Celebrating 120 years of services to The Spokane community
Over the past 120 years, YWCA Spokane has grown and changed to meet the needs of our community, providing various services such as arts, fitness, housing, employment, childcare, education, disability life enrichment, anti-racist activism, and domestic violence support services. Since 1903, YWCA Spokane has been helping women and children overcome social, economic, and personal barriers to accomplish their goals and achieve healthier and more fulfilling lives.
In 1971, the YWCA adopted the main imperative: “To thrust our collective power towards the elimination of racism wherever it exists and by any means necessary,” and began directing energy towards the current mission of “empowering women and eliminating racism.” It was in 1979 that YWCA Spokane first began providing domestic violence resources, opening the city’s first 24 hour domestic violence hotline and safe shelter for women and children escaping abuse.
Today, YWCA Spokane continues to provide critical programs and services services while working to confront racial and social justice issues that negatively impact our clients and community. Areas of focus include supporting victims of intimate partner domestic violence, promoting early childhood education, and confronting racial and social justice issues that negatively impact our clients and our community.
In 2022, we served more than 15,000 women, men, children, and families. Services include a continuum of wrap-around support: 24-hour Helpline and Safe Shelter, Counseling Center, Mental Health Services, Child Advocacy, Civil Legal Assistance, Legal Advocacy, and Economic Empowerment Advocacy. YWCA’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) provides 3- and 4-year-old children with the social and learning skills necessary for successful entry into kindergarten.
By working at the intersections of inequality, poverty, and domestic violence, YWCA Spokane is able to disrupt long-standing societal patterns of trauma. Learn more about our current impact.
YWCA’s History of Service In Spokane
On April 13,1903, a small group of people met in the local YMCA to discuss starting a YWCA branch in Spokane. 90 women pledged to join and support YWCA Spokane upon its organization. With a $200 donation from local philanthropist John A. Finch, the new organization rented 4 rooms in the Symons building. On May 19,1903, the formal opening of YWCA Spokane occurred at this location. In the beginning, Christian faith and service were a central emphasis for YWCA Spokane and a primary function was “building something for the girls”.
The Travelers Aid program was a notable part of YWCA Spokane’s early history, marking the beginning of the organization’s work combating gender based violence. YWCA supported the development of Traveler’s Aid programs in response to the number of women and girls who disappeared during the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, Illinois. In 1905, the National YWCA sought to prevent disappearances of women and girls during the 1905 Centennial Exposition in Portland, Oregon. The Travelers Aid program supported by YWCA Spokane assisted women, girls, and families traveling to and from Portland. Railroad officials were petitioned, which allowed YWCA Spokane to establish booths in train station depots where volunteers assisted women, girls, and families before and after arrival of trains from the east and west.
In the 1900s, YWCA Spokane became a community resource, especially for women and girls, by providing domestic science classes, religious education classes, English as a second language classes, night school for women, fitness classes for women, and yearly summer camps. Additionally, YWCA Spokane opened the first cafeteria for young working women in the city.
In the 1910s, YWCA Spokane expanded programs focused on empowering women. The Employment Center opened and living accommodations were made available for women entering the city. Women valued the resources YWCA Spokane provided; in 1915, there were 4,000 visitors each month in the cafeteria, employment office, and reading room.
After operating out of 6 different locations in the early years, in 1919, YWCA Spokane found its first permanent home in the St. Nicholas Hotel. Established as a membership based organization, at the time of opening in YWCA Spokane’s first permanent home, membership had grown to 3,000.
YWCA Spokane expanded its work empowering women by focusing on supporting the development of local girls through the Girl Reserves program. The Girl Reserves program sought to instill characteristics of loyalty, service, good sportsmanship, graciousness, responsibility, and self-respect among participating girls.
YWCA Spokane was originally established with a distinctly Christian purpose, seeking to meet the needs of young women in the city and promote young women’s growth in Christianity. In 1926, however, the organization took a step toward advancing equity when it was decided that church affiliation was not required for membership at YWCA Spokane. From that time, all members, regardless of church membership, could vote for organizational officials and directors.
On the move again, YWCA Spokane sold the property of its first permanent home after being gifted the Spokane Amateur Athletic Club building by Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Enloe. The new building, located at the corner of Main Ave. and Monroe St., allowed for the use of a pool, social rooms, sleeping quarters, and a gym. The new building was dedicated on November 7th, 1937 and was YWCA Spokane’s home for the next 28 years.
YWCA Spokane received a gift of land from Mr. Eugene Enloe to host a summer camp for girls on Spirit Lake, thus expanding youth development programs for local girls. This camp, which opened and hosted its first group of campers in June 1940, was known as Camp Glen Echo. When active, Camp Glen Echo was known as a place of fun, relaxation, and personal development for young girls as well as a place where young girls may grow as citizens with democratic values.
1941 – 1946
During the World War II years, YWCA Spokane was dedicated to supporting the community, especially women. The Travelers Aid program operated 24/7. Victory Crop Corporation was created by YWCA Spokane, which worked with the Agricultural Office of Spokane to recruit women and youth to assist in the local agricultural harvest around Spokane. Dawn Dances were held by YWCA Spokane from 12am to 3am for women working at the Air Depot.
A number of social clubs were created for women with shared identities and objectives, including the Quest Club for young women of Japanese ancestry, which supported the establishment of community connections after internment.
Continuing to be interested in supporting positive youth development, YWCA Spokane opened the Recreation Center. Available to teenagers and young adults for all races and faiths, the YWCA Spokane Recreation Center offered space for sports, music, crafts, games, and dancing. Young adults paid $2 dues per year while teenagers paid $0.50 per semester to participate in activities at the Recreation Center.
With 25 rooms and two dormitories, YWCA Spokane provided permanent residence for 40 girls between the ages of 18 and 24 during the 1950’s. These 40 girls were either in school or had low salaries. Eight beds were reserved for “transients” of any age.
To support local people with disabilities, the handicap swim program at YWCA Spokane began. The program was intended to support the development of self-reliance, physical health, and mental health among people with conditions such as cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s, stroke, brittle bones, brain damage as well as accident victims, post operative individuals, and paraplegics.
1960’s – 1990’s
Beginning in the 1960s and continuing until the late 1990s, adults, seniors, teens, and children were able to engage with a wide variety of art classes, physical recreation classes, sewing classes, cooking classes, outdoor education and recreation classes, drama groups, lectures on Christian religious topics, educational and personal growth workshops, massage therapy, and more, generally for a fee, at YWCA Spokane.
Drop-in childcare services were offered for those participating in classes and events at YWCA Spokane, marking a new beginning of YWCA Spokane’s provision of childcare and children’s educational programs.
YWCA Spokane joins with the national YWCA network within the United States to combat racism, collectively adopting one imperative, “The elimination of racism wherever it exists and by any means necessary”. This marked the beginning of YWCA Spokane’s explicit focus on eliminating racism, which grew to become a central part of the organization’s mission.
1963 – 1965
After the Federal government selected the location of the current YWCA building in Spokane as the site for a new Federal Building, the need to ask for funds to support building a new location was required. So, in 1963, YWCA Spokane began the “New Building Program”, for the first time in the organization’s history asking community members to donate funds to support the building of a new location. In 1965, YWCA Spokane moved to its new home at 829 W Broadway Ave. Spokane, WA 99201. The address was previously home to the Rainier Building, a former brewery.
Dedicated to supporting positive youth development and strengthening families, YWCA Spokane offered a variety of programming through the Youth Resource Center and “The Rafters Program”. Offerings in the Youth Resource Center included the Youth Line, staffed by high schoolers and college students focused on providing confidential peer support for 14 through 19 year olds, child and family counseling, parenting classes, groups for teenagers, mothers, and fathers, and family “check-ups”. “The Rafters Program”, funded to be a juvenile delinquency prevention program, provided a space for high schoolers to be listened to, offered leadership training, drug education, and referrals. The Rafters Program also provided opportunities for fun gatherings and personal development through potlucks, yoga classes, self-defense classes, drama workshops, and more.
In the early 1970s, YWCA Spokane staff and volunteers met women experiencing incarceration where they were at and offered opportunities for joy, relaxation, and personal development through crafts, yoga, a library, hair styling classes, and other creative activities.
In the mid-1970s, YWCA Spokane created a drop-in center for women, The Women’s Resource Center. In addition to the drop-in center, the Women’s Resource Center offered a lending and reference library with literature by and about women, resource referral lists, educational workshops and classes, and the “support sister” program which offered peer support by pairing women experiencing personal difficulties with another woman who had experienced something similar.
In 1977, YWCA Spokane began its work in the domestic violence movement with one staff member in the Women’s Resource Center focused on supporting victims of domestic violence. In 1977, they served 4 survivors. In 1978, YWCA Spokane began offering the only shelter for victims of domestic violence in the region. In the first 4 months of operating, the domestic violence shelter served 15 women and 16 children.
The shelter briefly closed in 1978 due to a shortage of funding, but reopened in 1979 when YWCA Spokane received funding to support the development of a new program, originally referred to as the Battered Women’s Program, specifically focused on issues related to domestic violence. When established, the Battered Women’s Program was designed to “provide crisis intervention and ongoing services to women who are physically and/or emotionally abused by men.”
1970s – 1990s
Throughout the 1970s and 1990s, YWCA Spokane committed to advocating to eliminate inequities and developing public understanding of racism and other factors influencing social conditions for all people in the community. In the 1970s, YWCA Spokane conducted an Action Audit for Change to identify racism as it affected the organization. Results suggested that more work should be done to engage local minorities in programming and leadership, and YWCA Spokane should provide more opportunities for white community members to understand racism as well as minority histories and cultures.
In the 1980s and 1990s, YWCA Spokane hosted many topical community forums, workshops, seminars, and discussions to promote understanding of current events, cultural issues, and inequities. Topics related to sexism, racism, homophobia, heterosexism, anti-Semitism, and societal perceptions of people with disabilities and people with low income. Beginning in 1995, YWCA Spokane offered diversity training and consultation focused on issues related to oppression and equity.
As YWCA Spokane became more civic-minded, during the 1980s, the Public Affairs Committee educated community members about the organization’s public policy priorities locally and nationally. Voter registration was promoted and encouraged among women at YWCA Spokane. In 1981, the Board of Directors emphasized the importance of reproductive freedom and made a public statement in opposition to the Human Life Amendment introduced in Congress. Additionally, alongside other local organizations, YWCA Spokane condemned violence against abortion clinics, which was on the rise in the United States during the 1980s and 1990s.
In 1982, the Youth Resource Center and the Women’s Resource Center merged together to form one consolidated department, Women and Youth Services or WAYS. WAYS offered counseling and support groups for women, children, and youth. Advocacy, a lending library, educational workshops and classes, employment listings, a drop-in center, and information about legislation and legal rights were also offered to women.
During the 1980s and 1990s, YWCA Spokane’s Domestic Violence Program underwent a variety of expansions and changes. The program, then known as the Alternatives to Domestic Violence program (ADVP) offered support for victims of intimate partner violence including crisis intervention for women and children, legal advocacy, a domestic violence safe shelter for women and children, individual, group, and family counseling, support groups, parenting classes, and transitional services designed to support victims in building skills to maintain violence-free lives.
ADVP also provided community education about domestic violence and trained volunteer advocates to support victims. Beginning in the late 1980s, ADVP offered elder abuse services, providing advocacy, safe housing, and other services to individuals 60 years of age and older who were being abused by loved ones or caregivers. Additionally, during the 1980s, ADVP provided anger management therapy and groups for male perpetrators of domestic violence, then referred to as batterers. At the end of the 1980s, ADVP began offering anger management to women as well as men, recognizing that women can be perpetrators of domestic violence.
In the 1980s and 1990s, a variety of offerings at YWCA Spokane focused on advancing women’s health in the community. Seminars and workshops were offered for community education on topics such as breast cancer and menopause. In the late 1980s, YWCA Spokane began offering a local iteration of the national YWCA program ENCORE which provided physical and emotional support for women who had breast cancer surgery through discussion and exercise.
In the 1990s, through partnerships with local medical systems, YWCA Spokane offered low-cost mammograms for women in the community. In 1995, in collaboration with the CDC National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (Title XV), YWCA Spokane offered a free program designed to eliminate health inequities among medically underserved and minority women, especially women over 40 years of age, low income women, and uninsured or under-insured women. This program removed barriers to women’s healthcare access through community outreach, education, and referrals.
In the 1990s, ADVP recognized that anger management is not an adequate treatment for perpetrators of domestic violence due to the root of domestic violence being an imbalance of power and control in a relationship and a perpetrator’s need to dominate. In 1994, ADVP began offering the only State Certified Batterer’s Treatment Program in the county.
2005 – 2009
In 2005, YWCA Spokane partnered with the local YMCA in a capital campaign seeking to create a new building, which would feature the first-in-the-nation co-location of YWCA and YMCA facilities and programs. In 2009, the new “Central Y” joint facility opened at 930 N Monroe St.
2000’s – 2020’s
The Domestic Violence program underwent a variety of changes. (At this time, the exact date of some of these changes is unknown). The program began to focus on exclusively serving survivors of intimate partner domestic violence and their children and expanded offerings to IPDV survivors and their children. Additionally, the program expanded services to survivors of all genders and became dedicated in messaging to conveying that services were available to survivors of all genders.
A Civil Legal department was established to offer survivors free assistance with family law matters. The Family Justice Center was established, creating a joint location for advocates, police officers, prosecutors, and detectives to work together serving survivors. The therapy department was established to offer empowerment based trauma processing and promote long term healing among survivors and their children.
In 2016, alongside shifts among the national YWCA network, the agency changed its name from “Young Women’s Christian Association of Spokane” to “YWCA Spokane”.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, a variety of shifts occurred at YWCA Spokane. Aligned with public health guidance, in-person services outside of the domestic violence safe shelter were temporarily unavailable. Staff adjusted to offering early childhood education, family support, women’s empowerment, and domestic violence support services remotely within a changing world.
After reopening for in-person services, programs continued to offer remote services, after learning that this meaningfully increased access for some community members. This period of time also was marked by an expansion of focus within the agency on both racial and social justice advocacy and domestic violence prevention.
2021 – Now
In 2021, the domestic violence program was renamed from “Alternative to Domestic Violence Program” to “Domestic Violence Service Center”. During the time of this name change, services offered for survivors of IPV and their children included short-term Support Advocacy, Housing Advocacy, Legal Advocacy, Civil Legal Assistance, DV Safe Shelter, 24 hour Helpline services, and Therapy.
Also in 2021, the Community Engagement department was established to focus on educating the community, engaging in more robust and consistent racial and social justice work, and strengthening the agency’s domestic violence prevention efforts.
Header Image courtesy of MAC Museum Archives, YWCA Unproc Box10 002