Programs: Health & Sexuality
The YWCA's attention to the physical well-being of women and girls was aided by the strong presence of women in the medical and nursing professions in the early 20th century. The YWCA offered female physicians and nurses a professional outlet while providing important education to those seeking health information. Girls participating on teams and other sporting activities were routinely given physical exams and advice about health care. Classes on nutrition, grooming, and sexuality -- often referred to as "social hygiene" in the early years -- gave curious or confused girls a very clear message. Girls' bodies were their own to care for but conservatism in bodily matters -- dress, comportment, and sexuality -- was taught and sometimes enforced.
A strong YWCA message about chastity and the ideal of heterosexual marriage was consistent throughout most of the twentieth century. The idea of enhancing the female body as an investment for marriage was evident in classes in charm, etiquette, and grooming. In the 1960s and 1970s, the YWCA sponsored a health week as well as breast cancer awareness through its Encore Program. Only in the mid-1980s did the YWCA address the needs of lesbian women, specifically through a national antihomophobia campaign and locally, through the "Sisterhands" health project.