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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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Young Women's Christian Association (Y.W.C.A.)

YOUNG WOMEN'S CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION (Y.W.C.A.). In 1902 Elizabeth Horr used a $100 gift from her father and encouragement from friends to open the first Y.W.C.A. at 567 Main. The five-room building included a reception room, small lunchroom, dining room and kitchen.

In February, 1902 those interested in established a Y. W. C. A. were very pleased at the response they had received. As reported by the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, sixty women had indicated they would join as soon as the organization was established. It was intended to get one hundred interested in the organization before inviting the state secretary to visit the city. Active members would be charged annual dues of one dollar while "sustaining members" would pay $5.00 "for the "good of the cause." (1)

The intention of the Y. W. C. A. was to offer many of the advantages of the YOUNG MEN'S CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION (Y.M.C.A.). At the new Y. W. C. A. there would be exercise classes, art, "fancy work," and rooms for rent instead of forcing young women into going "to boarding houses of questionable environments." Meals would also be provided. (2)

The first Y.W.C.A. business meeting in Dubuque took place on May 23, 1902. The first General Secretary, Edna Kyle, prepared meals, led the devotions, and upholstered chairs for the organization. Mary Neuhaus served the first meal to thirty-seven women at 567 Main Street. Nonmembers were charged two cents more than members for a meal in which roast beef and potatoes cost three cents. Classes were established and a gymnasium, employment bureau, and cafeteria were opened. (3)

During the first year of its existence, the Y.W.C.A. sponsored many social events including picnics at Stewart's Park(later UNION PARK), noon prayer meetings, spelling bees, and musicals. A representative of the American Y Board, visiting Dubuque in 1902, was amazed at the large membership, then three hundred.

Young Women's Christian Association (Y.W.C.A.) decked out automobile in local parade. Date unknown.

Membership soared to 529 in 1903, the year the state convention of the Y.W.CA. was held in Dubuque.

In 1906 an event of citywide interest was the performance of the opera, Egypta. Sponsored by the Y.W.C.A., the performance starred many of the city's leading citizens. The same year the Y. W. C. A. formed a Choral Club under the direction of Professor Norton, choir master at ST. JOHN'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH. (4) In November, Miss Esther Anderson, head of the religious work department of the organization with headquarters in Chicago, visited Dubuque to meet with members of the board. (5)

Growth in the organization led to plans for a permanent home. In 1907 a site was chosen at the corner of Locust and 6th Street and the opportunity for a wealthy person to donate $50,000 for a "spacious building...which could house 200-300 women" was presented. (6) Members planned a "mile of dimes" to raise $8,000 but were disappointed to achieve only $800. Higher bids on remodeling and labor strikes led the board of directors to rent the building until April of 1908. In November 1908 young girls interested in joining the "Y" formed their own organization called "The Alert Club." Meeting were held every Monday afternoon at 4:15 p.m. (7)

Fund-raising efforts, including a public restaurant during Dubuque Homecoming Week in 1908, proved successful. An open house in the new headquarters was held on January 24, 1909, with the national secretary of the Y.W.C.A. as the speaker. In 1911 the Rogers property adjoining the Y.W.CA. property, was donated to the organization. In 1912 Traveler's Aid was introduced. Girls traveling through Dubuque could come to the Y.W.C.A. for a room for the night, financial help, or assistance in making changes in transportation. Classes continued to be added.

In 1921 a millinery class was offered free of charge and a Bible study class led by Hugh Dowling ATCHISON was offered on Monday evenings. (8) A girls' group for ages 12-18, called the "Girl Reserves" was involved in a $10,000 fundraising campaign. (9) The Twin-S Club was established. Standing for "service and sociability," the group offered social activity and service opportunities for young employed women.

At its annual meeting in January, 1923 organization officials stated the Y.W.C.A. in 1922 had come into contact with 9,000 young women with many from foreign lands. While in 1921 the group had been 75% self-supporting, in 1922 that figure had risen to 79%. There was a definite need for a new building. In 1922 an average of 87 were cared for by the association daily. Many were unable to stay because of the lack of rooms. (10)

A building fund was already operational in 1925 and received a $5,000 donation from William L. BRADLEY, Sr.. (11) This brought the campaign to near $40,000 toward its goal of $200,000. (12)

In 1928 the organization with a board of directors with twenty-two members and five salaried staff people received a welcome surprise. Mrs. Mary P. Albee donated modern heating and refrigeration equipment. (13)

Parlor of the Y.W.C.A. at 6th and Locust

The Y.W.C.A. site at 6th and Locust was sold in 1930 to the United States government for $75,000 as the location for a new post office. The purchase was finalized in 1931.

In 1932 the Y.W.C.A. moved temporarily to 116 1/2 West 13th. Boarders were roomed in private homes, and furniture was stored until the Association moved in November to 11th and Iowa. In December, the Association sponsored its first Christmas party for children living at MOUNT PLEASANT HOME. Two lots were purchased for future building plans.

In 1934 local membership included 230 Junior members and 100 adult senior members. Through the employment office, forty women were placed in jobs during the preceding year. As a community service organization, the Y.W.C.A. worked with the Y.M.C.A., Parent Teachers' Association, Emergency Relief Office, Community Chest and others to increase efficiency. (14)

Dubuque witnessed its first youth conference in 1936. Sponsored by the Association, the conference was led by the psychologist from the University of Iowa. A Stay-at-Home Camp was offered for girls who could not attend an established camp. The Dubuque Y was again a leader when, in 1936, it founded the "Town Meeting of the Radio."

Aiding the war effort in 1943, the Association offered sugar to anyone willing to bake cookies that were then sent to the Savanna Ordnance Depot. Girl Reserves sold war stamps and Newcomers performed a play with the profits used to purchase war bonds.

In 1946 the "Y-Teen" name replaced the name "Girl Reserve." Shortly after this change was announced, the first All-Iowa Y-Teen World Fellowship Worship was held in Dubuque.

Cooperative planning began with the YOUNG MEN'S CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION (Y.M.C.A.) in 1956-1957. In 1958 a two-week Day Camp for seven and eight-year-old boys and girls was begun. A new building addition was dedicated in 1958, helping to ease overcrowded conditions. The teen program was increased with an estimated four hundred attending Teen Town Dances.

In 1966 a tutoring program was started with the DUBUQUE COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT using the Dubuque Area Economic Opportunity Act. Representatives of the Y.M.C.A. and the Y.W.C.A. held a panel discussion on a Capital Funds Campaign and began consideration of a joint building by visiting such a facility in Rochester, Minnesota.

In 1968 an option was signed for the Frudden property on Dodge Street as the site for the combined Y.W.C.A.-Y.M.C.A. building. Wayne Andrew NORMAN, Sr. was named the campaign chairperson. Bids for the building were let in August 1969, and construction began in 1970 with Mrs. Marvin Stamp elected as chairperson of the building committee.

The new home of the Y.W.C.A./Y.M.C.A. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

The Y.W.C.A. and Y.M.C.A. moved into their new building at 35 North Booth in 1971. An estimated six thousand people toured the facility during the Open House. Additions to the building were made in 1980 and 1986.

In 1975 the Y.W.C.A. offered both day and evening programs for people of all ages. These programs included swimming, exercise, yoga, informational education session and craft workshops. A new program was Outreach Preschool where Y.W.C.A. programs to residents on the north side of town. As part of the International Women's Year, the organization sponsored a Women of Achievement dinner to honor contributions of women in the community. The "Y" also sponsored separate organizations included YW Wives, YWCA Service Club, Civic Newcomers, Y Teens, Twin-S Club, Pre-Teens, and Y-Not for singles. (15)

"Forgotten Women in History" was the theme of a 1976 essay contest sponsored by the Y.W.C.A. and several other civic organizations. The top three winners received $50,$30, and $20. (16)

Y.W.C.A. support groups in 1984 included the Battered Women Shelter for those suffering from mental and physical abuse. The 24-hour service included working agreement with the police department, Legal Services of Iowa, Department of Human Services, Dubuque/Jackson County Mental Health Center, pastoral counseling, Phone-a-Friend and the local hospital emergency rooms. A second group was Make Today Court which was co-sponsored by the American Cancer Society for those with life-threatening illness and their families. Common Venture, the third program, was a widow-to-widow group offering friendship and support. (17)

In 1991 a generous bequest from the estate of Colette Cody of Beverly Hills, California was received. This money was used to establish the YWCA Foundation to ensure the future of the Association. The YWCA Endowment Fund and the YWCA Service Club were later merged into the Foundation. (18)

In 2000 the boards of the YOUNG MEN'S CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION (Y.M.C.A.) and the Y.W.C.A. voted to consolidate the two organizations into one called the Dubuque Community Y. Membership in the national organizations continued. Margaret Kolck, YW Executive Director, was chosen to be the first director of the combined organization. (19)

In 2003, before and after school child care was provided at Hoover, Kennedy, Sageville, Eisenhower, Irving and Table Mound elementary schools. Students from Bryant and Lincoln were offered child care at the Dubuque Community Y, the combined YMCA/YWCA. (20)




1. Lyon, Ruth. "YWCA Celebrates 100 Years of Service," Julien's Journal, April, 2003, p. 28

2. "New Y. W. C. A.," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, February 2, 1902, p. 3

3. Ibid.

4. "Progress of the Past Six Years," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, January 31, 1909, p. 3

5. "The Whirl of Society," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, March 22, 1908, p. 11

6. "Y. W. C. A. Worker Comes This Week," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, October 7, 1906, p. 5

7. "The Y. W. C. A. Needs Support of People," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, December 22, 1907, p. 19

8. "New Club Formed In Dubuque," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, November 7, 1908, p. 15

9. "Y.W.C.A. Notes," Dubuque Telegraph Herald, February 13, 1921, p. 25

10. "Y. W. Drive Opens Formally Tonight," Dubuque Telegraph Herald, April 4, 1921, p. 15

11. "Annual Meeting and Dinner of Y.W.C.A. Held Friday at St. Luke's," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, January 7, 1923, p. 23

12. "Donation is One of Several Adding Pep to Campaign," Telegraph Herald, October 11, 1925, p. 15

13. "Y.W.C.A. Fund Near $40,000 Mark," Telegraph Herald, October 11, 1925, p. 15

14. "Dubuque Woman Makes Donation," Telegraph-Herald and Times-Journal, March 18, 1928, p. 6

15. "Annual Meeting of Y.W.C.A. Friday Night Well Attended," Telegraph-Herald and Times-Journal, February 4, 1934, p. 11

16. "Women Support Y.W.C.A. Groups," Telegraph Herald, April 27, 1975, p. 32

17. "Students Win with Essays on History's Forgotten Women," Telegraph Herald, December 14, 1976, p. 6

18. "Y.W.C.A. Celebrates 125 Years," Telegraph Herald, April 30, 1984, p. 8

19. Lyon, p. 29

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid.