This Week in History
"A Strong Voice for Women"
For the week of Monday January 20, 2003
From January 22 to 23, 1895 the Dominion Council of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) gathered for the first time in Ottawa, Ontario, with its president Miss Bertha Wright.
By the First World War, this national organization “of women, by women and for women” had become the most widely respected and popular social organization for young Canadian women and girls.
The first Canadian YWCA was formed in Saint John, N.B., in 1870; its agenda inspired by YWCA’s in Britain and the United States. Though its existence was short-lived, permanent associations were formed in Toronto (1873), Montréal (1874), Québec and Halifax (1875). Some of them were independent and others affiliated with the American YWCA. New associations appeared throughout Canada and, by 1893, a Dominion (Canadian) YWCA was created to unite them.
The role and status of women changed considerably during the rapid industrialization of the 19th century. Single women left their parents’ homes in greater numbers to work in cities. The YWCA, a volunteer organization of middle-class women, hoped to assist these “Modern Girls” in facing the “dangers” of urban society. The greatest fear was that single women, easily victimized by poverty and unemployment, might fall into intemperance, crime or prostitution without parental guidance. To “protect” the girls, the YWCA offered wholesome entertainment and affordable lodging, run and supervised by women.
The YWCA continues to work for the improvement of women’s spiritual, intellectual, social and physical well-being. For this reason, the Young Women’s Christian Association has been designated of National Historical Significance.
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