YWCA Our Voice

The Great Depression’s impact on the YWCA

In 1927 the board members and trustees of the YWCA Northcentral PA had no idea what nightmare was at the end of their dream come true.

That year they began a campaign to raise $450,000 to build a 1.1 million cubic foot facility with four floors and an indoor pool in the basement to accommodate the organization’s growing membership needs, according to the essay “The YWCA of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, The Early Years.”

The board agreed on a West Fourth Street location because the women and girls they served in the factories and Williamsport Area High School were in close proximity, it said. The organization had moved its location around the city since it began in 1893.

To kick off the campaign, the building committee created a slogan contest. Local students were encouraged to be creative and think of a catchphrase to promote the campaign, according to the essay “The Early Years.”

Esther Reese, a student at Curtin Junior High School, won the contest and received a $5 prize. “Do for our girls, what we’ve done for our boys,” was plastered on campaign posters across the city to encourage locals to support the building project.

Construction began in 1928 then dedicated in June 1929, just a few months before the stock market would crash and drastically change America for over a decade.

Just like everyone else, the YWCA entered difficult hardships.

“The YWCA was not able to collect all the money that had been pledged in 1929 for the new building, and even four years later was still short $15,141,” according to the essay “The Early Years.”

Salaries, payroll and general running expenses were cut by over 40 percent. Such drastic cuts affected the programs but permitted the organization to survive through the Great Depression.

Times were tough but the organization was able to persevere despite the difficulties. Board members, staff and trustees worked diligently to provide essential services to the women and girls of Lycoming County.

In 1930, the YWCA tried to find women jobs through its Employment Bureau. More than 160 women and girls came to find clerical jobs, housework, practical nursing jobs and work for school girls, it said. Only 77 were able to secure employment.

Once finances were on the up and up in the 1950s, every committee had to raise $300 each year to help pay off the remaining mortgage. They held card parties and rummage sales to raise money, according to the essay “Brief History of YWCA.”

Another campaign was launched to pay off the remaining $11,500 of the mortgage and to have renovations completed. The goal was $125,000 which was reached after a month of campaigning, it said.

In 1955, the YWCA paid off the mortgage which they burned at the former Lycoming Hotel in celebration.

The building still stands today at 815 W. Fourth St. where the YWCA continues to provide essential services for Lycoming County residents.

Thompson is the communications and development manager at the YWCA, 815 W. Fourth St. Her column is published on the first Sunday of each month in the Lifestyle section.

If you are experiencing domestic abuse or sexual assault, Wise Options can help 24/7 with a confidential hotline at 800-326-8483.