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A Legacy in Action

A great deal of change can happen over more than 100 years. YWCA Greater Austin has been an active part of paving the way toward equity in our community.

According to Austin History Center archives, the Young Women’s Christian Association of the University of Texas (later known as the University Y, and now known as the YWCA Greater Austin) was founded in 1885 and chartered in 1893. During that period, it provided social opportunities for women students, consisting of Bible study, prayer groups, gospel singing and support of overseas missionary efforts; particularly in China.

In 1907, members of the YWCA incorporated in the state of Texas under the name of the Young Women’s Christian Association of the University of Texas. Housed on the University of Texas campus, the YWCA members met in the Old Main Building until it was torn down in 1931.

1920s: Throughout the 1920s, the YWCA maintained an employment bureau for women students, helping them find work, such as tutoring, house work, working as companions, caring for children, clerical work and teaching. In March 1920, the YWCA collaborated with the National YWCA to establish Austin’s International Institute at 408 Nueces Street,

“in the heart of one of Austin’s principal Mexican neighborhoods….to promote a better understanding between native and foreign-born people and to help the foreign-born become adjusted to America and its institutions.”

The YWCA bought a lot at 2330 Guadalupe in 1920, and built a two story building, which still is standing. Called the Varsity Building, it served as rental property for several community businesses for many years, and created a profit-making income for the organization.

1930-1940s: In 1937, the YWCA joined the University of Texas YMCA in their building, and enjoyed a close working relationship for over 40 years. The two organizations, known as the University Y, shared a building at 2200 Guadalupe (where the Church of Scientology stands now). Over the years, the YWCA and YMCA maintained a close relationship, even merging boards and sharing executive directors during some periods of time. The “liberal” image of the University Y as established in the 1930s as Y students became active in the anti-war movement, inter-racial ventures and the support of organized labor. During the late 1930s, the Texas legislature even investigated the University Y as a hotbed of Communism! Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the University Y partnered with City of Austin Recreation Department to work with the youth organizations and playground groups.

1950-1960s: Through the 1950s and early 1960s, the Y participated in desegregation efforts, with Y students “sitting in” at the lunch counter of the Renfro Drug Store in the Varsity building owned by the YWCA. During this time, while partnering with the Austin Independent School District, the University Y had a very active tutoring program involving over 300 tutors!

The Y’s long-standing interest in civil rights and social action lead to increased controversy in the late 1960s as the Vietnam War heighten tensions and divisions in society. In the fall of 1969, opposition to the Y’s “Open Door” policy allowing the use the YWCA Varsity building by groups such as the Austin Draft Information Center, the Student Mobilization Committee and The Rag, resulted in the YWCA losing tax exempt status for a short time.

1970-1980s: The University Y moved to the YWCA’s Varsity building in 1970, after the 2200 Guadalupe building was torn down. Middle Earth Drug Crisis Center and the Women’s Awareness Group were among the most active of the Y programs in the 1970s, but there were other innovative programs under the Y that served the community as well. Throughout the 1970’s the YWCA grew and nurtured such programs as co-operative day-care facilities, the American Institute for Learning (American YouthWorks), Austin Community Gardens, Gay Community Services, Jail Arts and Education Program, and WomenSpace. The Y also established Communiversity, which provided free classes such as yoga, dance, photography, auto repair, and many other community activities.

The University YWCA/YMCA separated in 1982. But the University YWCA continued to grow its programs and activities with the YWCA’s LeaderLuncheon (now the YWCA Women of the Year Awards Soiree), Austin Women’s Addiction, Resource & Education (AWARE), OutYouth, and the YWCA Student Association.