Feb 13, 2022
There was a time when women of color were excluded from the services offered by the Y.W.C.A. in St. Louis. A group of Black Women, led by Arsania Williams, was key in changing that, and furthering the cause of equity. Just press play to hear the whole story. ------
Podcast Transcript: I’m Cicely Hunter, Public Historian at the Missouri Historical Society, and Here’s History on eighty-eight-one, K-D-H-X. ------
Though the Y.W.C.A. has a rich national history, African American women in St. Louis operated as a segregated branch for thirty-five years before merging their efforts with the local Y.W.C.A. in 1946. The Y.W.C.A. was initially introduced to St. Louis during the 1904 World’s Fair and a year later was incorporated to serve rural women. But women of color were excluded from their services. In 1911 a group of Black women, led by Arsania M. Williams, gathered at Berea Presbyterian Church to discuss establishing a home for Black women. Arsania was an educator, member of the Committee on Administration who led the Colored Women’s Christian Association (CWCA), the president of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), and the vice president Colored Women’s Federation. ------
Soon after setting up their own organization, the women petitioned the local and national Y.W.C.A. and requested an official branch open to serve their community. The white leadership of the Y.W.C.A. agreed to the request but demanded that they oversee the branch as an advisory group and controlled the group’s finances and management. The organization opened its doors as the Chapman Branch, named after Louise Chapman, a previous YWCA board member, but in 1912, it was renamed the Phyllis Wheatley Y.W.C.A. in honor of a formerly enslaved woman who was the first Black woman poet to publish in the United States. The St. Louis location served as the fifth branch to open in the nation for Black women and girls. ------
It wasn’t until 1946 that at 17th National Convention in St. Louis that the YWCA St. Louis and Phyllis Wheatley Branch would adopt its interracial charter and merge both groups together. A few years later in 1949, the National Convention of the YWCA adopted a renewed commitment to serve and incorporate minority communities into their mission. ------
Today, the YWCA Metro St. Louis mission is eliminating racism and empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. ------
Here’s History is a joint production of KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society, I’m Cicely Hunter, and this is eighty-eight-one, KDHX, St. Louis.