The YWCA incorporated in 1892 to promote the “physical, intellectual, social, and spiritual advancement of young women,” especially young working women. The Indianapolis association held its first meeting on May 6, 1895, with Ella (Mrs. F) McCrea later elected as the first president. Two rented rooms at 139 North Meridian served as the first meeting space until growth forced the YWCA to move into other temporary downtown locations. 

A large group of women stand outside of a building. The women fill the entire sidewalk.
Group portrait of the Young Women’s Christian Association of Indianapolis, taken in front of their headquarters at 329 North Pennsylvania, 1911 Credit: Indiana Historical Society View Source

The YWCA directed its early educational and recreational programs toward young working women and throughout the years expanded to include women of all ages and their families. The initial focus on working women led the organization to provide a place to get lunch and take a noon-hour rest in the downtown area. In 1898, the YWCA developed clubs among local industries. 

In 1909, the organization built a home at 329 North Pennsylvania Street that included meeting rooms, the first indoor swimming pool in the city, a cafeteria, and residence facilities, and in 1911, it hosted the national YWCA’s Third Biennial Convention. The Travelers Aid Society, cosponsored by the YWCA, provided 24-hour service at Union Station during World War I. In 1918, the Indianapolis YWCA divided the extension clubs into an Industrial Department and a Department Store Department.

	 Boys and girls are shown registering for the YWCA Arts and Crafts Program. One of the women holds a sign saying it starts June 28.
YWCA Arts and Crafts Program at Barrington, ca. 1960s Credit: Indianapolis Recorder Collection, Indiana Historical Society View Source

As with most YWCAs, the Indianapolis YWCA was racially segregated at the time of its founding. As early as 1914, African American women began organizing for a branch that would serve the women and girls of their community, with Madam C. J. Walker serving as treasurer. Granted official branch status in 1923, they built a structure in 1929 and operated the Phyllis Wheatley Branch until 1959 when the Indianapolis YWCA desegregated. 

Other facilities included safe houses for young women at 247 North Pennsylvania Street and 122 East Michigan Street, the Blue Triangle Residence at 725 North Pennsylvania Street (1924-1971), and branches at 717 South Alabama Street and 1627 Prospect Street to serve the south side. 

A uniformed couple dances in the middle of a room. Several women sit and stand along the edges of the room. A man is leaning against a wall.
A uniformed couple takes the floor at a jitterbug dance at the USO center at Fort Benjamin Harrison, 1943 Credit: Indiana Historical Society View Source

During World War II, the YWCA provided housing for women in the military and hosted activities at Fort Benjamin Harrison. As women’s societal roles evolved, the YWCA offered programs and courses on topics relevant to the shifting needs of its members and the community. In the 1950s, offerings included childcare and home economic courses; in the 1960s, they served single parents and truants.

During the 1970s, the YWCA supported the Equal Rights Amendment and, with the Indianapolis Public Schools, began a learning center for unwed pregnant girls. A campaign to raise money for a new building failed in 1973. Instead, in 1974, the headquarters temporarily relocated to 822 Fort Wayne Avenue. In 1976, the YWCA moved into the renovated Dolphin Swim Club property at 4460 Guion Road. 

In the 1980s, the organization highlighted daycare and latchkey programs for children as well as senior citizen activities. In the early 1990s, with a full-time staff of 20 and an annual budget of approximately $1 million, the YWCA continued to provide recreational activities to its roughly 2,000 members and social service programs to the community at large. The YWCA in Indianapolis disbanded in 2012. 

The West Indy Racquet Club took over the Guion Road property. As of 2022, the YWCA branch closest to Indianapolis is in Muncie, Indiana.

Revised June 2022

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