How Did the Portland YWCA Enhance the Lives of Women, 1901-2000?


1900-1901 Founding meetings and incorporation of Portland YWCA as a "city association."

1900-1904 Rented rooms at MacClay building for classes, meetings, and dormitory purposes. Opened lunchroom at Wortman & Olds Department store for outreach to female clerks. Opened school of Domestic Science and developed job placement service.

1905 Built a "Headquarters" at the Lewis & Clark Exposition. Events and recruitment throughout Fair. Funds generated went toward a new building project in downtown Portland.

1906 National YWCA consolidation. YWCA Purpose: "To advance the physical, social, intellectual, moral and spiritual interests of young women."

YWCA Taylor Building, 1910
1908 After joint fundraising with the YMCA of Portland, YWCA lays cornerstone for building at Taylor and Broadway that includes pool. Stays clear of movement for protective labor legislation in Salem. Oregon law of 1903 is upheld by Supreme Court in Muller v. Oregon (1908).

1912 Suffrage for women citizens in Oregon passed by referendum.

1918 Supports federally-funded war work through the "War Camp Community Service" program, especially housing for women war industries workers through a local "rooms registry" service. Property bequeathed to YWCA in Gearheart, Oregon, used for summer camp. "Girl Reserves" instituted, a patriotic, service-oriented club program for school-aged girls.

1919 Portland's African-American women organize to meet the needs of black women and girls through the YWCA. With support of Mrs. E.S. Collins, a temporary structure opens in Northeast in 1921 to begin programming. Caroline Kamm donates funds for construction of downtown residence for white working women and "Kamm Apartments" opens. Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives women citizens full suffrage rights.

1920 YWCA Purpose: "To influence [students] to devote themselves, in united effort with all Christians, to making the will of Christ effective in human society, and to extending the Kingdom of God throughout the world."

1920s "Girl Reserves" flourishing in Portland, annually enrolling around up to 2,000 members. Clubs usually organized within individual public schools. Membership reflects segregated housing in the city, with separate clubs for African-American, Japanese, Chinese, and native/foreign-born white girls.

1926 Under leadership of local African-American women, new Williams Avenue YWCA opened at 704 Tillamook, serving women and girls in Northeast Portland.

1930s Discussions with Portland YMCA regarding merger due to Depression-era economic conditions. Proposal rejected. Camping expands to Rock Creek in summers.

1937 St. John's Branch opened in North Portland. Camp Westwind purchased near Otis, Oregon.

1934 YWCA Purpose: "To build a fellowship of women and girls devoted to the task of realizing in our common life those ideals of personal and social living to which we are committed by our faith as Christians. In this endeavor we seek to understand Jesus, to share his love for all people, and to grow in the knowledge and love of God."

Camp Westwind, 1940s
1942-46 YWCA joins "United Service Organization" (USO) along with the YMCA and Red Cross. Under pressure to maintain Jim Crow in Portland, Williams Avenue Branch turned over the USO for the use of African-American soldiers. Programming for African-American women and girls moves into downtown building and into the homes of neighborhood women in Northeast. Japanese Americans interned. Portland YWCA writes one of the few letters to the Governor of Oregon urging restraint towards the Nissei.

1946 National YWCA passes the Interracial Charter: "Wherever there is injustice on the basis of race, whether in the community, the nation or the world, our protest must be clear and our labor for its removal, vigorous and steady. And what we urge on others we are constrained to practice ourselves. We shall be alert to opportunities to demonstrate the richness of life inherent in an organization unhampered by artificial barriers, in which all members have full status and all persons equal honor and respect as the children of one Father."

1947-59 Williams Avenue YWCA becomes a "Center" and begins "interracial" programming.

1949 Japanese-American women organize the "Veleda Club" for married women.

1949 Girl Reserves changed to "Y-Teens."

1946-59 YWCA Board of Directors undertakes major capital campaign to build a new building at Tenth and Main streets in downtown Portland. Downtown's programming for employed women falls off in favor of reaching married women moving to suburbs.

1959 New YWCA building at Southwest Tenth and Main in downtown Portland opened. Williams Avenue Branch building closed and sold.

Cooking Club, 1970s

1960s Japanese-American women participate in Portland YWCA Board of Directors. Residence program in downtown building flourishing. Portland YWCA stonewalls and eventually breaks its employee union. "Young Women Committed to Action"--youthful group of activist-minded YWCA members--make themselves heard and felt in the organization locally and nationally; some interest in Portland.

1970 National YWCA One Imperative: "The YWCA will thrust its collective power to work toward the elimination of racism, wherever it exists and by any means necessary."

1970s Portland YWCA opens a Women's Resource Center, a job bank, and "TOPS" program assisting women in transition out of prison. YWCA programming in Northeast restarted in Mallory Avenue Christian Church. Portland YWCA stays mainly clear of the civil rights movement, settling a racial discrimination suit out of court in 1974-5.


International Woman's Day Fair
at the YWCA, 1984
1984 YWCA Northeast Center opened at 5630 NE MLK Boulevard. Main programs are "Young Families" and "Familias Jovenes," outreach, education, and support for youthful parents and their children.

1980s Health and Fitness programs at Downtown flourishing, especially programs focused on seniors and people with disabilities. Breast Cancer Awareness initiative. Better visibility for lesbian women through anti-homophobia campaign begun in 1985 by National YWCA. In-house "workers' council" begun to address employee grievances.

"Our Mission: The YWCA of Greater Portland strives to create opportunities for growth, leadership, and power for women, children and families to attain a common vision of peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all people."

1990s Plans adopted for a new complex of buildings around the Tenth and Main site, centered on supportive housing and the special needs of elderly and youth in downtown Portland.

2000 One Million Dollar Grant from Microsoft for redevelopment plan.


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