YWCA Our Voice

Dedicated to empowering women for 125 years

The YWCA Northcentral PA started 125 years ago with the same mission it stands by today, to empower women. Though it did not begin as a shelter for women and their children, its founding mothers were passionate about helping girls working in local factories.

On Jan. 17, 1893, the Girl’s Friendly was born at the former Second Presbyterian Church at the corner of West Fourth and Market streets. It was founded “by a group of Christian women, who realized the growing needs of the girls and women of the city,” according to “The Young Women’s Christian Association of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, the Early Years.”

The group’s constitution was inspired by the YWCA in Harlem, New York where founding member, Emma Carter’s sister worked.

Miss Ruth Page was appointed as the first General Secretary with a monthly stipend of $10.

A few days later the women changed the organization’s name to The Women’s Friendly Society of Williamsport. It officially became the YWCA of Williamsport in December that year.

The women aimed to establish “a refuge, a safeguard and a spiritual guide to the young women of our community.” To accomplish that, they created an environment where working women were welcomed and celebrated.

The name change did not alter their desire to reach out to the factory girls who worked in the local textile factories. Their hearts were filled with the desire to make a difference in every working girl’s life.

“They met with workers in the factories where they worked, held prayer meetings and provided support,” according to “the Early Years.”

One of the board’s early projects was to provide a room for the girls working at Lycoming Rubber Co., present day Pajama Factory, to rest over their lunch hour, according to the meeting minutes from May 1893.

Some girls would come to the YWCA during their lunch break where they could eat and relax.

In 1894, they had 82 members who participated in activities like chorus, gospel meetings, health talks, discussing current events, Bible study and mending, it said.

The next year the organization had outgrown its room at its original location in the Susquehanna Trust Building so in 1895 they began to lease the second floor of a building at 235 W. Third St., where present-day Kohl’s is located.

With a larger space they were able to have more women participate in their programs and more factory girls could come over for lunch. “(The YWCA) was working to provide a more wholesome climate for the citizens of Williamsport,” according to “The Early Years.”

That year the John N. Stearns’ Silk Mill donated $150 to the YWCA to create a specific lunch room for the girls who worked in the factory.

After moving around for a number of years, in 1905 the women moved across the street from the factory to be closer to the girls who utilized their services. The building had 20 rooms for the workers to live, eat, read and socialize together.

This initiative to house those without a place to lay their head, expanded in April 1910 when they opened a boarding house for working women at the current location of New Covenant Church of Christ on West Third Street.

“Providing shelter for persons in need had become one of the more important of the many functions that the YWCA offered the community,” the document said.

Today that statement still rings true for the YWCA. The programs providing housing for homeless women and their children and a safe haven for victims of violence are essential services.

Throughout the year, there will be a series of history stories to celebrate major points in the YWCA’s 125 years serving Lycoming County.

Bloom is a communications associate at the YWCA, 815 W. Fourth St. Her column is published on the first Sunday of each month in the Lifestyle section.

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