A Brief History of the YWCA Madison

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A Brief History of YWCA Madison


A group of women at the Women’s Club discussed organizing a YWCA in Madison.


  • November 20 – YWCA formally organized in Madison 
  • Rented the home of Dr. Jackson at 123 N. Pinckney for $25/month
  • Moved the few belongings they had to 315 E. Mifflin St.


  • On February 13 the YWCA of Madison became affiliated with the National Board of the YWCA in New York.
  • Purchased a building to house 6 permanent and 2 transient women (Corner of Carroll and Dayton St.) 
  • YWCA had a membership of 300 people.


  • Development of Employment Services for Domestics, Child Care, and Nurses.
  • Programs for Camp Fire Girls and Girl Reserves started.
  • Physical education programs started around the city.


Started the first YWCA building on State Street.  It had lodging for 30 young women ($2.50 – $5 a week) and transient women ($1/night).


The cornerstone of the new YWCA Building was laid with a time capsule to be opened in October of 1971.


Founding member of Community union (now United Way).


  • Supported reduction of armaments at a national and international level as part of “Cause and Cure for War”.
  • A new committee, Future Business Plans committee, is established by the Board to determine if State Street frontage of the building should be leased for private business.


  • Public advocacy in support of Mother’s Pension (forerunner of AFDC)
  • Public advocacy in support of higher wages for household employees.


Public support of National Anti-lynching bill.


  • Beginning of overseas Club for visitors and students from foreign countries.
  • World War II changes the role of YWCA from helping girls and women find employment to offering physical education classes, a safe place for co-ed activities, short-term interest groups, and residence.


Racial and ethnic discrimination banned in YWCA Madison facilities.


Public advocacy for protective legislation for Industrial Girls.


Facilities used to house “displaced persons” of World War II.


YWCA Madison houses 72 permanent residents and used 13 rooms for transient women.


YWCA Madison support of  “Fair Housing” Practices.


  • Purchase of Belmont Hotel – YWCA-on-the-Square begins.
  • Pool erected on 12th floor.


  • Started Briarpatch program.  Today, Briarpatch is an independent agency serving adolescents in Dane County.
  • A workshop to launch the Madison YWCA’s fight against racism is held in August and members urge the organization to become more active in social issues in Madison.


  • First Women of Distinction luncheon.
  • The Rape Crisis Center moves to the YWCA Building.


YWCA Madison begins offering emergency shelter to homeless individuals.


  • The first fire and police training program for women begins.
  • The building mortgage paid off.


  • YWCA declared a Nuclear Free Zone by the Board of Directors.
  • First Women in Business Expo Held.


  • YWCA Madison starts a campaign to raise funds for remodeling the facilities.
  • YWCA Madison leases fitness facilities to the local YMCA during YMCA’s renovations.


The Rehabilitation project begins.


The building at 101 E. Mifflin St is put on Madison’s Historic Register.


The 4 million dollar rehabilitation project was completed.  


  • YWCA Madison celebrates 90 years of service to Dane County.
  • YWCA Madison holds the 25th Annual Women of Distinction Award Luncheon.


  • YWCA Madison renovates kitchens on our permanent resident floors and our shelter floor for homeless families.
  • Our Employment and Training annex houses other programs.


  • The creation of the YWCA Foundation through a bequest from Ineva Baldwin.
  • The Employment and Training Annex moved from Williamson Street to Lakeside Street.
  • On December 31, 2001, we closed the deal with Heartland and purchased the building at 101 E. Mifflin back from Heartland. 
  • YWCA Madison participates in the historic vote in Albuquerque to change our national bylaws and create a new structure. 


YWCA Madison introduced a powerful four-hour Unlearning Racism workshop which includes the viewing of the award-winning video, the Color of Fear. 


  • YWCA Madison celebrates its 95th birthday.
  • Introduced Our first Circle of Women Luncheon to bring the message of our work and mission to the community and had nearly 800 people in attendance.


  • YWCA Madison’s Legacy Society is established to provide an opportunity for thoughtful donors to make lasting gifts for the future and to be honored and recognized in the present for their generosity and vision.
  • YWCAMadison hosts its first “block party” for residents, staff, board members, and neighbors. 


YWCA begins the YW Transit program to provide rides for vulnerable persons without other transportation options for sexual assault prevention and for access to medical and other appointments.


YWCA launches Capital Campaign to renovate the building at 101 E. Mifflin and acquire an Empowerment Center.


  • YW Transit JobRide Program is launched.
  • Empowerment Center Opens.


  • Renovations Begin at 101 E. Mifflin Street
  • The Real Lives, Real Change Capital Campaign reaches its fundraising goal of $1.8 Million
  • Restorative Justice program launches pilot program at LaFollette High School.


Renovations of 101 E. Mifflin Street are completed.


Launched Housing First Programs in Stoughton, WI.


  • Launched the Moxie Conference and YWomen Lead.
  • Launched Advocacy Action Team.
  • Streamlined YWCA program to focus on 3 core areas of strength: race/gender equity, housing & shelter, and job training/transportation


Launched YWeb Career Academy.


  • Vanessa McDowell is named CEO and becomes the first Black woman CEO in YWCA Madison’s 108-year history.
  • YWCA Madison Empowerment Center moves to a new location on Park Street.


  • YWCA Madison shifted its focus inward and created “Fishbowls” as a way to have difficult conversations around our intersectional identities among staff and the board.
  • Launched our Advocacy Platform.


  • YWeb Career Academy starts to be replicated nationally to 15 YWCAs throughout the United States.
  • In conjunction with the Black Thought Project, YWCA Madison creates a Black Thought Wall in Madison, WI.
  • YWCA Madison creates new organizational values of “Who We Are Today!”: Community, Humanity, Growth, and Restoration
  • In December of 2020, YWCA Madison receives a portion of MacKenzie Scott’s monumental 4.2 billion-dollar philanthropic donation.


  • YWCA Madison was the first recipient of the YWCA USA Local Association Excellence Award in Racial Justice


  • YWCA Madison receives Association of Fundraising Professionals Outstanding Achievement in JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) Award.
  • YWCA Madison purchases the Empowerment Center at 2040 S. Park Street.

YWCA USA History

Throughout our history, the forefront of most major movements in the United States is a pioneer in race relations, labor union representation, and the empowerment of women.


The first Association in the U.S., Ladies Christian Association, was formed in New York City.


The first boarding house for female students, teachers, and factory workers opened in New York, N.Y.


“YWCA” was first used in Boston, Mass.


The YWCA USA opens the first employment bureau in New York City.


The YWCA USA opens a low-cost summer “resort” for employed women in Philadelphia, Pa.


The first African-American YWCA branch opened in Dayton, Ohio.


The first YWCA for Native American women opened in at Haworth Institute in Chilocco, Okla.


The United States of America, England, Sweden, and Norway together created the World YWCA, which today is working in over 125 countries.


The YWCA USA was the first organization to introduce the positive health concept and sex education in all health programming.


YWCA of the USA incorporated in New York City.


The YWCA USA was the first industrial federation of clubs to train girls in self-government.


The YWCA USA held the first interracial conference in Louisville, Ky.


The YWCA USA was the first organization to send professional workers overseas to provide administrative leadership and support to U.S. Armed Forces.


Based on its work with women in industrial plants, the YWCA Convention voted to work for “an eight-hour/day law, prohibition of night work, and the right of labor to organize”.


Grace Dodge Hotel completed construction of a Washington, D.C. residence initially designed to house women war workers


The YWCA encouraged members to speak out against lynching and mob violence, and for interracial cooperation and efforts to protect African Americans’ basic civil rights.


The YWCA in Columbus, Ohio, establishes a desegregated dining facility and is cited by The Columbus Urban League “for a courageous step forward in human relations.”


The YWCA extends its services to Japanese American women and girls incarcerated in World War II Relocation Centers.


The National Board appears at the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate hearings in support of permanent Fair Employment Practices Committee legislation.


Interracial Charter adopted by the 17th National Convention.


The National Convention pledges that the YWCA will work for integration and full participation of minority groups in all phases of American life.


National Convention commits local Associations and the National Board to review progress towards inclusiveness and decides on “concrete steps” to be taken.


The Atlanta, Ga., YWCA cafeteria opened to African Americans, becoming the city’s first integrated public dining facility.


The National Board of the YWCA created the Office of Racial Justice to lead the civil rights efforts.


The YWCA National Convention, held in Houston, adopted the One Imperative: “To trust our collective power towards the elimination of racism, wherever it exists, by any means necessary”.


The YWCA USA started the ENCORE program for women who had undergone breast cancer surgery.


YWCA USA establishes Fund For The Future.


The YWCA USA National Board urges Congress to support legislation that opposes the South African policy of apartheid.


The YWCA National Day of Commitment to Eliminate Racism began in response to the beating of Rodney King, an African American man, the acquittal of four white Los Angeles police officers accused of the crime, and the subsequent riots and unrest across the country.


The YWCA USA Week Without Violence was created as a nationwide effort to unite people against violence in communities. The annual observance is held in the third week of October.


Steps to Absolute Change were adopted. The YWCA USA shifted from a top-down to a bottom-up grassroots organization. Local associations joined regions and elected their regional representatives to the National Coordinating Board.


Igniting the Collective Power of the YWCA to Eliminate Racism, the YWCA USA’s Summit on Eliminating Racism was held in Birmingham, Ala.


The YWCA celebrates its Sesquicentennial Anniversary, 150 years of service, with the launch of the “Own It” campaign. The campaign focused on igniting a new generation of 22 million young women aged 18 to 34, inspiring them to get involved with important issues facing women and the country today.


Today over 2 million people participate in YWCA programs at more than 1,300 sites across the United States. Globally, the YWCA reaches 25 million women and girls in 125 countries.


At the YWCA Annual Meeting in May 2012, a transition from the prior regional structure to a national federated structure was approved, followed by the adoption of new bylaws in November 2012.


YWCA USA transitioned from an internal national coordinating board to a new board of directors driven by women of influence as well as YWCA leaders.


YWCA USA developed a Mission Impact Framework and Theory of Change to focus and clarify our diverse body of work in racial justice and civil rights, women’s and girls’ health and safety, and women’s and girls’ empowerment and economic advancement.

Stand Against Racism became a signature campaign of YWCA USA, reaching over 700 locations across the country.

The corporate name changed from “Young Women’s Christian Association of the United States of America, Inc.” to “YWCA USA, Inc.”, effective December 15, 2015.


YWCA launched the YWCA Is On A Mission brand awareness campaign to deepen YWCA’s impact in local communities and on the national scale.