YWCA celebrates 100th anniversary

PIQUA — The Piqua YWCA celebrated their history of empowering women for 100 years with a special centennial program and luncheon on Wednesday, honoring the women who have come before them and those who are still working to respond to needs in the community today.

“Our community is a better place because of the YWCA,” city of Piqua Mayor Kazy Hinds said during the program.

Hinds reflected on the history of the YWCA and its local branch. “The first YWCA was established in England in 1855,” she said.

The roots of the YWCA began in a prayer union group and the Christian homes for young women group. In 1858, the group spread to New York City, where the Ladies Christian Association was created. The YWCA acronym for Young Women’s Christian Association was first used in Boston. The first African-American branch of the YWCA opened in Dayton in 1889.

YWCA groups were “movers and shakers,” Hinds said, explaining how the group took part in the northern and southern civil rights movements. The YWCA fought segregation through holding the first interracial conference in Louisville, Kentucky; opening the first integrated dining facility in Columbus in 1938; and opening the first integrated dining facility in Atlanta, in 1960. In the 1930’s, YWCA members were also encouraged to speak out against mob lynchings and racist violence.

“The YWCA was a place of inclusion,” Hinds said.

The Piqua branch of the YWCA opened in 1919, and its March 1919 campaign stated, “Piqua’s girlhood is upon the dawning of a new tomorrow. Inside the blue triangle is a place for every girl. All creeds and all races know its bond of friendship. Side-by-side march the girls from factories, stores, laundries, offices, schools, and colleges. Girls from homes of wealth and girls without homes.” The blue triangles reference the blue triangle welfare clubs in the group.

“The YWCA has been at the forefront of the most crucial social movements for more than 160 years,” said Hinds, citing female empowerment, civil rights, affordable housing, pay equality, violence prevention, healthcare, and more.

Hinds talked about her own experience with the YWCA branch in West Palm Beach, Florida, where she grew up and took swimming lessons. That branch today also works with a domestic violence shelter in the area called Harmony House.

The Piqua YWCA grew out of organizing from female workers in the local textile industry, also known as Piqua’s underwear factories, starting 1915, Hinds explained. A group of women raised $1,000 for the group between 1915-1917, and later received a donation of $6,000 from the estate of Robert Patterson in around 1919. Hinds said that he was possibly related to the Piqua YWCA’s founding president Lucy Patterson.

The Piqua YWCA was the first organization for working women, Hinds said. During one of their fundraisers for the group in its infancy, they raised approximately $17,800 over three days.

“Nothing can stop women when we put our mind to it,” Hinds said.

By October 1919, there were 1,300 women enrolled as YWCA members.

Hinds talked about some of the past figures of the YWCA, beginning with Lucy Patterson (1871-1930), the first president of the YWCA who served for eight years. Patterson was born in Piqua and completed graduate work at Columbia University before coming back to Piqua to be a teacher.

Others included:

• Dorothea “Dollie” Rudd, who was active in Piqua in the 1930s, was the first African-American woman to own an industry in Piqua, which sold embalming fluid.

• Viola Clemons (1908-2004), who helped found the local chapter of the NAACP. She participated in the 1945 sit-in at the Union Bus Terminal lunch counter to end segregated seating in dining facilities and in a sit-in at a local movie theater to end segregated seating for the last three rows of the theater. Clemons served on the board of directors at the YWCA, owned her own catering business, and received the Order of George in 2001.

• Louise Taylor (1900-1996), who organized the NAACP youth group and helped found the first local African-American Girl Scout troop.

• Irene E. Hockenberry Upton (1891-1977), who attended the Piqua Hospital School, became a nurse, and later joined the U.S. Army in 1917. She was the first female member of the local American Legion.

• Minabelle Abbott Hutchins (1909-1981), who worked in radio, helped found the Friends of the YWCA, and promoted Girl Scouts, fine arts, environmental awareness, and more.

Hinds talked about a number of other past members of the YWCA, saying, “They all saw a need in the community, and they responded to it.”

She talked about some the current notable women in the local community and the YWCA, beginning with her predecessor, Lucy Fess.

Fess, who served on the Piqua City Commission for 12 years and as mayor of the city of Piqua for 10 of those years, served as the executive director of the American Red Cross, Director of Community affairs for the Upper Valley Medical Center, director of the Economic Development Department for the city of Piqua.

Hinds then talked about Peg Hance, who is the oldest living president of the YWCA, has served on the YWCA board, and is a founding member of the Friends of the YWCA. Elinor Gatshall is the oldest member of the YWCA at 107 years old and has been a board member and youth group adviser. Hinds also talked about Cheryl Buecker, who was the YWCA’s first Woman of Excellence and currently works as a consultant for the Ohio Department of Education.

Today, the YWCA strives to combat human trafficking, educate voters, act as a safe haven for survivors of domestic violence, address the needs of senior citizens, act as a gathering place for women to commune and connect with one another, empower the youth, and more.

Hinds thanked the Piqua Public Library for helping her research the YWCA and notable local members.

By Sam Wildow

Miami Valley Today

Reach Sam Wildow at swildow@aimmediamidwest.com