"More than classes in swimming and making hats": The YWCA and social reform in Houston, Texas, 1907-1977
Wille, Pamela Faith
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The Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) began in the United States during the mid-nineteenth century. It had as its purpose the assistance of young, single women who sought employment in the many urban areas throughout the nation. The association spread from the northeastern United States throughout the country. The Houston YWCA began in 1907, as the city began its tremendous growth into a major metropolitan area and at the height of the Progressive Era. The association quickly involved itself in many of the social reforms of the day. As it did so, the Houston YWCA Board of Directors found itself struggling to meet the directives of the National YWCA Board, the needs of its paid membership, and the demands of the local citizens who funded its programs. This dissertation explores the role of the YWCA as an agent of social reform in Houston from 1907 through 1977. Recent studies of the YWCA have focused on various aspects of the organization, ranging from its religious teachings, its attempts to organize and African-American branch, to its program offerings to the local citizens. No study to date has explored the activities of the Houston YWCA. The city of Houston boasted a diverse population with a large number of African-American and Latino citizens. The opening of a city YWCA in 1907 coincided with the phenomenal growth of Houston. The association quickly became a prominent women's organization and gained the respect of city leaders. In addition, no study has explored the impact of funding on the activities of a city association. This dissertation explores the attempts of a women's organization to act as an agent of social reform in a major metropolitan city. It also attempts to show how the dictates of a national organization don't always come to fruition as quickly at the local level. The demands of funding agencies and the apprehensions of local citizens regarding change often dictated the success or failure of social reform programs. For the women associated with the Houston YWCA, the decision to adhere to national dictates or acquiesce to citizens concerns fell on the shoulders of the volunteer Board of Directors. In many ways, the actions of the Houston association were the actions of the Board of Directors.