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Records of YMCA work with women, girls, and families

Identifier: Y.USA.63


Correspondence, minutes, reports, financial documents, pamphlets, journal and newspaper articles, scrapbooks, studies and other records documenting North American YMCA’s programs for and policies regarding women, girls and families, primarily from the late 1880s through the 1960s. The collection is divided among the files of Winifred J. Colton, the Women and Girls Work program, Women’s Auxiliary, Program Services, and YMCA/YWCA relations subject files. Winifred J. Colton, who served as National Secretary for Work with Women and Girls, and YMCA International Committee Executive Secretary Herbert P. Lansdale Jr. are the primary authors of the collection. Major topics include the women’s section of the AOS (Association of Secretaries), the National Advisory Committee on Work with Women and Girls, developmental and program needs for women and girls, philosophies and minimum standards of women’s work, women’s auxiliary national service work, cooperation between the YMCA and YWCA in rural environments, a YMCA/YWCA joint study of the international YMCA, international training, responsibilities of women in the YMCA, parenting and family life through the YMCA programs, a YMCA parent and infant program, father and daughter programs, sex-role identification within the family, Tri-graY/Tri-Hi-Y, and the Youth Work Assembly.

Women’s suffrage, human and civil rights are touched upon within this collection as they are relevant to the discussion of the place of women of varying races within the YMCA. The changing American family, and the woman’s role within that family is also mentioned within reports and studies, especially in reference to family program development for young women and children.Psychological and behavioral development of children is a topic for family program development as well; as are family communication skills. Exercising and crafting make up large portions of early women and girls programing.

War work and social work is mentioned in the Women’s Auxiliary files, as are reconnaissance studies involving relations between the YMCA and the YWCA, and a building fund campaign. Joint use of buildings is a topic largely discussed concerning the YMCA and YWCA. Women’s employment in the YMCA becomes a large topic in the Winifred J. Colton files, as do Junior Leader schools based towards young women. The exploration of human potential and the effort to improve women’s situation in the workplace are major topics for reports and studies within her files.


  • Creation: 1889-1991
  • Creation: Majority of material found in ( 1880s-1960s)


Language of Materials


Use of Materials:

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The membership and participation of women and girls in the Young Men’s Christian Association was stressed almost from the beginnings of the YMCA in the United States. Women’s and girl’s programing initially grew out of local community needs rather than out of any centralized YMCA initiative; The YMCA’s young men wanted a female presence at their social gatherings, so YMCA-based debating societies, outdoor clubs, dramatic and music groups frequently included women. Being self governing from the beginning made it possible for local associations to move more quickly than the national movement in providing services and membership for women and girls. It wasn’t until much later, however, that women were permitted to take on leadership roles in the organization.

Historical information largely adapted from the collection.

The first recorded women’s auxiliary is established in the Charleston, SC YMCA. This auxiliary conducted a very successful industrial school for girls.
Civil War breaks out in the USA. Women’s relief societies, many with the YMCA women’s auxiliaries as their nucleus, spring up in every state affected by the war. They become known as the Ladies Christian Committee of the YMCA.
The Montreal Convention states the YMCA was to be exclusively for young men and refused to seat women delegates.
“Mixed” male and female student associations are organized throughout the country, especially in the middle west where coeducational institutions are most prevalent.
The YMCAs International Committee force the disbandment of mixed student associations. Student YWCAs are organized with the help of YMCA leaders.
The United States enter World War I. Women workers in the YMCA play a significant role in the war work; 5145 women were engaged in WWI’s YMCA war services.
Women’s suffrage is adopted in the United States.
The National Council of YMCAs in the United States formally recognizes the right of each member association of the National Council to determine the qualifications of its members, male or female, provided they are in accord with the purposes, ideals and spirit of the YMCA as stated in its constitution.
A plan of classification and certification is adopted by the YMCA’s Employed Officers Association, later the Association of Secretaries, referred to “persons,” meaning men and women. A YMCA yearbook also reports statistics for women and girl members for the first time.
The first conference of women secretaries is held and asks the National Council for assistance with full family participation.
World War II begins. Women are engaged in the YMCA-USO program. Many women are appointed to the boards of management of the YMCA-USO units throughout the US.
Women begin serving on the Army and Navy Department committee of the National Council.
“Principles and Standards of YMCA Work with Women and Girls” are formulated by a special national council committee directed towards work with women and girls.
The GSO, Girls Service Organization, reaches an enrollment of 100,000. Women are invited to participate in the Young Men’s Assembly.
The National Committee on Work with Boys becomes the National Committee on Youth Programs.
The first official co-ed assembly is held in Cleveland under the name North American Young Adult Assembly.
Membership in the National Council is made open to women.
The YMCA enlarges their purpose to include women and girls and eliminate the males only phrase. The National Advisory Committee on Work with Women and Girls is appointed.
Formulation and adoption of a new statement of Philosophy and standards inclusive to women and girls is approved.
The National Board recommends a policy to local YMCAs that declares that the YMCA works with men, boys, women and girls.
The Commission on Women is established as part of the Human Rights Unit.
Egie Huff is elected as President of the National Council of YMCAs.
Area conferences are held around the world on women in the YMCA.
The World YMCA Women’s Conference begins to study YMCA gender issues from a worldwide perspective.
Women within the YMCA establish equal opportunities to seek positions and equal amounts of training, though salary discrepancies still exist.


4.3 Cubic Feet (5 boxes)


Correspondence, minutes, reports, financial documents, pamphlets, journal and newspaper articles, scrapbooks, studies and other records documenting North American YMCA’s programs for and policies regarding women, girls and families.

Digitized Materials

All of the contents of this collection have been digitized and are available through UMedia at

Links to the digitized contents are included in each folder listing in this archival collection guide.


Additional information about Winifred Colton is available in the YMCA Biographical Files, separately cataloged in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives.

Processing Information:

Processed as part of Fast Processing Project II, July 2009, as collection FP64. Material has been minimally processed. Folder descriptions may be general and material has not been grouped into series.

Catalog Record ID number: 9973949972501701

An Inventory of Its Records
Finding aid prepared by Lara Friedman-Shedlov and Melanie Doherty.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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Collecting Area Details

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area