YWCA – Driving Change Since 1917

On October 20th, 1916, a wave of excitement rippled through Rock Island. By the following week, it was crashing through local schools and workplaces. Rock Island was going to open a YWCA. With help from a national spokeswoman,

On October 20th, 1916, a wave of excitement rippled through Rock Island. By the following week, it was crashing through local schools and workplaces. Rock Island was going to open a YWCA. With help from a national spokeswoman, the seed had been planted, and the Rock Island YWCA was on its way to formation.

When Miss Helen Davis came to Rock Island to speak to young women who were interested in starting a YWCA, she inspired Miss Beryl Titterington and a group of other supporters to canvas the area. Her goal was to have all girls in Rock Island join, from students to workers. She wanted to bring interest to the organization, and she found that there would be great support if Rock Island opened a YWCA.

Susanne Denkmann-Hauberg was also inspired by the organization that was changing the nation. The YWCA was driving change – working to employ women through employment bureaus, offering calisthenic classes for women (who had been deemed ‘too frail’ to participate in classes), opening African American and Native American branches, and forming a Traveler’s Aid to help women travel on their own. The YWCA was making waves across the United States, and Rock Island wanted to join in on this movement to empower women. This drove Suzanne to support the creation of the Rock Island YWCA. With a mission to include “every girl and woman in Rock Island” in the organization, young women canvassed the area to inform everyone, hoping to drive membership and create a buzz around the Rock Island YWCA.

The Rock Island YWCA opened its doors on January 1st, 1917, welcoming 731 flagship members. The new organization’s first home was the 4th floor of the Central Bank and Trust Building.  The $1.00/year membership included: gymnasium work at Rock Island High School, swim classes at Augustana College, Bible classes, a reading room, a resting room, a lunch room where members could eat “a good home meal furnished a the least possible cost,” access to an employment bureau, a sewing machine and electric iron, tennis courts, and many other amenities and benefits. These were something not all women had access to, and alone were enticing reasons to join.

The first year of the Rock Island YWCA was bustling with activity. The YWCA “had earned for itself, not only a right to exist, but has earned a place in the affections and in the activities of the people of the city.” The founding members had proved that the YWCA was a need in the community. And they used that momentum to work alongside a global YWCA capital campaign – one that was raising funds to help support the change that the first World War had brought. Women were surging into the workforce in the early 1900s. They needed help finding jobs, places to live, and other resources to effectively create a strong workforce. The global YWCA was finding ways to help in all communities. Times were changing, and the YWCA was there to help.

The Rock Island YWCA created programs to support and meet the needs of their members. In the first year over 75 women were placed in a job because of the employment bureau. The Patriot League met at the YWCA – planning when and how they could help educate the community. They helped transient girls find housing, inspiring them to open dormitories soon after their first year. They worked tirelessly to help their members, the community, and to reach their own organizational goals. The Girl Reserves program flourished as a way for school aged girls to get involved in their community. The work the YWCA did in 1917 and the work we do now may meet different needs, but the goal of helping the community has always been the same.

The Rock Island YWCA was opened during World War I, a huge time of change for the United States. During World War I, the YWCA was the only women’s organization of the seven organizations affiliated with the government’s Commission on Training Camp Activities (CTCA). The YWCA’s most prominent work was working to employ women while the men were overseas, but many YWCA’s also had Hostess Houses near military training camps, so that women could visit husbands and sons. They opened their dormitories to women who were visiting, making the tough times a little easier. Service during the first World War was a turning point for the YWCA as a whole, they grew into a much larger organization because of what they provided during the war.

Another way the YWCA impacted the community was by creating dormitories for transient women in the area. Many women were entering the workforce for the first time, and didn’t have the means to live on their own yet. Others were working in the city but came from farther away. The dorms were home to countless young women over the years. These buildings were all in downtown Rock Island, and some are still there today. The West End Settlement was one of the first dormitories added, donated by Susanne Denkmann-Hauberg to the YWCA in 1923.

The National Girl Reserves formed in 1918, as a direct response to the world in chaos. The Girl Reserves wanted to help girls develop a well balanced personality, grow physically, and take on social responsibility. The Rock Island YWCA’s Girl Reserves formed in the early years of the organization, with chapters at the Junior and Senior high schools. Each chapter elected officers, who then planned events to benefit their community. The organization was very popular, and included city wide showcases and events at the YWCA. Girl Reserves gave Rock Island girls the ability to make a difference.

For over 100 years, the Rock Island YWCA has looked to find and meet the needs of members. From the employment bureau, to dormitories for working girls, to more recent events, like the creation of the Teen Parent and Child Education Center and theplace2b, the first part of any change at the YWCA has been the community’s needs. Our goals are to continue to work in this progressive way, to continue to better our community for everyone in it.

To this day, we strive to be an agency that creates the change our community needs. By creating the Teen Parent and Child Education Center and theplace2b, we have shown that we can take action for those who need it most. While many things have changed in the last 100 years, the YWCA has not wavered in supporting women, families and youth in the Quad Cities area. Community support has allowed us to change lives for a century, and we would love to provide support for centuries more. Will you help us as we strive to keep creating change? Donate here!

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