Old Dominion University Libraries -- Women's History Month 2011 -- Perry Library Exhibit

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About the YWCA South Hampton Roads:

Highlights from 1911 -1961

1910s –

  • Provided a residence for single women leaving their homes to find work in the city
  • Established their headquarters at 127 College Place, with the residence at 210 Brewer Place
  • Offered classes in cooking, tailoring, millinery, stenography, Bible studies, typing, gymnastics
  • Opened a cafeteria as a service project to provide a social atmosphere where women did not have to be escorted by men
  • Created a vacation lodge for “working girls” on Tanners Creek at the end of 48th St.
  • Emphasized the importance of physical health to working girls
  • In 1919, the Central YWCA moved to 300 Freemason Street

Mrs. C. P. Shaw, Founding
President, Norfolk YWCA, 1911

Cafeteria article
Newspaper article about YWCA cafeteria


Mrs. Laura E. Titus was the first president of the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA which was founded in 1899 and named for Phillis Wheatley, America's first African-American published poet and author.

Located on Cumberland Street, they offered a residence hall for young women, job training, recreation programs, summer camp (Camp E.W. Young), youth clubs and critical social services.

In 1925, the Wheatley YWCA and the Central YWCA began to collaborate.


  • Girl Reserve Club program was created for “character building” of school age girls
  • An Employment Service began
  • Many industrial-oriented clubs formed, including the Business Women's Club, with this aim: "that the girl of today be a well balanced person, for the YWCA activities embrace classes to train her to be well, to look well, to speak well, and to live well."
  • Camp Owaissa was established as a permanent summer camp for girls

article about employment
Article about the employment service

Camp Owaissa article
Newspaper photos of Camp Owaissa in the 50s



  • Programs continued during the Depression
  • A Practice School was set up to help girls keep skills of typing and dictation until they found employment
  • Variety Shows were provided to raise money
  • YMCA and the Boy’s Club shared some of their services with the YWCA
  • Norfolk Division of College of William & Mary (now ODU) rented its pool facilities for YWCA swim classes
Article about joining
Article encouraging membership


  • YWCA offered “traveler’s aid” to military wives visiting Norfolk
  • YWCA opened their own USO in 1942 – the 300 Club -- which provided hostesses for servicemen
  • Ladies’ Day Out program launched to give women "a needed break from children and chores" -- 80 women attend. A nursery was available for the children.
  • Merry Matrons program for older women
  • “Girl Reserves” became the Y-Teen program
  • Norfolk YWCA urged the establishment of the United Nations
  • Phyllis Wheatley branch move to Washington Avenue
  • The US Army commandeered the cafeteria during the war
  • After the war, YWCAs throughout the country turned attention to housewives and mothers

Making plans for Ladies Day Out

Article about
Ladies Day Out

Merry Matrons program


  • Central YWCA moved to 253 Freemason Street at Granby
  • Phyllis Wheatley branch moved to 927 Park Ave, where they housed administration, operated programs and provided residence for 51 girls
  • Membership and enthusiasm increased
  • Fun After Five program offers evening classes and activities to "women who have more time available"
  • Junior “Y” program opened to girls under 12
  • Interest in physical fitness made women’s exercise classes more popular
  • YWCA residence was filled "with girls from the surrounding area who came seeking work in the city, or to take commercial and beauty school classes"
  • Community Understanding Committee was formed in 1957 with women from B’nai B’rith, United Church Women and YWCA, and later with the Norfolk Council of Catholic Women and the Unitarian Alliance.  The first program was on prejudice. 
  • Other YWCA groups began organizing:  Virginia Beach, Bayside, Little Creek

Fashion Show for Ladies Day Out

Phyllis Wheatley YWCA Snack Bar

Board Members of the Wheatley Branch
The First 50 Years: 1911-1961 The Second 50 Years: 1961-2011


Learn about the YWCA South Hampton Roads

View a Bibliography of Works for further study

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View Photos of the Exhibit

For information about the exhibit, please contact Karen Vaughan, kvaughan@odu.edu

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