YWCA Brooklyn: Empowering Women Since 1818


For 130 years the YWCA Brooklyn has been specifically serving women and girls in the borough and last Thursday the Brooklyn College Archives and Special Collections unveiled a meticulous historical perspective of the organization.

And in doing so, the event and the collection dubbed, YWCA Brooklyn Empowering Women Since 1888,  also highlighted over a century of women’s political and economic empowerment in the borough that has now been fully preserved, cataloged, and restored. The project, funded through a National Historical Publications and Records Commission grant, includes 350 boxes of historical documents, including over 6000 photos dating back to the 1880s.

“These archives represent not only the YWCA Brooklyn’s long history as a champion for women’s equality, but also the challenges and triumphs for all women in Brooklyn over the past 130 years.  I’m honored to build on this legacy and to continue our work supporting the next generation of Brooklyn’s women leaders,” said YWCA Brooklyn CEO and President Martha Kamber.

(left to right) are Rolanda Telesford, Director of Outreach and External Relations, YWCA Brooklyn Yvette Buckner, Board Member, YWCA Brooklyn New York City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel New York City Council Member Farah N. Louis Betty Boyle-Duke, Board Member, YWCA Brooklyn Martha Kamber, CEO and President, YWCA Brooklyn. Photo provided.

As the oldest and largest nonprofit specifically serving women and girls in the borough, the YWCA Brooklyn archives tell the story of the determination, ingenuity and pure grit of the borough’s foremothers in their vision to support Brooklyn’s most vulnerable women and girls. 

“The YWCA Brooklyn was founded and built by female ingenuity at a time when women could not own property. The founder’s resourcefulness brought New York the first public integrated swimming pool, providing New Yorkers with the opportunity to swim, as well as learn how to swim when they otherwise wouldn’t and the first nursing school nursing in the US that took care  of children and families thought-out the borough The history of the YWCA Brooklyn is the history of women and the history of women is an integral part of American history,” said Deputy Borough President Ingrid P. Lewis-Martin.

As a testament to its continuing importance and relevancy, almost 100 years ago, the original YWCA Brooklyn board of directors raised over $2 million to build the facility it is currently housed in. As the last holdout in downtown Brooklyn, the building continues to be a refuge for many as the borough faces rampant gentrification.

Today, the YWCA Brooklyn continues to stand strong in its iconic downtown Brooklyn building, 30 3rd Avenue, which was saved from becoming luxury condominiums, and now provides over 300 permanent, safe homes for low-income and formerly homeless domestic violence and trafficking survivors.

“The political and economic advancement of women in New York, the birthplace of the Women’s Rights Movement, would not have been possible without the SHEroes who broke away from tradition and demanded a seat at the table. They organized themselves and ultimately paved the way for women to not only vote, but run for public office,” said City Councilwoman Farah N. Louis (D-East Flatbush, Flatbush, Flatlands, Marine Park, Midwood).

“I would not have been here in this capacity, as the first black female council member proudly representing District 45, if it had it not been for the women who fought for equality and representation. Our past is what guides our present and prepares us for the future. I would like to thank YWCA CEO & President Martha Kamber and Brooklyn College President Michelle Anderson for unveiling the untold stories of trailblazers who shattered glass ceilings and helped advance gender equity,” she added.

(left to right) Deputy Borough President Ingrid P. Lewis-Martin, Rolanda Telesford, Director of Outreach and External Relations, YWCA Brooklyn Martha Kamber, CEO and President, YWCA Brooklyn Colleen Bradley-Sanders, Associate Professor and College Archivist, Brooklyn College Library.

The YWCA Brooklyn continues to champion Brooklyn’s most under-resourced women and girls by providing a robust college access and leadership program for young women of color to education, and citizenship and legal services for immigrant women amongst other things, the institution continues to empower women and girls both economically and as leaders in their communities.

Also in attendance at the unveiling was City Councilwoman Alicka Ampry-Samuel (D-Brownsville, East Flatbush, Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant), who noted that celebrating 130 years of female empowerment and leadership at the YWCA Brooklyn provides an opportunity to look back through the decades of the women’s movement lost and rich history in the borough.

“Being recognized by the YWCA Brooklyn with my peers as we came together to appreciate the history of our fore-sisters, as a female leader of color, was an absolute surprise and delight. We take on the work of the people not for awards but to advance the mission of equity and parity,” said Ampry Samuel.

For more information visit http://www.ywcabklyn.org.

For information about the collection and exhibit: https://libguides.brooklyn.cuny.edu/c.php?g=654331&p=4592764#s-lg-box-wrapper-16953412

Online exhibit: https://bcarchives1.omeka.net/exhibits/show/ywcabrooklyn

Collection Guide: https://bcarchives.libraryhost.com/repositories/2/resources/1