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A Short History of YWCA Victoria

1882 – The Beginning

At a public meeting, 'for ladies only' 200 attendees voted to found Victoria’s first YWCA with the goal of the 'spiritual, intellectual, and social improvement of young women'. The mission of the YWCA, as decided in that first meeting, included not only prayer and abstinence from ‘demon liquor’, but also: classes for secular instruction, assistance and lodging for migrants, an employment agency and factory visitation.

1910 – Y Rowing Club established

The Club was founded in 1910 to provide rowing opportunities for women and while the Club now conducts programs for both sexes, membership is still open only to women. The 'Y' has been at the forefront in popularising rowing for women. Its members were the first to represent Australia at World Championships and a Lightweight Four recorded Australian women's first success at international level in 1979.

1913 – Property owners

YWCA Victoria made its first property purchase with land on Russell Street, Melbourne. This is where the first Y Headquarters was built. Russell Street housed the Melbourne YWCA from 1913 until 1975, when the organisation moved across town to Elizabeth Street and opened the modern Jasper Hotel.

1925 – Women’s Health

Changing ideas about women’s health in the 1920s led to greatly increased involvement in sports.  In 1925 Melbourne YWCA acquired a sports field to host events and allow women to play previously verboten competitive sports. Outdoor holiday camps also became very popular in this period, and persisted in popularity through to the 1970s.

1935 – The Great Depression

Although chronically short of funds, the YWCA increased the scope of its relief efforts during the Great Depression. During 1935 its cafeteria, open since 1913, served almost 80,000 meals at a low cost to working, and unemployed women, and housed 3894 women in its accommodations.

1942 – War Efforts

With no other organization responsible for meeting the needs of servicewomen joining the war effort, the YWCA began a formal alliance with the Australian Comforts Fund to provide housing, meals, and other services to women enlisted in the Australian Army, Navy, and Air Force. The YWCA also joined the effort to organize labour on the home front. In 1942, YWCA Melbourne sponsored 700 participants in the 'Garden Army'.

1958 – Teenagers

Long concerned with the development of young women, in the 1950s the YWCA, and the rest of Australia, discovered the ‘Teenager’. In response to changing needs the Melbourne YWCA converted one of its hostels to 'teen-only' in 1958

1962 – Migrant Support

Meeting migrants on arrival, providing safe temporary housing and helping make connections had been a YWCA activity since its inception, but in 1962 the YWCA in Melbourne was meeting 500 new Greek emigrants a month. Many female migrants on the 'bride ships' of the late 1950s and early 1960s who chose not to go through with a planned marriage turned to the YWCA for safe housing, language classes and access to work.

1969 – Young Wives Clubs

The 'Young Wives Clubs' begun in the 1950s to combat suburban isolation and were officially named 'Y-wives' in 1969. Still later these clubs would be renamed 'Y-Women'. In the early 1970s there were well over 30 groups in Victoria.

1973 – Richmond House development

The late 1960s and early 1970s saw an expansion in property holding by the YWCA. An important development in 1973 was YWCA's Richmond House in Church Street. This building was developed to house 81 long-term residents in newly designed cluster units. Richmond House is still going strong today and supports women by providing affordable housing and access to health and support services.

1977 – Championing Women’s Rights

Along with an increased focus on advocating for the rights of women in the workplace, and providing childcare, the Melbourne YWCA holds its first explicitly political forum in advance of the national election in 1977.

1982 – Centenary Year!

YWCA Victoria launches a published book celebrating 100 years of YWCA in Victoria. With a loan from Jeff Kennett, YWCA Victoria redevelops another of its properties, Dorey House.

1999 – Three become one!

In 1999, YWCAs in Melbourne, Bendigo and Geelong merge into YWCA Victoria with the main office located in Melbourne.

2009 – Social Housing Victoria business

YWCA Victoria launches a social housing business, Social Housing Victoria, to manage existing properties and develop new opportunities. The business becomes a regulated housing provider.

2012 – Jasper Hotel sale

YWCA Victoria sells the Jasper Hotel in Elizabeth Street. The profits from the sale are reinvested and property development opportunities become a focus.

2016 – Envisaging 2035!

YWCA Victoria renames its social housing business to YWCA Housing. A key focus of the business is to increase its housing development. Currently YWCA cannot house 85% of applications from women in need of affordable housing.

Along with housing, YWCA Victoria will focus on the agreed objective of the World YWCA members – Envisaging 2035!

By 2035, 100 million young women and girls transform power structures to create justice, gender equality and a world without violence and war; Leading a sustainable, YWCA movement, inclusive of all women. This goal describes the collective impact we intend to achieve and defines who we want to be by 2035.