The Early 1900's
Two school principals, Hattie Griffin and Myrtle Huff, who were concerned about the lack of recreational activities for the growing number of women working in Elgin in the early 1900's, were the moving spirits behind the formation of the Young Women's Christian Association in 1901. The first social and physical activities were planned and held in the gymnasium of the Elgin National Watch Company. YWCA programs were minimal until donations from Mr. and Mrs. George P. Lord and a site given by Mrs. A.B. Church provided a substantial new building on East Chicago Street. The YWCA, featuring a cafeteria was dedicated and opened in 1906. A swimming pool was added to the facility in 1913 at cost of $2,646.85.
Young women from small towns and farms were coming to Elgin in search of employment during the 1920's. A need for clean and safe living quarters became evident. The YWCA answered this need in 1914 by renting and equipping 2 apartments on Dexter St. and a residence on Chapel St. In 1920 the Whitford apartments, which stood to the east of the YWCA building were acquired, providing rooms for resident members. In 1928 the YWCA purchased 23 acres of land about 5 miles south of Elgin for a Camp. It was given the name Tu-Endie-Wei, meaning mingling of the waters, by Mrs. Claude Rayburn who was president of the YWCA at that time.
To assist the many veterans seeking college training under the G.I. Bill of Rights after the Second World War, the University of Illinois opened an extension center at Elgin High School in 1946. When this program was phased out, the Board of Education of School District U-46 established Elgin Community College in 1949 as a two-year program of continuing education. Enrollment prospered and the YWCA was called upon to provide classroom space for this institution. This was the beginning of numerous future partnerships such as English as a Second Language classes, GED courses and recreational activities between the YWCA, School District U-46 and Elgin Community College.
Y-Teens, a program preparing teenage girls for their roles as adult citizens, blossomed at the YWCA in the 1950's. Young ladies between the ages of 12 and 18 were invited to become members of this organization regardless of race, nationality, and religion. Y-Teens were encouraged to get along with other, to take responsibility, to judge one's own conduct in terms of its contribution to the common good, to face personal problems with intelligence and fortitude, to appreciate the values of education and good health, and to be worthy of living in a free society. With the help of an adult advisor, the Elgin Y-Teens planned their own activities, which included hikes, picnics, panel discussions, service projects, and even co-ed parties and dances.
A fire struck the YWCA on Wednesday, November 27, 1963 destroying the front third of the building and causing heavy smoke damage throughout. A $650,000 building drive began on December 14, 1963 with the present YWCA building located on 220 East Chicago Street in Elgin erected in stages between 1965 and 1966. Even during these difficult times, the YWCA remained at the forefront in providing lessons and classes to encourage healthy physical development in children, youth and adults. It was common to see lines from outside the doors out the YWCA on the day of registration for swimming lessons, dance classes, tumbling and volleyball programs.
The YWCA dedicated itself to serving the needs of the children and youth of our community during the 70's. Pre-school enrollment in the Tiny Tot classes flourished with programs offered every day of the week. Symbolic of this era and unique to Elgin was the non-profit Colloquy Coffee House. Located on West Highland Ave., it was a gathering spot for your adults until it's closing in 1979. this endeavor to provide a safe and peaceful meeting spot was funded and staffed by 8 local churches and the YWCA. It served as a friendly arena for the youth to talk over problems, develop friendships, listen to folk and rock music, and enjoy food, soft drinks and of course coffee.
This decade saw refugees from Laos travel across the ocean to settle in Elgin. Challenged with a need to offer training in consumer and daily living skills, the YWCA assisted this population with unique programming. The Refugee Project expanded to include social services, job counseling, and employment placement for the area Lao residents.
The YWCA Leader Luncheon was first held in 1984 to provide business, industry, and community organizations the opportunity to honor women by recognizing their contributions and leadership to the Elgin area. TV hostess, Jenny Jones, columnist, Carol Kleiman, and former First Lady, Barbara Bush have served as keynote speakers.
Responding to requests from the Hispanic community, the YWCA expanded its programming with Spanish literacy and G.E.D. classes. A Hispanic Women's Health Promotion was organized and included home daycare provider training, aerobics classes, CPR/First Aid training, and even a Mexican folkloric dance group.
With an increase in the number of women returning to the workplace a need for quality, affordable after school care became evident in the Elgin area. In response, the YWCA created SACC, a school age childcare program giving children a safe place to go after school where they enjoy swimming, arts and crafts, homework assistance, and outdoor fun.
Our commitment to women and strengthening the family continues to be our greatest achievement. Now, as the 21st century unfolds, the organization continues to put that commitment into action through a wide range of programs that reach out to women and families in the Elgin area. Explore our website and join a program.