YWCA Subcommittee on Colored Work
The YWCA's first Conference on Colored Work was held in Louisville, KY, in 1915, with both African American and white women in attendance and seated together during the programs. It was the first integrated conference by the YWCA, an experiment to see if it would work in an agreeable fashion. Louisville was considered a safe enough testing ground in the not too deep South. African American women from throughout the South who headed YWCA branches attended the conference, along with leaders from other women's organizations who wanted to establish African American YWCAs in their communities. A previous conference, held in Asheville, NC, in 1907, to discuss the YWCA's work in southern African American communities, was attended by 60 white women. The national meeting in 1913 was held in Richmond, VA, with African American student attendees seated in the balcony.
It soon became obvious that more African American women were attending the YWCA conferences and establishing branches; therefore, in 1913 the Subcommittee on Colored Work was formed to respond to the work with African American women in urban areas, which was the fastest growing development. Stationed in New York, Eva Del Vakia Bowles, an African American from Albany, OH, was hired as secretary of the subcommittee, with the responsibility of helping the National YWCA to accommodate the African American members without detriment to the white membership. The 1915 conference attendees in Louisville are remembered for three areas of consensus: 1) The National Board appointed an interracial committee to promote the college associations, city associations, and new branches; 2) Training for African American staff and volunteer members would be paid for by the National Board; and 3) African American branches of the YWCA were to become branches of the local white associations or the National Board.
The placement of the African American branches under the control of the local white YWCAs was protested, but to little avail. Also, African American student conferences were held annually in the South, with a white YWCA member in attendance. The YWCA Council on Colored Work was disbanded during World War I when the War Work Council was formed; work with African Americans shifted more toward the enlisted men.
For more see the YWCA of the U.S.A. Records, a Five College Archive and Manuscripts Collections website; The Afro-American Woman, by S. Harley and R. Terborg-Penn; and Organizing Black America, by N. Mjagkij.