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, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago is a social enterprise and a leading service provider in the areas of sexual violence support services, early childhood and child care provider services, family support services, youth STEM programming, and economic empowerment services. A commitment to racial justice, equity, and inclusion runs through all YWCA activities. Located in the third-largest American city, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago serves as a national incubator for innovative programming, outreach and engagement strategies. Contributing to a diverse and balanced economy, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago is working at the individual and systems levels to create an inclusive marketplace where everyone thrives. The organization is also an active member of many national, state, county and city-level coalitions, advocating for policies that combat racism and positively affect women and families.