Portland YWCA Programs & Outreach

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Programs: Fitness and Sport

Research by Marissa Salcedo

"Gym Girls," c. 1906

Scandal, 1911

       The Portland YWCA's first building at Broadway and Taylor (1908) boasted one of the few swimming pools in downtown Portland and a gymnasium where women and girls could use and exercise their bodies in ways that some considered unladylike or even dangerous. Basketball was one of the sports women could play at the YWCA; the availability of a physically demanding contact sport at the YWCA hints at the feistiness that was a hallmark of the Health and Physical Education Department. Another indication of this attitude was the small scandal which broke out in 1911 when Miss Millie Schloth, the swimming instructor, appeared in The Oregonian newspaper in a somewhat revealing swimsuit for the day. The YWCA board responded to the negative publicity by censuring Schloth, demanding that "nothing of the kind ever happen again."[1]

Lifesaving Class, 1950s
Reducing in the 1950s

       This conflict suggests the ways in which the conservative Christian matrons on the board experienced tensions with aspiring professional women staffers, more liberated "new women," and adventuresome youth who sought to loosen the confining restrictions of Victorian dress, manners, and comportment. A notable success story was that of Thelma Payne, an Olympic swimmer in the 1920s who learned her sport the Portland YWCA pool. Access to the gymnasium and the pool, however, was restricted to only some women; women of color were almost entirely excluded from the facility before World War II, a painful marker of life in Jim Crow Portland.

Aerobics, 1980s
Superswim, 1985


1. Board of Director Minutes, March 1911, p. 266, Portland YWCA Archives, Portland, Oregon. See also The Oregonian, 26 March 1911. The idea of the "female body as an investment for marriage" as expressed in YWCA programs is Marissa Salcedo's original insight.
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