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Barbara Walking in the Valley
A weekly column for those who live and walk in Silicon Valley

by Barbara Dahlgren

What Does “YWCA” Stand For?
Column for the week of July 6-12, 2003

Surveys show that a high percentage, usually in the 80s or 90s, of Americans believe in God. Statistics also say that over 70% profess to be Christian. But these facts may be askew since
people may have different definitions of the word “Christian.” Just because people think they are Christians doesn’t mean they are. Take for example the recent appointment of Patricia Ireland to be the chief executive officer for the Young Women’s Christian Association (YMCA).

When interviewed on “The O’Reilly Factor” in May 2003 Ireland was asked if she was a Christian. Her answer was, “Well, I think I am” and “Like the YWCA, I’m nourished by my roots in the Christian faith.” Yet Ireland, former head of the National Organization for Women (NOW), defends abortion, is admittedly bisexual, is adulterous (having a husband and a homosexual partner at the same time), is a member of GenderPac (a transgender organization promoting sex changes and cross dressing), and has professed communist convictions. What part of “Christian” does the woman NOT understand? And for that matter, what part of “Christian” does the YWCA not understand anymore? Perhaps we should just rename it the YWA or YMA which is not quite as catchy when the Village People sing it but more accurate.

The mission statement of the YWCA is “The Young Women’s Christian Association of the United States of America is a women’s membership movement nourished by its roots in Christian faith and sustained by the richness of many beliefs and values.” It and Ireland may have their roots in the Christian faith but one has to wonder about the rest of the tree. In one press release the YWCA says, “Ms. Ireland brings impressive advocacy and leadership credentials to the CEO role.” That may be true but she doesn’t bring Christian morals or values.

The YWCA originated in England during the Crimean War around 1855. At first it was more of a movement than an organization. For the first time women, 38 nurses lead by Florence Nightingale, were serving at the front on battlegrounds by setting up hospitals. Two groups of women had been meeting in London to pray for peace and take an active role in providing housing for these nurses returning from the war. Housing was also needed for women moving from farms to the city seeking employment during what we call the Industrial Revolution. Thus the YWCA came to be.

The organization quickly spread to the U.S. in 1858. Prayer and action were the interwoven themes as the YWCA literally pioneered change for women. In addition to providing safe housing and recreational facilities, members engineered job training for women in areas only men had been allowed to master before, such as offering the first typewriting and sewing machine instruction for women. Year round training was provided at facilities like the Asilomar Conference Grounds, a gift to the YWCA by Phoebe Hearst with buildings designed by the first woman architect, Julia Ward, who also designed and facilitated the construction of Hearst Castle.

The YWCA instituted the first employment bureau for women. They established Traveler’s Aid. During World War I they were the original “USO” here and abroad. They were the first to provide day care for those women replacing men in the workforce who were fighting overseas. They were instrumental in establishing the 8-hour workday and the right for workers to organize. They broke racial barriers way before the US Supreme Court made such rulings. They made no differentiation for race, religion, education, age, or economics. The YWCA has always been committed to women developing their full potential, a goal that Christ, too, would approve of.

“What’s Christ got to do with it?” you might ask. Well, you see, without Christ, you don’t have any Christians. Christians are followers of Christ. Therein lies the definition problem. People call themselves Christians but don’t pray, don’t read the Bible, don’t follow its teachings, don’t go to church, and don’t have a sense of morality. Patricia Ireland might like to think she’s a Christian but she’s not. And with the curious appointment of Ireland as their new CEO, the YWCA might want to rethink their name and what they stand for also. How does “Young Women’s Corruptible Association” strike you? That may be where they are headed.


©July 2003

Be sure to visit this page every week to read the next edition of Walking in the Valley. You can write to the author at bdahlgren@wcgsouthbay.org.



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