA Directory;.
  • Sims, M. S., The Natural History of a Social Institution (1936) and The Purpose Widens, 1947–1967 (1969).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2017

Related Credo Articles

Full text Article
Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA)
Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: An International Encyclopedia

The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) is a worldwide organization initially established in the nineteenth century to provide Christian...

Full text Article
Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA)
Dictionary of British History

A Christian organization founded for women in 1855 by Emma Robarts and Mary Jane Kinnaird. They wished to promote Christian unity and...

Full text Article
Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA)
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

A Christian organization for women (to which men may now also belong). Founded in 1855 by Emma Robarts and Mary Jane Kinnaird to promote...

See more from Credo