A century of service
As the YWCA Tulsa celebrates 100 years, the organization recognizes 100 women with moxie who made their marks on the city.
A North Tulsa YWCA banquet circa 1954.
In 100 years, the YWCA of Tulsa mission has evolved from housing young working women to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity. The YWCA vision grew and changed along with women and their roles through the decades.
This year, the organization will serve more than 20,000 Tulsa women and families through a network of services at multiple locations.
Where it all started
The early 1900s oil boom made Tulsa one of the wealthiest cities in the region. Young women rushed here to find work and needed a place to stay in “the oil capital of the world.”
At parlor meetings in several Tulsa homes, prominent women rallied interest in giving Tulsa what every other progressive city had — a local YWCA.
A provisional board formed in 1914. Later that year, the YWCA of Tulsa officially launched, charging dues of one dollar per year for adults or 50 cents for girls age 10-15.
By the 1920s, the club had 2,000 members. Classes in domestic arts helped women with homemaking pursuits, and business-minded courses focused on increasing their earning power. After the race riot of 1921, the North YWCA branch moved to a different building and promoted economic independence through training programs and employment assistance. But the Wall Street crash of 1929 brought an end to expansion for Tulsa and the YWCA.
In the 1930s, the Great Depression made a heavy mark on Tulsa and the organization. Facilities were closed and programs were abandoned. Resources went toward caring for young women who had lost their jobs. The YWCA operated a lodging and work camp for 1,000 unemployed women and their families.
As men headed overseas during World War II, women took over their factory positions and the YWCA responded with services. By 1949, the organization was housing 200 Tulsa women for $3.30-$4.55 per week.
During the bustling post-war era of the 1950s, the central building (West Fifth Street and South Cheyenne Avenue) received a major facelift. Within 10 days of reopening, the residence was full and had a waiting list. The organization set a goal to triple its membership.
As America headed into space in the 1960s, many Tulsa residents and businesses relocated to the suburbs. YWCA programs were decentralized and operated out of churches and homes. Classes opened up to all women rather than just young women, and the downtown location began offering child care services three days a week.
During the 1970s, women began taking time for themselves in courses such as macramé and fitness. At the same time, some women were taking on new roles as heads of household. The YWCA responded with divorce discussion groups, supervised child care and outreach to public housing projects.
To keep up with life in the 1980s, the YWCA added after-school programs and social services for new immigrants and people with disabilities. Opportunities included new summer camps; programs for job readiness; and services for women facing divorce, job loss or health limitations.
By the 1990s, the YWCA followed the lead of many stock portfolios into growth and diversification. The YWCA operated one of Tulsa’s largest licensed day care centers and offered some of the few local resources for children with special needs. The organization began a resettlement program for refugees and established a Peace Garden where apartment tenants could grow the vegetables and flowers of their native lands.
In the 21st century, the YWCA of Tulsa runs programs at its three locations and in libraries and schools around the city. The programs focus on five major areas each year:
Racial justice through public policy
Health and wellness
Citizenship assistance and other services for immigrants and refugees from more than 50 countries
Promotion of diversity and equality through the Inclusion Institute
Carmela Hill, president of YWCA’s board of directors, says adapting the organization to serve an ever-shifting society requires moxie, a quality embodied by the YWCA founders.
“Facing the future, I’m excited to link arms with allies committed to a spirit of inclusivity and dedicated to eliminating racism and empowering women,” Hill says.
100 Women with Moxie
It takes moxie to promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity. But “moxie” can mean everything from courage, confidence, guts and passion to the ability to raise a little hell when necessary. As part of its centennial celebration, the YWCA honors 100 Women with Moxie.
A group of community members reviewed more than 200 nominations to find women who exemplify the mission and core values of the YWCA. The honorees represent different eras, ages, races, backgrounds and experiences. Some are well-known leaders; others work behind the scenes. All live, work or volunteer in Tulsa. And each of these women embodies that special something called moxie. Here, TulsaPeople recognizes each of the 100 women, with additional insight into the work of a few.