The story of the YWCA in San Pedro begins in November 1917 with six women coming together to form the San Pedro War Work Council. The Councils were part of a program sponsored by the National YWCA to address unique needs of women during World War I. Issues of concern included access to housing and recreation in urban areas with the influx of war work; meeting places around training camps where women could visit friends and relatives in the service; and concern for social morality issues, especially around military bases.

In 1917, the San Pedro War Work Council commissioned a detailed report outlining the social conditions in San Pedro. Although War Work Councils were erecting mostly temporary facilities specifically for wartime use, the report strongly advised that permanent facilities were needed in San Pedro, since Fort MacArthur was located in the area and would continue to be active after the war.

Built in 1918, the Julia Morgan-designed YWCA of the Harbor Area and South Bay is a clubhouse in the residential neighborhood near the harbor in San Pedro. The unassuming board-and-batten structure differs dramatically from Morgan’s most iconic commission, Hearst Castle. These two projects demonstrate Morgan’s chameleon-like ability to suit the style of her buildings to the needs and budgets of each individual client.

Julia Morgan had already designed several YWCA-related projects when she was brought in to design the San Pedro facility. At a meeting in January 1918, she received the recommendations from the report that called for “a club and recreation center to compete successfully with public dances, motion pictures shows, and streets filled with men in uniform; housing with facilities for laundry and cooking breakfast; and rooms for 20 girls [to] provide for the acute emergency.” A swimming pool was a key part of the recommendations, as it offered young women a recreational outlet not available elsewhere in San Pedro. A budget of $5,000 for land, $12,000 for the building, and $2,500 for furnishings was established at the meeting.

The YWCA of the Harbor Area and South Bay, despite many modifications over the years, retains the comfort and charm of Julia Morgan’s original design. After more than one hundred years of continuous use by the YWCA, the building still provides services to women and children in the community as originally intended.

Julia Morgan (1872–1957), was one of California’s most influential architects. Remarkable not only as an independent woman working in what was traditionally a man’s field, she was also a meticulous engineer and a talented designer.

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YWCA – Timeline

1850 – Woman takes YWCA typing course (circa 1850)

1858 – The first association in the U.S., Ladies Christian Association, was formed in New York City.

1860 – The first boarding house for female students, teachers, and factory workers opened in New York City.

1866 – “YWCA” was first used in Boston.

1870 – In a YWCA Boston residence for girls, board members installed pulley weights on the back of closet doors, allowing girls from farms to continue to exercise in the city.

1872 – The YWCA opened the first employment bureau in New York City.

1873 – The first YWCA student association is established in Normal, Illinois.

1874 – The YWCA opened a low-cost summer “resort” for employed women in Philadelphia.

1877 – YWCA Boston offered a course in calisthenics for young women at a time when women are considered too frail for exercise.

1889 – The first African-American YWCA branch opened in Dayton, Ohio.

1890 – The first YWCA for Native American women opened at the Haworth Institute in Chilocco, Oklahoma.

1894 – The United States, England, Sweden, and Norway together created World YWCA, which today operates in over 125 countries.

1906 – YWCA was the first organization to introduce the positive health concept and sex education in all health programming.

1907 – YWCA of the USA was incorporated in New York City.

1908 – YWCA was the first industrial federation of clubs to train girls in self-government.

1909 – YWCA began offering bilingual instruction to help immigrant women.

1913 – The YWCA National Board created a commission on sex education.

1915 – YWCA held the first interracial conference in Louisville, Kentucky.

1918 – YWCA was the first organization to send professional workers overseas to provide administrative leadership and support to U.S. Armed Forces.

1919 – YWCA held the International Conference of Women Physicians, the first gathering of medical women. This 6-week long gathering focused on women’s health issues and included attendees from 32 countries.

1920 – YWCA of Montclair-North Essex, established in 1912, bought a house to serve as its headquarters, and used the property for offices, dormitories, and as a social center for Black women until 1965. It was the first Black YWCA in America not affiliated with a white YWCA.

Based on its work with women in industrial plants, the YWCA Convention voted for “an eight-hour-per-day law, prohibition of night work, and the right of labor to organize.”

1921 – Grace Dodge Hotel completed construction of a Washington, D.C., residence initially designed to house women war workers.

1930s – YWCA encouraged members to speak out against lynching and mob violence, and for interracial cooperation and efforts to protect Black people’s basic civil rights.

1933 – A YWCA National Board Member was sent to Decatur, Alabama, to monitor and assess the administration of justice in the Scottsboro case.

1934 – YWCA delegates supported birth control services and worked to make it more widely available to the general population.

1936 – YWCA held the Interracial Seminar, marking the first intercollegiate, interracial, co-ed conference in the south.

1938 – The YWCA in Columbus, Ohio, established a desegregated dining facility and is cited by the Columbus Urban League “for a courageous step forward in human relations.”

1942 – YWCA extended its services to Japanese American women and girls incarcerated in World War II Relocation Centers.

1944 – The YWCA National Board appeared at the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate hearings in support of permanent Fair Employment Practices Committee Legislation.

1946 – Interracial Charter was adopted by the 17th National YWCA Convention, establishing that “wherever there is injustice on the basis of race, whether in the community, the nation, or the world, our protest must be clear and our labor for its removal, vigorous and steady.” This was eight years before the United States Supreme Court decision against segregation.

1949 – The National Convention pledged that the YWCA will work for integration and full participation of minority groups in all phases of American life.

1955 – National Convention committed local associations and the National Board to review progress towards inclusiveness and decides on “concrete steps” to be taken.

1960 – The Atlanta YWCA cafeteria opened to African Americans, becoming the city’s first integrated public dining facility.

1963 – The YWCA National Board becoming a sponsoring agency in 1963 for the summer March on Washington for jobs and Freedom in Washington, D. C. where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

1965  – The National Board of the YWCA created the Office of Racial Justice to lead the civil rights efforts.

1970 – The YWCA National Convention, held in Houston, adopted the One imperative: “To thrust or collective power towards the elimination of racism, wherever it exists, by any means necessary.

1970 – YWCA convention voted to emphasize the importance of repealing laws restricting or prohibiting abortions performed by a duly licensed physician.

1972 – YWCA established ENCORE, an education, exercise and support program for post-mastectomy patients.

1973 – The 26th National Convention held a silent march and sets up a defense fund to protest the treatment of American Indians at Wounded Knee Reservation, S. C.

1982 – YWCA established “Fund for the Future,” designed to help with the cost of operations and education programs.

1983 – The YWCA National Board urged Congress to support legislation that opposes the South African policy of apartheid.

 1992 – The YWCA National Day of Commitment to Eliminate Racism began in response to the beating of Rodney King, an African American man; the acquittal of four white Los Angeles police officers accused of the crime and the subsequent riots an unrest across the country.

1995 – The YWCA Week without Violence was created to united people against violence in communities. The annual observance is held the third week of October.

2004 – Igniting the collective power of the YWCA to eliminate Racism, the YWCA USA’s Summit on Eliminating Racism, was held in Birmingham, Ala.

2005 – YWCA of Trenton, N.J. and YWCA Princeton. N. J. established the “Stand Against Racism” campaign, which spreads to 39 stated with over a quarter million participants.

2008 – The YWCA celebrated its Sesquicentennial Anniversary, 150 years of service, with the launch of the “Own it” campaign.  The campaign focused on igniting a new generation of 22 million young women aged 18 to 34, inspiring them to get involved with important issues facing women and the country today.

2013 – Today over 2 million people participate in YWCA programs at more than 1,300 sites across the United States.

2018  – YWCA of the Harbor Area celebrated its 100th year – built in 1918 by the famous Julia Morgan.