African-American Women and the Portland YWCA

Document 1

Document 2

Mallory Avenue Christian Church
Mallory Church

Williams Avenue Branch

Program at Williams, 1940s

Young Women at Williams

What Strategies Did African-American Women Use to Achieve Their Goals and Fulfill Their Needs through the YWCA in Portland?

Research by Rose M. Murdock and Patricia A. Schechter

       YWCA activity was one among many religious, benevolent, and educational undertakings by urban black women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Portland's black community, though numbering only about 2,000 people before World War I, was no exception to this pattern of association. As early as 1918, Portland black women sought the attention of the National YWCA and the Portland board concerning the community's need for a "club house" and "boarding home" for girls and women.[1] After neighborhood fundraising, support from the Community Chest, and a donation from Mrs. E.S. Collins (who was white), a temporary structure was erected at the corner of northeast Tillamook and Williams in 1921 and a permanent building opened to great fanfare in 1926.

       The Williams Avenue Center served northeast Portland through the 1950s, hosting dozens of community groups in addition to its YWCA offerings. Unfortunately, the stepped-up building campaign for a new downtown facility drained the attention and budget of the YWCA board. The changing character of the neighborhood to a more industrial rather than residential base discouraged investment in the program. A short-lived "Co-Ed Inn," a canteen for teens, operated in 1954-56 but struggled to hold the interest of young people. Despite a "Williams Avenue YWCA Study Committee" report in 1956 that underscored the need for intervention in the lives of area youth, the YWCA gradually withdrew its support for the Center altogether, in favor of a settlement approach by another agency.[2] The building was sold in 1959. "Selling that building was a very big heartache to a lot of people," noted Joyce Roggi, long-time Health, Physical Education director at the downtown YWCA building. "It was a sad chapter in our life."[3]

1.YWCA Board of Directors Meeting Minutes, 27 February 1920, Portland YWCA Archives, Portland, Oregon.
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2. "Williams Avenue YWCA Study," April 1956, Portland YWCA Archives, Portland, Oregon; "Report of Discontinuance of the Coed Inn at Williams Avenue YWCA Center by the Decision of the YWCA Teen-Age Committee," 23 May 1956, and Essie L. Maguire to Mrs. Irma T. Huppel, 26 April 1950, Williams Avenue Pages, Oregon Historical Society, Portland, Oregon.
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3. Patricia A. Schechter and Janice Dilg, "YWCA History Focus Group Interview," March 2001, Portland YWCA Archives, Portland, Oregon.
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