One of the most common questions we are asked here at the YMCA Heritage Project is… Was the YWCA founded by George William’s wife and are you the same? Well, wouldn’t that make a great story!? Unfortunately, the answer is no…
Started during the mid 1800’s by two ladies in London, Lady Mary Jane Kinnaird and Emma Robarts, two distinct movements were founded which both called themselves the Young Women’s Christian Association.
One provided accommodation for nurses in the city, and the other was a society offering female servants with a safe and moral place to read the bible (the latter sound familiar to anyone?). Eventually, after learning about each other, they decided to combine their efforts and today they exist as ‘The World Young Women’s Christian Association (World YWCA)’, a global movement working for women’s empowerment, leadership and rights in over 120 countries around the world.
Nonetheless, our histories, though unique, do collide. During the night of May 4th & 5th, 1942, Exeter’s YWCA lost their home in Dix’s Field due to the Blitz – the same bombing in which YMCA lost King’s Lodge. After both our centres were lost, YMCA and YWCA rallied together to run joint socials for their members, supporting each other during tough times. It was then decided in 1952 that the two associations would occupy the same premises at 41 St David’s Hill, due to “a demand from the younger members of the (YMCA) Association to have girls in for certain activities, and as the Y.M.C.A. could offer better facilities for the members of the Y.W.C.A.”
So, whilst Mrs William’s didn’t found the YWCA and we remain two independent organisations, our stories do overlap in Exeter and both organisations are still thriving over 70 years on from that fateful night in 1942.