YWCA of Duluth History: 120 Years of Leadership

Mission and Vision
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  • The YWCA in Duluth was founded in 1893.
  • In 1900, every third girl in the state of Minnesota between the ages of 16-20 was a wage earner. The YWCA was concerned for the safety of these young girls as they left home and entered the job market. Classes in typing, bookkeeping, and domestic service were offered and a building that would provide safe housing was designed and built.
  • The main building at 202 W 2nd St. was built in 1908 at a cost of $130,000. It was completed and dedicated on June 6th, 1909. It included a residence, a lunchroom, a pool and fitness area and meeting rooms.
  • The lunchroom opened in 1909 and served 370 meals a day.
  • Over 1800 immigrant girls became lost between New York and the Midwest in 1913. To address that, a Traveler’s Aid was sponsored by the YWCA and an average of 700 trains a month were met at the Duluth Depot. Housing, English classes, and information about employment were offered to immigrant girls.
  • Interest in cultural diversity took shape with numerous evenings to “explore a foreign country”. This was a forerunner to the YWCA International Folk Festival.
  • In 1918 the Girl Reserves were established for high school girls to provide them with instruction on home, community, interracial and international relations.
  • In 1918 the Duluth Street Railway Company began to hire female streetcar conductors with the help and leadership of the YWCA.
  • The businesswomen of Duluth organized the Blue Triangle Club, which was a part of the Federation of Business and Professional Clubs.
  • The international Institute was established to meet the needs of recently arrived immigrants.
  • In 1927 the first International Folk Festival was held.
  • Local female workers who spoke foreign languages visited the immigrant families, taught them English and employment skills, and worked to provide a warm welcome to Duluth.
  • Concerns over the prospect of war led the YWCA to look at new ways to reduce unemployment among women and girls and the YWCA helped women find jobs as far away as Chicago.
  • The Blue Triangle Club discussed disarmament and studied foreign policy and national defense.
  • Traveler’s Aid continued to be very active during the 1930’s.
  • Clinics and classes held at the YWCA included counseling on marriage, home problems, and child rearing.
  • WWII greatly influenced the programs at the YWCA. USO parties were held at the YWCA and there was significant outreach efforts made to families of service men and women.
  • Women who had worked during the war as a necessity were reluctant to give up their positions when the war closed.
  • In 1946 a meeting was held between the American Federation of Labor and the Duluth Business and Industrial Women’s Club to advocate a better wage and social security for working women.
  • In 1947 the International Folk Festival was started to celebrate the rich ethnic communities in Duluth
  • The Duluth USO and Travelers Aid remained active at the YWCA.
  • In 1955, the YWCA began providing 24 hour aid and refuge to stranded women and children due to death or divorce.
  • Y-Wives, a social service club for young married women was organized in 1954.
  • Clubs for working girls, teens, and golden age groups were formed out of the Y-Wives club.
  • YWCA programs expanded to include widowed, separated, and divorced parents in the Solo Parent Club in 1962.
  • The Arrowhead Council, headed by the Director of the YWCA, was established to address wage and training issues for the equality of working women.
  • The YWCA’s commitment to eliminate racism drew them into the process of establishing a Human Rights Commission.
  • The Little People’s Center was established at the YWCA in 1973. This was the precursor to the current-day child care centers.
  • The YWCA’s programs stressed self-development and growth as increasing concern focused on identity and individuality.
  • The Big Sister’s Program was established in 1974 and was the first “mentoring” program.
  • The YWCA was a leader in the efforts for equality for women and people of color.
  • Project S.O.A.R for displaced homemakers was established at the YWCA and provided employment, health, and recreational programming.
  • Breast Cancer awareness began to grow and the Mother’s Day Walk/Run had its first event in 1984.
  • A Working Parent’s Resource Center and summer Day Camp were established.
  • A child care drop-in center for children 6-12 was established.
  • In 1992 the YWCA child care program added toddlers.
  • In 1993 the YWCA became a partner in the Building For Women.
  • In 1993 the YWCA celebrated its 100 year anniversary.
  • Beginning in 1995, Encore Plus established a national partnership between the YWCA, Avon Foundation, the American Cancer Society, and the St. Louis County Health Department to help increase breast cancer awareness and early screening. The program later expanded to include health and wellness programming.
  • The YWCA continued its support of working women through child care, seminars on workplace issues and workplace advocacy.
  • After School programming for girls and youth is started as a means to support youth, provide positive role models and support working parents.
  • The YWCA continues to provide housing, child care, health and wellness programs, school enrichment programs and mentoring for girls and youth and activities that address racial justice and gender equality.
  • In 2003 the YWCA opened the Spirit Valley facility which houses an early childhood education center and apartments for young mothers and their child, who were homeless or about to be homeless.
  • In 2004 the YWCA launches the Women of Distinction awards.
  • In 2007 the YWCA joins the Task Force for Improved Police Community Accountability.
  • In 2008 the YWCA sells the historic building to the American Indian Community Housing Organization for a residence for American Indian families and a community center.
  • In 2008 the YWCA moves its Administrative Offices to the Building For Women, which it co-owns with the Women’s Health Center and the Program To Aid Victims of Sexual Assault
  • In 2009 the YWCA partners with the YWCA of Minneapolis to become an affiliate of Girls Inc. and begins to use three of their curricula in the GirlPower! and Young Mother’s programs.
  • In 2009 the YWCA celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Mother’s Day Walk Run.
  • In 2010 the YWCA’s completes a hirstory exhibit for the Administrative Office that showcases 117 years of programming.
  • In 2010 the YWCA joins the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI) to change the underlying causes of the dis-proportionality of juveniles of color in secure detention (high rate of American Indian and African American girls).
  • In 2011 the YWCA begins to develop the Un-Fair Campaign and recruits partners for the Campaign.  The partner Campaign is launched in the fall of 2011 and the public Campaign is launched in January of 2012.
  • In the fall of 2012 the YWCA collaborates with the Duluth School District to continue the Habitat program so that teen parents in high school can stay in school.
  • In the spring of 2013 the YWCA Board and Leadership Team begin a strategic planning process to plan for the future of the organization.
  • In the spring of 2013 the front yard of the Spirit Valley facility is turned into a garden to enhance our healthy eating/living program activities.
  • In 2013, as part of Spirit Valley Days, the YWCA Spirit Valley facility celebrates its ten-year anniversary and is re-dedicated.
  • In 2013 the YWCA’s annual Women of Distinction celebration of women’s leadership, celebrates the ten year anniversary.