Portland YWCA Religion, Race & Reform

Document 1

Document 2

Identity Questions

Moving Toward Inclusiveness

Moving Toward Inclusiveness

Anti-Racism Rally, 1986

Based on interviews in the
Portland YWCA Archives

Evelyn Crowell

        Where the YWCA of Greater Portland is concerned, Evelyn Crowell is a woman of "firsts." In her tenure as President of the Board of Directors 1974-76, Crowell was the first Catholic, first African American, and first full-time professionally employed woman to hold the position. "I've always basically been a volunteer," she explains, "even as a child, you know, I was a volunteer in my church, and activities like that." Though as an adult she describes community service as "only natural," Crowell still felt that "to be on that [YWCA] Board was really quite an honor." Crowell came to Portland as a child when her family relocated to work in the war industries in 1942. She was active in the YWCA in junior high and high school and then graduated from Portland State University as a member of the third graduating class in 1959. After serving on the faculty of Linfield College in the 1960s, she joined the PSU faculty where she works today, in the Millar Library. At the time that the YWCA's One Imperative against racism was passed, Crowell notes that the tone of things tended to be "a little bit paternalistic." Yet she remains hopeful about positive change. "I think that the YW's One Imperative is a good one. I think they can make it work by constantly reinforcing the love and the necessity to make people feel loved and nurtured in this country. Because that's what it's all about."

Marsha Mulvey (left)
& Essie Maguire, c. 1975
         Marsha Mulvey dedicated almost two decades of her life to the YWCA of Portland. In a recent interview, she described herself as "just a nice little Catholic girl from Oregon City." Catholics were not especially welcomed by the YWCA, given its evangelical Protestant origins, but Mulvey eventually served as the first Catholic executive director of the Portland association. She came to the YWCA in 1969, amid liberalizing and secularizing trends in the organization both locally and nationally. She took a position in youth programming and ran a very successful summer outdoor school for young people. "I think the YW has always tried to change the world from the heart of the institution," she explains. "A belief in the human spirit…to me is sort of the essence of the YWCA and what it brings to any community." Mulvey is clear-eyed about the problems facing the YWCA, especially racism and a chilly climate for lesbian women. Despite these challenges, she affirms that the YWCA "is still a place for people to get a sense of themselves. And the YW certainly gave that to me all the time. To do that in the company of women, bright women, challenging women, is all pretty exciting."

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