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

Document 2: "Report of Discontinuance of Coed Inn at Williams Ave. YWCA Center," 23 May 1956, Portland YWCA Archives, Portland, Oregon.

REPORT OF DISCONTINUANCE OF COED INN AT WILLIAMS AVE. YWCA CENTER
BY DECISION OF THE YWCA TEEN-AGE COMMITTEE--MAY 23, 1956

       The Coed Inn program has been in operation since September 1954 for teen-age boys and girls. It is primarily a dance, with fringe activities such as ping pong and table games. YWCA membership is required of participants plus a 10¢ fee each week. Cokes are for sale at 5¢. Refreshments are occasionally planned by the Council, which is the leadership group of the membership.

       During January and February the attendance declined from a previous average of 50-75 to the point where very few or no teen-agers came. This we assumed to be the usual seasonal drop and made plans several times with the Council to have a special party to draw back the participants. None of these attempts was particularly successful.

       In the course of conversations with members of the group, and with adults who were interested in the program, several interesting facts were discovered. At the Knott St. Center on a Thursday night the staff workers said, "Everybody goes to the Y on Thursday nights." On the same night no one was at the Y. A name band was playing for a dance at McElroy's Ballroom, and probably many of the teen-agers were there at $2.40 a head. This raised the problem of where the kids were on other Thursday nights. The community expected them to be at the Y. Where were they?

       Secondly, a dance studio teaching calypso opened at about this time (or began drawing some of our older girls). These girls began to do exhibition calypso at a variety of places and ceased coming to the Y program. This studio also, according to hearsay, runs teen-age dances two or three nights a week.

       Thirdly, an unusually large number of the girls in the group (many of them on the Council) were becoming pregnant--some have had their children illegitimately; some have rushed into hasty marriages. On one occasion girls going home from the Y dance were picked up on Williams Ave., taken to Pier Park, and raped.

       These facts were brought to the attention of the Teen-Age Committee at its April 26th meeting. The question was raised as to the advisability of dropping the dance program and substituting other types of activity for teen-age girls. A charm class was suggested. Also Y-Teen clubs for younger (7th and 8th grade) girls. It was also recommended that activities be held in the late afternoon rather than at night.

       The committee also recommended that a meeting be held with some representative women of the Williams Ave. neighborhood to talk about the problems of teen-age girls and to pool ideas of what the YWCA should be doing to help them.

       This meeting was held one week later on May 1. It was not as representative a group as we had hoped for, nor was it as thoughtful a group as it needed to be. There was a brief introduction of the problem facing the Teen-Age Department; namely, shall we discontinue the dance and substitute more constructive activity for girls only--because of the problems previously stated (see above). After this introduction the group veered directly to a discussion of the dance program, and agreed that they felt there was a need for the dance to be continued. Thes was most strongly stated by one member of the group, but was accepted by the others. There was much other conversation, touching on the Knott St. Center and the techniques of educating boys and girls how to behave at dances.

       As all of the members of this advisory group were on their way to a railroad ball, the discussion never really was completed. Instead, the group left the Y and went on to the dance.

       For the YWCA staff and the chairman of the Teen-Age Committee who were present, it was a very frustrating meeting. It had never reached the crux of the situation--what will really help these teen-age girls?

       At the May meeting of the Teen-Age Committee, the meeting of the Advisory Group was reported by Margaret Boehmer, chairman of the Committee. The Teen-Age Committee discussed the problem further and arrived at the following recommendations:

  1. That the dance not be reopened.
  2. That a Charm Class be set up for this summer.
  3. That a Y-teen Club be started for 7th & 8th grade girls.
  4. That, in the future, dances would be held there only if planned by a YWCA girls' group for a specific group of boys

       The Committee feels that a dance, unrelated to other program[s], is not a beneficial activity. The dance has obviously not offered any solution to the real problems of the girls in the neighborhood, and may even have been contributing to their delinquency.

       Mrs. Eileen Jacques, who is a member of the Teen-Age Department Committee, is also on the staff of the Women' s Protective Division. She spoke with the commanding officer of the East Precinct of the Portland Police Department, telling him of the fact that the Committee was in the process of deciding whether or not to reopen the dance. The police officer hoped that the Committee would decide against having the dances. "As far as we are concerned, it's a big headache. We had to send six cars one time (diverting as many as twelve men from other duties), and almost had to put some kids in handcuffs, they were acting so obstreperous. It appears to me that the dances actually cause more delinquency than they prevent. Of course we know that the dances are well-supervised inside the building, but the trouble comes outside the building and in transit. Bringing together in that location so many kids is just asking for trouble."

       The Committee feels that the girls of the Williams Avenue Area need much help in becoming mature and socially acceptable in their behavior, especially since many do not have the kind of home background which would give them this training. Every possible effort should be put into helping the Teen-age girls to handle the pressures of growing up.

       This we see as our job. Therefore, this summer we will offer a Charm Class, and a Y-Teen club for 7th and 8th graders. The Club, we hope, will continue into the next school year. The class might possibly become a club and continue with appropriate kinds of program activities. The Coed Inn will not be revived.

Lois Cullison, Program Director
June 14, 1956 Teen-Age Department

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