YWCA hits the century mark September 20: Celebrating 100 years of service to the community

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A group of YWCA members on an outing in 1928. Courtesy Photo

MANCHESTER, NH – In the spring of 1920, 100 working women in Manchester met with other women in the community to discuss the possible organization of a YWCA and by September of that same year, the Manchester YWCA was born.

The early focus behind its new existence was to provide housing, recreation, adult education and to help the young, working women that came from farms and small towns to work in the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company’s textile factories lining the Merrimack River.

“To put 1920 in perspective, World War I had just ended two years earlier, the 55-hour workweek was standard, and after a long fight, the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote became part of the U.S. Constitution a month before we were founded,” said current YWCA CEO Jessica Cantin.        

The YW was warmly received in Manchester notes a faded Union Leader news clipping in the YW’s archives, “The opportunity for an all-round association program in this city has proved to be unlimited and the movement started last summer on the initiative of a hundred or more girls and young women has grown to proportions that have exceeded the expectations of even the most sanguine.”

Young women sign up for YWCA membership in the 1940s. Courtesy Photo

The article goes on to say, “These young women demonstrated their earnestness of purpose by securing by their own efforts within two weeks a pledged membership of nearly 1,200.”

The YW began its initial programming in rented spaces throughout the city and then built its iconic headquarters on Concord Street in 1928, a space it still occupies today.

Manchester YWCA continued its initial work through the 1960s and then in 1962 at the YWCA National Convention there was a call for YWCAs to re-examine their service and focus “with a new urgency to help women and girls find meaning in their own lives; to develop to their full capacity for leadership; and to play an effective and constructive part in community life today.” 

While still headquartered in Manchester, in recent years the YW has expanded its reach statewide, rebranding as YWCA New Hampshire. Under that banner it continues the important work it began 100 years ago, with a renewed and highly relevant mission Eliminating Racism, Empowering Women.

YW leaders meeting in the 1980s. Courtesy Photo

Its iconic swimming pool has been closed for years and the organization no longer offers physical fitness programs. Today’s YWCA works to meet its mission through the delivery of social service programs that enrich the general community of girls, women and families of all socio-economic backgrounds. It serves approximately 2,700 individuals annually and offers an array of social justice programs that focus on domestic violence prevention and response, youth education, community education and outreach and empowerment.

It operates the third-largest crisis services program for survivors of domestic and sexual violence in the state. It is a founding member of Manchester’s Adverse Childhood Experiences Response Team, and it hosts the SNHU Center for New Americans.

“Our services have changed with the times but our focus on organizing the community’s energy to respond to the needs of women and girls of all ages and backgrounds goes on with as much importance as it did in 1920,” said Jessica Cantin.

The YW was be inducted into the Manchester Historic Association’s “Century Club” at its Historic Preservation Awards event earlier this month.