YWCA Metropolitan Chicago is the oldest women-focused social service organization in Chicago. It was formed by 13 women who met on December 12, 1876, to address their concerns for the growing number of single women who were coming to Chicago for work during the boom years after the great Chicago fire.

From its earliest days, the YWCA focused on the total needs of women, particularly in the areas of employment, health, and housing. YWCA women became leaders in social legislation that related to the needs of women and girls, such as child labor laws. Women learned trades at the YWCA, such as the “ever-popular” millinery classes held at the YWCA Indiana Branch, 3541 Indiana Ave., in the 1920s.

The YWCA first extended services to young black women in 1915. In contrast to the world around it, the YWCA racially integrated its services and board of directors in the 1940s. The Chicago Mayor’s Commission on Human Relations presented the YWCA with its “Award on Human Relations” in 1946, acknowledging that its “interracially constituted board and committees have made its residence halls, swimming pools and general services available to all the young women of Chicago and whose forthright stand has influenced the nationwide policies of this great social institution.”

In 1972, the YWCA Leader Luncheon pioneered the concept of public recognition for working women’s achievements. The YWCA Leader Luncheon remains a Chicago tradition, drawing more than 1,300 representatives from the corporate, private and social service sectors to celebrate the accomplishments of outstanding women and raising more than half a million dollars for YWCA programs and services.

Today our core programmatic areas include: Child Care Provider Training & Assistance, Resources & Community Outreach, Nutrition Education, Business & Entrepreneurship Services, Career Services, Financial Management Services, Technology Access & Training, Young Parents Program, Medical, and Legal Advocacy, Professional Training, Rape Crisis Hotline, Sexual Assault Education, Training, and Sexual Violence Counseling, and the Women’s Health Exchange. With almost 200 employees working at 9 locations throughout the Chicagoland area, we serve more than 250,000 women, children, and families annually through these programs. And while our services are broad and varied, they are linked by a common thread, our dedication to promoting racial justice and personal empowerment across everything we do.