The Young Women’s Christian Association, or YWCA, was an important part of Arcadia 100 years ago. It operated a Hostess House at Carlstrom Field, one of two aviation training camps constructed near the city during World War I. The organization also established club meeting rooms and a location for women visiting the city in the Carlton Block. In addition, a Girls Reserves at the high school worked to develop the city park.
YWCA Hostess House
Opened 24 hours a day, the YWCA Hostess House was built "to provide a homelike place where soldiers and their female visitors may meet," according to Cynthia Brandimarte in her article "Women on the Home Front: Hostess Houses during World War I." (published in Winterthur Portfolio, Vol. 42, No. 4, winter 2008)
Women architects such as Katharine Cotheal Budd (1860-1951), Fay Kellogg (1871-1918) and Julia Morgan (1872-1957) designed some of the 50 structures for 37 military camps where more than 1,000 women—both married and unmarried—served as hostesses.
“Hostess houses gave soldiers a place in which to mingle with friends and families and to escape, temporarily, military hardships. The houses provided their women workers with income, with an important credential for future careers, with greater travel, and with increased confidence about making their own way in the world.”
Founded in 1855 by Emma Robarts in England, the Young Women’s Christian Association was established in New York City three years later. In 1860, the YWCA opened a boardinghouse for women students, teachers, and factory workers in NYC.
The World YWCA was formed in 1894, and Travelers’ Aid was established, to protect women traveling alone. During World War I, in addition to the USO Hostess Program, the YWCA sent "professional workers overseas for leadership and support to the U.S. Armed Services."
YWCA Girls Reserve
An article entitled "Activities of Y.W.C.A. Are Numerous: Short History of Work That Has Been Done and Yet to Be Done" was published in the Nov. 14, 1919, DeSoto County News.
"Girls Reserves of the Y.W.C.A. made their first public appearance Tuesday in the Armistice Day celebration. Two trucks were decorated in the blue and white, the colors of the Girl Reserves, and the girls, dressed in white and wearing the blue and white caps and carrying the Y.W.C.A. standards, made a pretty picture. The Reserves are fast becoming one of the popular forms of club work among the the school girls."
The city park—bounded east and west by Polk and Monroe Avenues, north by Whidden Street and south by Jordan Branch—"has been granted to the Y.W.C.A. for use as play center...." Plans included a tennis court and volleyball nets.
Business and Professional Women’s Club
News about the Business and Professional Women’s Club was included in the article because of its association with the YWCA. In 1918, the organization’s attorney and secretary of its War Work Council—Lena Madesin Phillips (1881-1955)—had been sent to New York City to organize the National Business Women’s Committee for war work. After Armistice (Nov. 11, 1918), the members advocated for a peacetime group.
In July 1919, Phillips founded the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs that currently "develops the business, professional and leadership potential of women on all levels through education, advocacy, networking, mentoring, skillbuilding and economic empowerment programs and projects." (www.nfbpwc.org)
Arcadia’s BPWC in November 1919 elected Anna Appleby president and chose the program for the next club meeting: “‘What women are doing thru the Y.W.C.A. for the promotion of better woman citizenship.’ There will also be a 15-minute exercise in parliamentary law. This club has probably the largest membership of any club in Arcadia.”
YWCA Club Room and City Rest Rooms
The 1921 Arcadia city directory lists the YWCA under “Secret Societies: Miscellaneous.” Mrs. D. L. (Eugenia E.) McSwain served as president; Mrs. S. W. (Guerney) Bail as vice-president; Mrs. Mary H. Smith, secretary; Mrs. Ella Campbell, treasurer, and Estella L.V. Sherrill, general secretary. The national organization may have paid all or part of her salary.
The second floor of the Carlton Block, 2-6 W. Oak St., was known as the Chamber of Commerce Building. Tenants included the Young Women’s Christian Association, and their club rooms were also used for meetings of the Arcadia Woman’s Club and United Daughters of the Confederacy.
By 1926, the YWCA is no longer listed under “Secret Societies; nor are the club rooms in the Carlton Block, only the “City Rest Room ... for out-of-town ladies who come into our city for the day.”
The YWCA had established restrooms or refuges for women visiting the city. In the days before quick and efficient transportation, this space offered comfort and sanctuary for women between business or personal transactions or while waiting for homeward travel.
The Nov. 14, 1919, article reported, “The rest rooms are growing in popularity, the club rooms are much in demand, the recreation, development and influence of a Y.W.C.A. in the county have proven the need and the worth of the organization .... To continue this work finances are necessary .... It is going to be necessary to secure $2,500 in Arcadia for the promotion of the Y.W.C.A. for the ensuing year. Are the girls worth that amount?”
More persuasive toward the end, the article noted that the community called on the women and girls “when we want work done” or “when we want church work accomplished .... Now when the women and girls want to promote something for themselves what are we going to say?”