History of the YWCA Aurora

The YWCA Aurora was founded in 1893, incorporated in October of 1894 and became a charter member of the YWCA USA in 1906.

The stories of the YWCA and Aurora University, through its George Williams College (GWC) campus in Williams Bay, WI, are intertwined. The 150 acre GWC facility traces its founding to the late 19th century. It was the decision of YMCA leaders to establish a seasonal training center on Lake Geneva for volunteers and employees in the growing national movement. Each summer for years afterwards, ever larger gatherings of young men and women assembled on the institute grounds for conferences devoted to advancing the mission and ideals of what became known as "the Geneva Movement".

In time, the women in the movement created an organization of their own: the "Young Women's Christian Association". The Lake Geneva branch of the YWCA adopted an evangelical tone and drew its support from collegiate chapters throughout the region. By contrast, the liberal wing of the YWCA, established at approximately the same time, numbered many affluent East Coast women in its ranks. Eventually the two Merged to form a single organization with New York activist Grace Dodge as its first president and Ohio- born Mabel Cratty as its general secretary. Together the two women guided the YWCA through its formative years. Most histories of the YWCA pay little heed to the association's Midwestern origins. Fortunately early YWCA leaders did not forget this portion of their story. In 1926, the organization's National Board commemorated the movement's early years by authorizing construction of a building on the GWC campus. Upon completion of the project, Mabel Cratty stood in the shade of the structure's sweeping porch and dedicated the new edifice to "the lofty purposes and ideals of fellowship so characteristic of this place". Ten years later, another delegation of national YWCA leaders traveled to Lake Geneva to rechristen the building in Cratty's memory.

Soon after, national and regional YWCA leaders, representatives of the YWCA Aurora, and Aurora University leaders returned to the George Williams College campus to celebrate the facility's distinctive role in the early years of the movement. Together they opened the memorial vault placed in the Cratty Building's fireplace when the facility was constructed in the late 1920s. Inside they found documents recording the hopes and aspirations of the Midwestern women who played such a vital role in the growth and development of the YWCA movement in America.

The YWCA Aurora built its first facility at 31 W. Downer Place. The building on W. Downer Place provided members with a swimming pool, cafeteria, and safe rooming for women. During that time, the YWCA focused on child care for women employed during World War II, youth camps and activities and a homemaker program for women.

In 1985, the YWCA moved to 201 N. River Street. At the River Street location, the YWCA Aurora shifted focus to licensed child care and children’s programs, after school programs, youth activities and camps, health and fitness and a USDA child and adult food program. It added a fitness center and the Lydia and Malcolm Jones Child Care Center at the River Street location in 1992 and 1997 respectively.

During the summer of 2010, the YWCA Aurora vacated the River Street location and moved its administrative offices at the Fred Rogers Community Center. The Fred Rogers Community Center housed a number of nonprofit agencies dedicated to enriching the lives of the Aurora community. In August 2014, the YWCA moved to the John C. Dunham STEM Partnership School on the Aurora University campus.

The YWCA Aurora’s current programs focus on its mission of eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice and freedom for all.


The YWCA is the oldest and largest multicultural women’s organization in the world. The YWCA began as a movement in England in 1855 and spread to the Unites States in 1858. The movement focused on making life better for women. Concerned women addressed women’s workplace issues including unsanitary conditions, long hours, lack of rest periods and poor ventilation in the factories. The movement also supported the cause of affordable, safe housing for women.

The YWCA recognized that not all women, or all people, have been treated equally. The YWCA pioneered the task of working against racial discrimination toward full integration, fighting segregation practices and exposing hidden patterns of discrimination in legislation, institutions and systems.

Throughout our history, the YWCA has been in the forefront of most major movements in the United States as a pioneer in race relations, labor union representation, and the empowerment of women.

1858 - The first Association in the U.S., Ladies Christian Association, was formed in New York City

1860 - The first boarding house for female students, teachers and factory workers opened in New York.

1866 - "YWCA" was first used in Boston, Mass.

1872 - The YWCA opens the first employment bureau in New York City

1874 - The YWCA opens a low-cost summer “resort” for employed women in Philadelphia, Pa.

1889 - The first African-American YWCA branch opened in Dayton, Ohio

1890 - The first YWCA for Native American women opened in at Haworth Institute in Chilocco, Okla.

1894 - The United States of America, England, Sweden and Norway together created the World YWCA, which today is working in over 125 countries

1906 - The YWCA was the first organization to introduce the positive health concept and sex education in all health programming

1907 - YWCA of the USA incorporated in New York City

1908 - The YWCA was the first industrial federation of clubs to train girls in self-government

1915 - The YWCA held the first interracial conference in Louisville, Ky.

1918 - The YWCA was the first organization to send professional workers overseas to provide administrative leadership and support to U.S. Armed Forces

1920 - Based on its work with women in industrial plants, the YWCA Convention voted to work for “an eight-hour/day law, prohibition of night work, and the right of labor to organize”

1921 - Grace Dodge Hotel completed construction of a Washington, D.C. residence initially designed to house women war workers

1934 - The YWCA encouraged members to speak out against lynching and mob violence, and for interracial cooperation and efforts to protect African Americans' basic civil rights

1938 - The YWCA in Columbus, Ohio, establishes a desegregated dining facility and is cited by The Columbus Urban League "for a courageous step forward in human relations."

1942 - The YWCA extends its services to Japanese American women and girls incarcerated in World War II Relocation Centers

1944 - The National Board appears at the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate hearings in support of permanent Fair Employment Practices Committee legislation

1946 - Interracial Charter adopted by the 17th National Convention

1949 - The National Convention pledges that the YWCA will work for integration and full participation of minority groups in all phases of American life

1955 - National Convention commits local Associations and the National Board to review progress towards inclusiveness and decides on "concrete steps" to be taken

1960 - The Atlanta, Georgia YWCA cafeteria opened to African Americans, becoming the city’s first integrated public dining facility

1965 - The National Board of the YWCA created the Office of Racial Justice to lead the civil rights efforts

1970 - The YWCA National Convention, held in Houston, adopted the One Imperative: "To trust our collective power towards the elimination of racism, wherever it exists, by any means necessary"

1972 - The YWCA started the ENCORE program for women who had undergone breast cancer surgery

1982 - YWCA establishes Fund For The Future

1983 - The YWCA National Board urges Congress to support legislation that opposes the South African policy of apartheid

1992 - The YWCA National Day of Commitment to Eliminate Racism began in response to the beating of Rodney King, an African American man, the acquittal of four white Los Angeles police officers accused of the crime, and the subsequent riots and unrest across the country

1995 - The YWCA Week Without Violence was created as a nationwide effort to unite people against violence in communities. The annual observance is held the third week of October

2001 - Steps to Absolute Change was adopted. The YWCA shifted from a top down to a bottom up grassroots organization. Local associations joined regions and elected their regional representatives to the National Coordinating Board

2004 - Igniting the Collective Power of the YWCA to Eliminate Racism, the YWCA USA's Summit on Eliminating Racism, was held in Birmingham, Ala.

2008 - The YWCA celebrates its Sesquicentennial Anniversary, 150 years of service, with the launch of the “Own It” campaign. The campaign focused on igniting a new generation of 22 million young women aged 18 to 34, inspiring them to get involved with important issues facing women and the country today.

2011 - Over 2 million people participate in YWCA programs at more than 1,300 sites across the United States. Globally, the YWCA reaches 25 million women and girls in 125 countries.

2012 - At the YWCA Annual Meeting in May 2012, a transition from the prior regional structure to a national federated structure was approved, followed by the adoption of new bylaws in November 2012.  

2013 - Today over 2 million people participate in YWCA programs at more than 1,300 sites across the United States.

YWCA USA transitions from an internal national coordinating board to a new board of directors driven by women of influence as well as YWCA leaders.

2015 - YWCA USA develops a Mission Impact Framework and Theory of Change to focus and clarify our diverse body of work in racial justice and civil rights, women and girls’ health and safety, and women and girls’ empowerment and economic advancement.

Stand Against Racism becomes a signature campaign of YWCA USA reaching over 700 locations across the country.  

The corporate name changed from “Young Women’s Christian Association of the United States of America, Inc.” to “YWCA USA, Inc.”, effective December 15, 2015.  

2016 - YWCA launches the YWCA Is On A Mission brand awareness campaign to deepen YWCA’s impact in local communities and on the national scale.

2018 - YWCA Aurora celebrates 125 years servicing Aurora, Illinois.