Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), organization whose stated mission is "to empower women and girls and to eliminate racism." The movement is nondenominational. It grew out of the homes for young women and female prayer unions established throughout Great Britain during the mid-19th cent., most notable of which was the London boardinghouse created (1855) by Lady Kinnaird, generally taken to be the first YWCA. In 1877 a number of these organizations merged officially to form the Young Women's Christian Association. The movement spread to the British colonies and to the Continent. Meanwhile, in New York City, a prayer group known as the Ladies' Christian Union, generally considered the first YWCA in the United States, had been organized in 1858 by Mrs. Marshall O. Roberts. In Boston, another group formed (1866) the first U.S. association officially to call itself the Young Women's Christian Association. The movement spread rapidly, and a national body, the Young Women's Christian Associations of the United States, was established in 1906. National headquarters have been in New York City since 1912. In 1894, a World Young Women's Christian Association was formed; its headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland; 101 national YWCAs belong to the organization. In the United States there are YWCA buildings in all cities of appreciable size. YWCAs may provide child-care, shelter, physical-fitness and health-education programs and social-justice discourse. The YWCA has some 2 million members.
See YWCA Directory; M. S. Sims, The Natural History of a Social Institution (1936) and The Purpose Widens, 1947–1967 (1969).