How Was the YWCA's Social and Religious Mission Expressed through its Outdoor and Camping Programs?

Outdoor & Camping Programs

Document 1

Document 2

Cascade Head

Camp Westwind



How Was the YWCA's Social and Religious Mission Expressed
through its Outdoor and Camping Programs?

Research by Bill Burke, Parvaneh Mazhar, and Ann Mussey

Camp Gearhart, 1920s

        Whether secular or religiously based, organized camps for girls had a mission. Like the Campfire Girls and Girl Scouts, YWCA camping aimed to gently challenge the cultural constraints on young women and girls' physical movement and personal development. Directors and staff taught self-reliance, cultivated a love of nature, nurtured spirituality, and developed leadership skills among their campers. The Portland YWCA also sought to ease class divisions and racial prejudice by fostering solidarity and friendship across social boundaries at camp. The outdoors provided a more relaxed environment in which to suspend some of the exclusionary social scripts adhered to in urban centers. Camp thus nurtured alternate forms of camaraderie and friendship, memories of which lasted a lifetime for some women. After World War II, the Portland YWCA mission of inclusiveness and antiracism became more well-defined, and camp literature trumpeted an "inter-racial" purpose and program.

Rock Creek Camp, 1930s

       The YWCA of Portland embraced camping quite unexpectedly. The organization inherited property in Gearhart-by-the-Sea, Oregon, early in the century and turned it into a camp for women and girls. The land and cottage property was the gift of M.J. Kinney in memory of his deceased wife Narcissa.[1] The camp operated until 1929 when repair costs, the economic pressure of the Depression, and the expense of running other YWCA programs forced its closure. Programming at Gearhart and Rock Creek targeted the recreational needs of young women and girls enrolled in various YWCA programs and clubs, especially the Girl Reserves and the Business and Industrial Girls. Working women enjoyed low-cost "Rest and Recreation" and a break from the strain of employment and city living.[2] The Girl Reserves often had elaborate camp agendas, including annual conferences, leadership training, and Christian fellowship retreats. These week-long events held pride of place in the club calendar, and clubs worked hard to fundraise in order to defray their expenses and raise money for scholarships.

1. "Gearhart Property Gift," untitled newspaper clipping, c. 1926; YWCA [Portland] Gearhart-by-the-Sea brochure, undated; "Improvements Made at Gearhart beginning the year 1919;" Portland YWCA Archives, Portland, Oregon.
       Back to Text

2. Ten YWCA Leaders, A Symposium on Health and Recreation (New York: The Woman's Press, 1936), p. 38.
       Back to Text

| YWCA Today | Programs | African-American Women |
| Asian-American Women | World War II | Religion, Race, & Reform | Buildings |


back to top