Established in 1867, YWCA Greater Pittsburgh (or the “Women’s Christian Association” as it was first named) was first staffed by volunteers. They established educational programs, launched safe housing programs, created support networks to empower professional women, and aided immigrants seeking citizenship. At the turn of the century, YWCAs across the country began to fight for women’s rights. However, they struggled to reconcile their avowed support for women of color with their sense of privilege.
Like many of its sister Associations during the early 20th Century, YWCA Greater Pittsburgh ran racially segregated branches. As YWCAs across the country began to examine their own practices more thoughtfully, it became clear that cultural education and internal work for racial equity was needed. Therefore, in 1946, YWCAs committed to the Interracial Charter, an agreement passed at a time when segregation and subjugation were the norm. YWCAs began to work toward living their values and pushing for inclusive practices.
Dr. Dorothy Height
In 1965, YWCA USA created the Office of Racial Justice, led by civil rights icon Dr. Dorothy Height. Height had begun her involvement with the YW at the Girl Reserves Club in the East Pittsburgh borough of Rankin. As a child in the 1920s, she was accustomed to interracial play – but when she visited the white YWCA branch in downtown Pittsburgh, she was denied access to its swimming pool. Height later played a key role in advancing YWCA’s racial justice agenda.
Originally organized around a shared Christian identity and a desire for equality, YWCA’s vision made its most significant development in 1970, when Associations across the country adopted the “One Imperative: To thrust our collective power toward the elimination of racism, wherever it exists, by any means necessary.” Nearly fifty years later, the “One Imperative” remains the moral priority of our time.
The Center for Race & Gender Equity
In the 1990s, YWCA USA intensified its investment in addressing racism. And in 1996, YWCA GP launched the Center for Race Relations (now the Center for Race and Gender Equity) to educate, engage, advocate, and build community around the vision of a world in which all women and girls, especially women and girls of color, have equitable access to opportunities, education, justice, and power.
Today, YWCA Greater Pittsburgh understands that racial and economic equity are inseparable from empowerment. Women and girls of color face daily discrimination and social injustice. They are more likely to experience gender-based violence, and they face more barriers to quality care. Women of color are often their families’ primary source of income, yet many lack access to childcare, safe housing, and health care.
Pittsburgh is a city in need of change, and YWCA’s mission compels us to devote ourselves to transformation so that, with our partners, we can make the Pittsburgh region truly welcoming and equitable for all. Together, we can tackle the city’s most urgent injustices.