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COLLECTION Identifier: 82-M141--83-M11

Records of Young Women's Christian Association of Cambridge, 1881-1981


Office files, photographs, publications, etc., of the Young Women's Christian Association of Cambridge.


  • 1881-1981


Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Unrestricted, except for folder #446, which is closed until January 1, 2025. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the records created by the Young Women's Christian Association of Cambridge is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Quotations longer than one paragraph in length must be approved by the Executive Committee of the Young Women's Christian Association of Cambridge as long as the organization exists. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


36.9 linear feet ((20 cartons, 23 card files, 8 folio boxes) plus 2 folio folders, 4 oversize folders, 2 supersize folders, 7 oversize volumes, 2 audiotapes, and electronic records)

The collection consists of the records (1881-1925) of the Cambridgeport Woman's Christian Temperance Union, founded in 1874, and of photographs, clippings, publications, and office files of the YWCA of Cambridge from 1891 on. The records document all aspects of the YWCA's foundation, organization, development, and programs. They also indirectly document the lives and experience of many Cambridge women, including the volunteer activities of upper class women, and the employment opportunities, and leisure activities of young working women, of blacks, and immigrants. The records also shed light on community and business life in Cambridge.


In June 1891, members of the Cambridgeport branch of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union established the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) in Cambridge "to promote the temporal, moral, and religious welfare of the young women of Cambridge." The organization received its charter and was incorporated in February 1892.

The YWCA's first concern was to provide inexpensive, safe accommodation for women who were newly employed, strangers, or transients. This was achieved by the purchase, in 1897, of the Pray Estate, 11 Temple Street. The "genteel" location of Central Square was preferred to the "far too dangerous" area near Harvard Square, according to YWCA historian Frances Donovan. Further residences were purchased at 144 Austin Street and 7 Temple Street (1902), and 5 Temple St. (1905); in 1911 the present headquarters was built at 7 Temple Street by the architectural firm of Newhall and Blevins. Administrative offices, program facilities, and lodgings for working women were provided, and a few rooms set aside for short stays for the homeless. Extensive additions and renovations to the building were carried out in 1954 and 1961 by the firm of Anderson and Beckwith.

The programs offered initially by the YWCA included music, dressmaking, cooking, Bible study, watercolors, German, hygiene, and physical culture. This focus on education, physical education and health has continued, although new programs have been adopted, adapted, and dropped to meet changing needs.

In the 1890s vocational courses in millinery, dressmaking, nursing, cooking, shorthand, and typing were popular; vocational guidance was offered after 1926.

From 1899 to 1928 the YWCA maintained an Employment Office for domestic help and a Woman's Exchange, where locally made crafts and handwork were sold. Youth programs, the Wives' Club with day care center, and senior citizen programs have been added over the years; and most recently a Woman's film series. The facilities for physical education were expanded in 1961 with the construction of the swimming pool; a barn in Marshfield first loaned in 1944, became the summer day camp. Margaret Fuller House on Cherry Street was purchased in 1902 to be an area recreation center, and became an independent settlement house in 1944. War work in both World War I and II concentrated on entertainment of troops stationed in the greater Boston area. The YWCA has sponsored programs of community and civic interest: study groups on public affairs have issued reports on legislation, social trends, and racial integration, and committees have cooperated with the local League of Women Voters to encourage voter registration.

The Cambridge YWCA is self-governing; it is administered by a volunteer Board of Directors, which appoints committees of volunteers that have both consultative and administrative functions. A small professional staff is headed by an Executive Secretary. The total budget of the YWCA was originally funded by membership fees, benefits, lectures, and bazaars. Beginning in 1938 the budget was in part funded by United Community Services, and since 1974 by the United Way.

The Cambridge YWCA has always been non-sectarian in practice and philosophy. Members of the Board were selected from seven major branches of the Protestant church: Universalist, Unitarian, Episcopalian, Baptist, Methodist, Swedenborgian, and Congregational. The YWCA offered Bible study and prayer meetings, but avoided competition with local churches, believing its primary function to be the practical application of Christian principles. It delayed affiliation with the national organization until 1935 when the National YWCA's statement of purpose became more broad and inclusive.


The collection is arranged in eight series:

  1. I. History and organization (1-34, E.1). Photographs, foundation documents, including records of the WCTU. The YWCA of Cambridge's web site is being captured periodically as part of Harvard University Library's Web Archive Collection service (WAX); searchable archived versions of the web site will be available through this finding aid in 2010.
  2. II. Publications and publicity (35-81at). Scrapbooks, clippings, and other publicity.
  3. III. Administration (82-307). Annual and departmental reports, 1892-1917, 1937-73, minutes of the Board of Directors and Executive Committee, and correspondence of the Executive Secretary.
  4. IV. Programs (308-604). Committees and programs; records of Margaret Fuller House, the Burlington and Marshfield branches of the Cambridge YWCA, arranged alphabetically by program or committee title.
  5. V. Building Committee, (605-655). Building and renovation records. See also Series VII.
  6. VI. Finance Committee (656v-803). Financial records, United Community Services, United Way, and reports of financial Trustees. Includes Margaret Fuller House.
  7. VII. Architectural plans and blueprints (804+ -806o)
  8. VIII. Card index files (boxes 22-43). Fundraising, membership, and volunteer leaders.

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 82-M141; 83-M11

The records of the Young Women's Christian Association of Cambridge were given to the Schlesinger Library in July 1982 and January 1983.


  1. Carton 1: Folders 15v-39
  2. Carton 2: Folders 40-56v
  3. Folio Box 2a: 44vf, 46vf
  4. Folio Box 2b: 48vf
  5. Folio Box 2c: 49vf
  6. Carton 3: Folders 57v-79
  7. Carton 3: Folders 57v-79
  8. Folio Box 3a: Folders 63vf-71vfo
  9. Folio Box 3b: Folders 63vf-71vfo
  10. Folio Box 3c: Folders 77vf
  11. Carton 4: Folders 82-187
  12. Carton 5: Folders 188-216
  13. Carton 6: Folders 217-253v
  14. Carton 7: Folders 254v-263, 265-270, 272-304
  15. Folio Box 7a: 264vf
  16. Folio Box 7b: 271vf
  17. Carton 8: Folders 305-343
  18. Carton 9: Folders 344-376
  19. Carton 10: Folders 377-404v
  20. Carton 11: Folders 405v-443
  21. Carton 12: 444-445, 447v-486v
  22. Carton 13: Folders 487v-525
  23. Carton 14: Folders 526-578
  24. Carton 15: Folders 579-616
  25. Carton 16: Folders 617-655
  26. Carton 17: Folders 656v-680v
  27. Carton 18: Folders 681v-716
  28. Carton 19: Folders 717-755
  29. Carton 20: Folders 756-803
  30. Card file Boxes 21-43: Membership files


Preliminary index of subjects, authors, and organizations:

  1. Afro-Americans 196-197, 185, 242, 308
  2. Amicae Club 10, 62vo, 309-313m
  3. Anderson and Beckwith, Inc. 626-633, 805
  4. Architectural drawings 804+-806o
  5. Building Committee 605-655
  6. Board of Directors 251v-307
  7. Burlington branch of YWCA-Cambridge 6, 315-330, 806
  8. Business and Industrial Club 61v, 62v, 331-337
  9. Business and Professional Women's Club-YWCA 338-343
  10. Cambridge Community Council 346-354
  11. Cambridge Community Federation see Cambridge Community Council
  12. Cambridge Community Services see Cambridge Community Council
  13. Cambridge (Mass.)--Buildings 188, 605-665
  14. Cambridge (Mass.)--Economic conditions 185
  15. Cambridge (Mass.)--Social life and customs 185 and passim
  16. Council of Social Agencies 360-363
  17. Dining Room Committee 369-371
  18. Donovan, Frances (Cooper-Marshall) 34, 527
  19. Education 372-373
  20. Ethnic groups 185
  21. Ethnic relations 196-197
  22. Executive Committee 251v-307
  23. Executive Director 212-250v.
  24. Girl Reserve 11, 50v., 51, 57v., 58, 374-375
  25. Health, recreation and physical education 49v., 59v., 349, 351, 365, 372, 376-379
  26. History and organization of YWCA-Cambridge, 34
  27. Margaret Fuller House 383-388, 665, 668, 692v
  28. Marshfield branch of YWCA-Cambridge 7, 389-397
  29. Membership Committee 408-421
  30. Mormons 212, 213
  31. Newhall and Blevins, Inc. 609v-616, 804+
  32. Personnel Committee 429-460
  33. Public Affairs Committee 464-467
  34. Public Relations Council 468-474
  35. Publicity Committee 475-482
  36. Residence Committee 485v-503
  37. The Reminder 35, 83-135
  38. Woman's Christian Temperance Union-Cambridgeport 14 -22
  39. United Community Services 776-782
  40. United Way 783-792
  41. Volunteers 515-524, file box 30, and passim throughout Board and Committee minutes
  42. World Fellowship 526-533
  43. World War I 1914-18--war work 48vf
  44. World War II 1939-1945--war work 67vf, 367-368, 513
  45. Youth (includes Young Adults) 8, 12, 534-546 passim, 600

Processing Information

Preliminary inventory: January 1987

By: Barbara Harris, Jane S. Knowles

Young Women's Christian Association of Cambridge (Mass.). Records of the Young Women's Christian Association of Cambridge, 1881-1981: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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