The Young Women's Christian Association: Activism and Gender Identity in Postwar America

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Based on archival research in the collection of the Young Women?s Christian Association of Los Angeles at California State University, Northridge, and the microfilm collection of the YWCA of the USA from Smith College, this project explores the activism of the YWCA as it relates to the gender consciousness of the women of the YW during the period of 1945 to the early 1960?s. The YW?s program during this period emphasized the need for women to develop as leaders, become informed and active citizens, and promote world peace through the United Nations. These notions suggest a female assertiveness in public affairs that challenges the postwar emphasis on women?s role in the domestic sphere. Yet, the role of the YWCA as a provider of services to women in communities throughout the US, in this case Los Angeles, seems to have been shaped by the demands of the women they served. Accordingly, the topics of the classes offered by the YWCA suggests young women?s desire to find husbands and become successful wives and mothers ? the fulfillment of traditional gender roles stressed in postwar America. The disconnect between the YWCA?s program and the services it offered suggests the organization?s ambivalent gender identity in the postwar years, and reflects the shifting of gender roles underway in American society more broadly.


Lynn Dumenil




Faculty Student Summer Research Fellowship

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