The YWCA is a global organization that dates back to 1855. It started in London when philanthropist Mary Jane Kinnaird founded the North London Home to help house and support single women migrating into the city. She then merged the Home with the Prayer Union, an organization started by Christian activist Emma Robarts, to create the first YWCA in 1877. Today, the YWCA functions in over 120 countries with the goal to empower women and eliminate violence and inequality.
By 1858, the YWCA made its presence in the U.S. first in Boston and New York City. During a visit to the Chicago YWCA, a social activist named Rosetta Lawson wanted to create one in Washington, D.C. as well. With the requested help of her book group, the “The Book Lovers Club”, and the Berean Baptist Church, the first YWCA in D.C. was established in 1905. It was named the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA (PWYWCA) after Phyllis Wheatley, a former African slave who became the first published African American female writer and poet during the 18th century.
During the early 20th century, the organization grew quickly due to increasing numbers of Black women moving to Washington D.C. By 1918 the PWYWCA became a part of the National Board of the U.S. YWCA. It was a major hub for different social activities and events for colored people, though this soon changed when the Civil Rights Movement swept in and created other places to congregate. However, funding and persistence has kept the association standing. Today, the PWYWCA is an independent institution; it resides in a four-story red-brick building offering amenities such as showers, a kitchen, and a gym, providing housing and guidance specifically for “colored” working women and girls.