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Early Days

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.

The One Imperative: To thrust our collective power towards the elimination of racism, wherever it exists, by any means necessary.

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.

Following Governor Wolf’s directive, YWCA Greater Pittsburgh’s operations remain largely virtual.  As we adapt to our modified schedule, appointments are required.  Our Homewood-Brushton Early Child Development Center is open, with special precautions in place to limit the spread of COVID-19. Our Pre-K Counts classrooms in Homewood and Braddock Hills will open in the fall. Click here to view our family welcome packet for more information. Please check our website frequently for service updates and sign up to receive our monthly newsletter. For a list of local resources, please follow this link.

If you are in need of immediate assistance, please contact United Way’s PA 2-1-1 Southwest by texting your zip code to 898-211, visiting pa211sw.org or by dialing 2-1-1.

If you need immediate assistance through the Resource Center, please complete our online application by clicking the button below.

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For over 150 years, YWCA Greater Pittsburgh has worked to improve quality of life for women and strengthen the fabric of our communities. In 1970, YWCA USA proclaimed its one imperative: “to thrust our collective power towards the elimination of racism, wherever it exists, by any means necessary.” 50 years later, eliminating racism and empowering women is more than a salient and timely mission. It is a revitalized call to collective action aimed at promoting racial justice, reducing race and gender disparities, and deliberately addressing the challenges and celebrating the triumphs of living at the intersection of race and gender.

The One Imperative: to thrust our collective power towards the elimination of racism, wherever it exists, by any means necessary.

Our strategic direction builds upon the strong legacy of YWCA Greater Pittsburgh’s previous leaders and members as we innovate and lead to secure a better future. We boldly embrace the YWCA mission and a renewed commitment to racial justice based on the following assumptions:

1) Eliminating racism and empowering women requires deliberate action.

We understand that moving forward in our imperative involves both legislative and systemic changes. As a community, we must also move beyond acknowledging disparities exist and towards dismantling the framework that perpetuates these disparities. YWCA Greater Pittsburgh’s advocacy platform promotes specific policies and systemic change for gender equity and racial justice.

2) Promoting racial justice requires a collective approach.

We are committed to building strong, strategic partnerships to be deliberate in our efforts to eliminate racism and empower women. This is a multi-faceted and cross-sectoral strategy. YWCA Greater Pittsburgh is actively engaging with the corporate, nonprofit, civic, and academic sectors to ensure women and people of color are treated with dignity and respect and children, youth, and adults are provided with access to opportunities.

3) As long as racial and gender disparities persist, YWCA will work collaboratively to reduce disparities and address their impact.

While we work towards eliminating racism and empowering women (an “upstream” approach), we also recognize that existing disparities were birthed in historical injustices. Race-specific and or disparate impact policies that have negatively affected housing choice, wealth accumulation, and educational attainment, among others, have led to present day income and neighborhood disparities. YWCA Greater Pittsburgh is committed to ensuring women, children, and families can meet basic needs and move towards financial stability. Our services to support these efforts will continue and be made more accessible. Examples include:

4) Promoting racial justice and empowering women is not a “one and done” or “checklist” effort.

We are engaged in a movement that provides short-term and long-term strategies for achieving our collective goals.

We approach all of our programming through a racial justice lens and assist our partners to do the same. YWCA Greater Pittsburgh has an educational platform to address racial justice and move towards anti-racist practices. In addition to these offerings, we are also looking internally at our programs and services to bring a racial justice and women’s empowerment lens to everything we do. Our Center for Race and Gender Equity will lead these internal and external efforts.

5) Understanding the challenges and triumphs at the intersection of race and gender is paramount to fulfilling our mission.

We strive to amplify the voices of those committed to racial justice and gender empowerment. This includes ensuring that the voices of those with lived experiences are valued and are shaping decisions being made. YWCA Greater Pittsburgh will continue to build community partnerships to present a narrative of strong women who thrive in the face of challenges. We also remain committed to removing the obstacles that hinder advancement for women, particularly women of color. Specifically, our Center for Race and Gender Equity aims to be a premier resource for understanding and addressing disparities at the intersection of race and gender. The Center recently launched:

  • Monthly YWednesday Conversations on Race for 2020-2021.

These conversations highlight issues of race and gender intersectionality and offer concrete actions that can be taken to promote racial justice. (You can watch our June 5 and July 15 Conversations at our Media Center and register for upcoming Conversations here.)

  • Short issue pieces that inform on intersectional disparities from a historical and data perspective.

These provide short-term and long-term strategies to address these disparities.

Angela Reynolds, Ph.D.
CEO, YWCA Greater Pittsburgh
July 9, 2020