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Boston Young Women's Christian Association (Massachusetts). Records of Boston Young Women's Christian Association (Massachusetts), 1858-2005 (inclusive), 1858-1988 (bulk): A Finding Aid

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University


Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Location: Bulk of collection (except for slides, Series VI-B; and audio- and video-tapes, Series VI-C and Series VI-D) stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.
Call No.: 89-M3--2015-M220
Repository: Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Creator: Boston Young Women's Christian Association (Massachusetts)
Title: Records of Boston Young Women's Christian Association (Massachusetts), 1858-2005 (inclusive), 1858-1988 (bulk)
Date(s): 1858-2005
Date(s): 1858-1988
Quantity: 134.84 linear feet (98 cartons, 14 file boxes, 1 card file box, 6 folio boxes, 18 folio+ boxes), 43 oversized volumes, 24 audiocassettes, 17 motion pictures, and electronic records)
Abstract: Reports, minutes, correspondence, etc., of the Boston Young Women's Christian Association.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Accession numbers: 89-M3, 92-M182, 2015-M220
The records of the Boston Young Women's Christian Association were given to the Schlesinger Library by the Association in 1989 and in 1992, and by Sharlene Voogd Cochrane in December 2015.

Processing Information:

Preliminary inventory: January 1991
By: Jane S. Knowles
Updated: August 2011
By: Paula Aloisio
Updated and additional materials added: February 2016
By: Anne Engelhart

Conditions Governing Access:

Access. Most records are open for research; restricted folders are noted. Personnel records created before 1989 are closed until January 1, 2070. Closed personnel records may be consulted by the Personnel Office of the Boston YWCA. Individual items throughout the collection are closed as noted to protect personal privacy.

Conditions Governing Use:

Copyright. Copyright in the donated records created by the Boston Young Women's Christian Associations is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns. Written permission of the Executive Director, Personnel Director, or the President of the Boston YWCA is required for publication of quotations exceeding 250 words. Written permission of the Executive Director, Personnel Director, or the President of the Boston YWCA is required for publication of information from open personnel records.
Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


The Boston Young Women's Christian Association (BYWCA) was founded in 1866; it was one of the first, and the prototype, for all subsequent YWCAs in the United States. It is also one of the oldest extant voluntary agencies in Boston.
In 1858, Mrs. Lucretia Boyd, a city missionary, first voiced concern for the moral and physical welfare of young women and girls coming from the country to work in Boston. In 1866 a group of women led by the civic reformer Pauline Durant, wife of philanthropist Henry Durant, founded the BYWCA modeled on the English YWCA to "serve the temporal, moral, and religious welfare of young women who are dependent upon their own exertions for support." Young women faced with the choice of "starving or sinning" were to be housed in well-regulated boarding houses and given moral and religious training. Accommodations and a reading room were rented on Chauncy Street in 1866 and shortly thereafter two houses on Beach Street were purchased to offer lodgings to Protestant women under the age of 25. Classes - - including Astronomy, Botany, Penmanship, and Bookkeeping - - were offered and a restaurant opened to serve residents and non-residents.
Finding that many young women had no jobs, the BYWCA in 1868 opened an employment agency for domestic servants and an experimental industrial class to teach sewing, dressmaking, and the use of the sewing machine. Such was the success of the early years that new buildings were constructed on Warrenton Street (1875) and Berkeley Street (1884). The first executive secretary, Charlotte Drinkwater (1875-1908), introduced many pioneering programs and established the early goals, to which over the years the BYWCA has consistently adhered: affordable housing, enrichment courses, vocational training, physical education, and career counseling and placement. The BYWCA's initial concern for the religious health of its clients has shifted away from Protestant denominational loyalty to a broad Christian focus. The responsiveness of the BYWCA to social change has depended partly on the differing agendas of the Executive Secretaries and partly on the policies of the volunteer Board of Managers. The settlement and training of immigrants as domestic workers was an early goal under Mary E. Blodgett, who established Travelers' Aid to welcome immigrants at the docks. Assimilation classes were offered by the International Institute in the 1920s. Under Executive Secretary Harriet Broad (1914-21), who trained at the National Board of the YWCA in New York, there was an effort to reach "industrial girls" and the membership was expanded to include clients as well as upper-class managers. Although (unlike the National Board) not a pioneer in race relations, the BYWCA wholeheartedly embraced the multicultural goals of the YWCA movement in the 1970s and introduced innovative programs whose purpose was to strengthen diversity and eliminate racism. The BYWCA has also been outspoken on public policy issues such as apartheid in South Africa. From the 1970s, especially under the direction of Executive Director Juliet Brudney, the BYWCA concentrated on services to youth and teenagers and child care services for working mothers.
The shortfall in funding from private charity, United Way, and state and federal agencies was closed by periodic fundraising campaigns and by the sale of securities. In 1986, in the interests of long range financial stability, the Board decided to rebuild the BYWCA at 140 Clarendon Street in partnership with a commercial developer. At the time when this collection was processed these plans had been postponed.

Highlights of BYWCA history:


The records of the BYWCA are divided into the following six series.


An index to major authors, organizations, and subjects is found at the end of the inventory. Additionally, folders access to which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy are restricted as noted.
In 2011, the collection was reviewed, and the processor placed temporary restrictions on some folders to protect individual privacy, and discarded other folders of no research value (#1508, 1863, 1950, 2061, 2197-2307, 2333, 2406, 2483-2486, 2488, and Cartons 112-117), resulting in some gaps in the original numbering system. The discarded folders contained resumes for unsuccessful candidates and other job applicant information, timesheets, and applications for residence in YWCA-operated apartments. Cartons 112-117 contained computer generated payroll reports from 1973-1974. Records concerning individual retirement benefits, including folder #1483, were returned to the YWCA.
Additional materials received in 1992 and 2015 (accession numbers 92-M182, 2015-M220) were added to the collection in February 2016. These materials are housed in #2022av, #3349a and #3502-3512. All other files remain in the same order. Folders are listed in intellectual, not numerical, order.



Preliminary index of authors, subjects, committees, and organizations. Numbers beginning with 3162vf refer to photographs or audio-visual material.

Container List

Additional Index Terms

Adult education--Massachusetts
Abused women--Massachusetts
African American women--Massachusetts
Boston (Mass.)--Buildings, structures, etc.
Boston (Mass.)--Economic conditions
Boston (Mass.)--Social life and customs
Child care--Massachusetts--Boston
Day care centers--Massachusetts
Displaced homemakers--Massachusetts
Electronic records
Home economics--Massachusetts
Home economics students--Massachusetts
Massachusetts--Emigration and immigration
Occupational retraining--Massachusetts
Occupational training--Massachusetts
Physical education and training--Massachusetts
Race relations
Religious education of girls
Travelers' aid societies
Web sites
Women--Societies and clubs
Women volunteers in social service--Massachusetts
World War, 1914-1918--War work--Young Women's Christian associations
World War, 1939-1945--War work--Young Women's Christian associations
Youth--Societies and clubs
Boston Young Women's Christian Association (Massachusetts)
Coit, Eleanor G.
Coolidge, Calvin, 1872-1933
Cox, Channing H. (Channing Harris), 1879-1968
Durant, Pauline Adeline Fowle, 1832-1917
Fuller, Alvan T. (Alvan Tufts), 1878-1958
Lawrence, William, 1850-1941
Putnam, Glendora M., 1923-
United Community Services of Metropolitan Boston
United Way of Massachusetts Bay
Young Women's Christian Association of the U.S.A.