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Young Women's Christian Association of Cambridge (Mass.). Records of the Young Women's Christian Association of Cambridge, 1881-1981: 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: Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.
Call No.: 82-M141--83-M11
Repository: Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Creator: Young Women's Christian Association of Cambridge (Mass.)
Title: Records of Young Women's Christian Association of Cambridge, 1881-1981
Date(s): 1881-1981
Quantity: 36.9 linear feet (20 cartons, 23 card files, 8 folio boxes) plus 2 folio folders, 4 oversize folders, 2 supersize folders, 7 oversize volumes, 2 audiotapes, and electronic records)
Language of materials: Materials in English.
Abstract: Office files, photographs, publications, etc., of the Young Women's Christian Association of Cambridge.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Accession numbers: 82-M141; 83-M11
The records of the Young Women's Christian Association of Cambridge were given to the Schlesinger Library in July 1982 and January 1983.

Processing Information:

Preliminary inventory: January 1987
By: Barbara Harris, Jane S. Knowles

Access Restrictions:

Access. Unrestricted, except for folder #446, which is closed until January 1, 2025. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use:

Copyright. Copyright in the records created by the Young Women's Christian Association of Cambridge is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Quotations longer than one paragraph in length must be approved by the Executive Committee of the Young Women's Christian Association of Cambridge as long as the organization exists. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.
Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.

Preferred Citation:

Young Women's Christian Association of Cambridge Records, 1881-1981; item description, dates. 82-M141--83-M11, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.


In June 1891, members of the Cambridgeport branch of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union established the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) in Cambridge "to promote the temporal, moral, and religious welfare of the young women of Cambridge." The organization received its charter and was incorporated in February 1892.
The YWCA's first concern was to provide inexpensive, safe accommodation for women who were newly employed, strangers, or transients. This was achieved by the purchase, in 1897, of the Pray Estate, 11 Temple Street. The "genteel" location of Central Square was preferred to the "far too dangerous" area near Harvard Square, according to YWCA historian Frances Donovan. Further residences were purchased at 144 Austin Street and 7 Temple Street (1902), and 5 Temple St. (1905); in 1911 the present headquarters was built at 7 Temple Street by the architectural firm of Newhall and Blevins. Administrative offices, program facilities, and lodgings for working women were provided, and a few rooms set aside for short stays for the homeless. Extensive additions and renovations to the building were carried out in 1954 and 1961 by the firm of Anderson and Beckwith.
The programs offered initially by the YWCA included music, dressmaking, cooking, Bible study, watercolors, German, hygiene, and physical culture. This focus on education, physical education and health has continued, although new programs have been adopted, adapted, and dropped to meet changing needs.
In the 1890s vocational courses in millinery, dressmaking, nursing, cooking, shorthand, and typing were popular; vocational guidance was offered after 1926.
From 1899 to 1928 the YWCA maintained an Employment Office for domestic help and a Woman's Exchange, where locally made crafts and handwork were sold. Youth programs, the Wives' Club with day care center, and senior citizen programs have been added over the years; and most recently a Woman's film series. The facilities for physical education were expanded in 1961 with the construction of the swimming pool; a barn in Marshfield first loaned in 1944, became the summer day camp. Margaret Fuller House on Cherry Street was purchased in 1902 to be an area recreation center, and became an independent settlement house in 1944. War work in both World War I and II concentrated on entertainment of troops stationed in the greater Boston area. The YWCA has sponsored programs of community and civic interest: study groups on public affairs have issued reports on legislation, social trends, and racial integration, and committees have cooperated with the local League of Women Voters to encourage voter registration.
The Cambridge YWCA is self-governing; it is administered by a volunteer Board of Directors, which appoints committees of volunteers that have both consultative and administrative functions. A small professional staff is headed by an Executive Secretary. The total budget of the YWCA was originally funded by membership fees, benefits, lectures, and bazaars. Beginning in 1938 the budget was in part funded by United Community Services, and since 1974 by the United Way.
The Cambridge YWCA has always been non-sectarian in practice and philosophy. Members of the Board were selected from seven major branches of the Protestant church: Universalist, Unitarian, Episcopalian, Baptist, Methodist, Swedenborgian, and Congregational. The YWCA offered Bible study and prayer meetings, but avoided competition with local churches, believing its primary function to be the practical application of Christian principles. It delayed affiliation with the national organization until 1935 when the National YWCA's statement of purpose became more broad and inclusive.


The collection is arranged in eight series:


The collection consists of the records (1881-1925) of the Cambridgeport Woman's Christian Temperance Union, founded in 1874, and of photographs, clippings, publications, and office files of the YWCA of Cambridge from 1891 on. The records document all aspects of the YWCA's foundation, organization, development, and programs. They also indirectly document the lives and experience of many Cambridge women, including the volunteer activities of upper class women, and the employment opportunities, and leisure activities of young working women, of blacks, and immigrants. The records also shed light on community and business life in Cambridge.



Preliminary index of subjects, authors, and organizations:

Container List

Additional Index Terms

African American women
Architectural drawings
Asian American women
Cambridge (Mass.)--Buildings, structures, etc.
Cambridge (Mass.)--Economic conditions
Cambridge (Mass.)--Social life and customs
Electronic records
Ethnic relations
Health education
Homeless women
Physical education and training
Physical fitness for women
Race relations
Religious education of girls
Social service
Social service
Vocational guidance
Web sites
Women--Massachusetts--Cambridge--Societies and clubs.
Women volunteers in social service
World War, 1914-1918--War work
World War, 1939-1945--War work
Young Women's Christian associations--Massachusetts
Youth--Societies and clubs
Anderson and Beckwith
Business and Professional Women's Club (Cambridge, Mass.)
Cambridge Community Council
Cambridge Community Federation
Cambridge Community Services
Council of Social Agencies (Cambridge, Mass.)
Margaret Fuller House
Newhall and Blevins
United Community Services of Metropolitan Boston
United Way (Boston, Mass.)
Woman's Christian Temperance Union
Young Women's Christian Association of Burlington (Mass.)