A “Christian Solution of the Labor Situation”: How Workingwomen Reshaped the YWCA’s Religious Mission and Politics


Citation information: Journal of Women's History Vol. 19 Iss. 2 (2007) p. 85 - 110

. DOI:10.1353/jowh.2007.0033


In 1920, the working-class members of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), numbering some thirty thousand, convinced the Association to endorse a workers’ rights platform at the height of the red scare. The YWCA’s original mission was to extend the protections of middle-class, Protestant virtue to young workingwomen. However, workingwomen reworked the association’s “Christian Purpose” into a tool to radically increase its commitment to labor issues. This article suggests how both social feminism and the Social Gospel were shaped by working-class women. It shows how workingwomen intervened in intra- Protestant debates to insist on equal citizenship within a purportedly democratic, cross-class women’s organization. Having begun by seeking to convert workingwomen to evangelical Protestantism, YWCA leaders had found themselves converted—by a mix of Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish women—to political activism as an expression of faith.


History | History of Gender | History of Religion | Labor History | Social History