Our Legacy

The YWCA is one of the oldest and largest women’s organizations in the nation, with 2.6 million members across 300 local associations.

The YWCA of Greater Portland has been serving the Portland community for over 110 years, while evolving to meet the changing needs of the women we serve.

Founded in 1901, the original focus of the YWCA was ensuring the safety and opportunity of young women migrating to Portland from rural America. This was achieved by facilitating their access to safe housing, employment, and wholesome activities.

Today the YWCA’s focus remains on empowering women and their families to achieve safety, opportunity, and independence. We work to transform our community by providing life-changing services and advocating for social change.

The YWCA Throughout Time

The following timeline provides an overview of the evolution of the YWCA since its original inception. Please visit Women and Social Movements in the United States 1901-2000 for a more comprehensive version of our history, as interpreted by Patricia A. Schechter with assistance from the Capstone Students of Portland State University (Spring 2002).



Rented rooms at MacClay building for classes, meetings, and dormitory purposes. Opened lunchroom at Wortman & Olds Department store for outreach to female clerks. Opened school of Domestic Science and developed job placement service. Built a headquarters at the Lewis & Clark Exposition. Events and recruitment throughout Fair. Funds generated went toward a new building project in downtown Portland. National YWCA consolidation. YWCA Purpose: To advance the physical, social, intellectual, moral and spiritual interests of young women.


Supported federally-funded war work through the War Camp Community Service program, especially housing for women war industries workers through a local Rooms Registry service. Girl Reserves instituted a patriotic, service-oriented club program for school-aged girls. Portland’s African American women organized to meet the needs of women and girls through the YWCA.


Girl Reserves flourished in Portland, annually enrolling up to 2,000 members. Membership reflected segregated housing in the city, with separate clubs for African-American, Japanese, Chinese, and native/foreign-born white girls. Under leadership of local African-American women, new Williams Avenue YWCA opened at 704 Tillamook, serving Northeast Portland.


St. John’s Branch opened in North Portland. Camp Westwind at the Oregon coast purchased for annual summer camp programs.


YWCA joined United Service Organization (USO). Under pressure to maintain separate facilities for whites and other races, Williams Avenue Branch turned over to USO for use by African-American soldiers. Programming for African-American women and girls moved downtown and into the homes of women in Northeast. Portland YWCA wrote one of the few letters to the Governor of Oregon urging restraint towards Japanese Americans. National YWCA passed the Interracial Charter: Williams Avenue YWCA became a center with interracial programming. Japanese-American women organized the Veleda Club for married women. Girl Reserves changed to Y-Teens.


New YWCA building at SW 10th and Main in downtown Portland opened (1959). Williams Avenue Branch building closed and sold.


Japanese-American women participated in Portland YWCA Board of Directors. Residence program in downtown building flourished. Young Women Committed to Action—youthful group of activist-minded YWCA members—made themselves heard and felt in the organization locally and nationally; some interest in Portland.


Health and Fitness programs at Downtown flourished, especially those focused on seniors and people with disabilities. Breast Cancer Awareness initiative. Better visibility for lesbian women through anti-homophobia campaign began in 1985 by National YWCA. YWCA Northeast Center opened at 5630 NE MLK Boulevard


Portland Development Commission adopted Museum Place plans for a new complex of buildings around the 10th and Main site, centered on supportive housing and the special needs of seniors downtown. SafeHaven Shelter opened, providing a 24-hour a day, 7 day a week homeless family shelter in North Portland. Completed $5.5 million capital campaign for Camp Westwind.


A one million dollar lead gift is received from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that seeded an $8.2 million capital campaign to renovate the Downtown Center.


Newly renovated downtown YWCA opened – housing YWCA Transitional Opportunity Project (TOP) for women transitioning from prison; YWCA Counseling Center serving low-income individuals, couples and groups; YWCA Fitness for Everybody Center, providing affordable fitness for people of all ages, sizes and abilities; as well as YWCA administrative offices. Tenant partners were Loaves and Fishes Senior Dining and Multnomah County Aging and Disability Services.


The Westwind Stewardship Group assumed ownership of Westwind under an agreement allowing the YWCA to operate Camp Westwind in perpetuity.


Camp Westwind re-opened the day camp program (Camp Westwind in the City) in the newly renovated roof-garden terrace at the 10th Avenue location, allowing children of many ages and from diverse backgrounds to explore the outdoors right in the midst of the city. New mission adopted at the YWCA of USA’s General Assembly: Eliminate racism, empower women, and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.


The economic impact of the 2008 financial crisis results in drastic federal government funding cuts, forcing the YWCA to close or transition many of its existing programs. The YWCA decides to sell its 10th Avenue building. The YWCA retains three essential programs; Youth Services, Domestic Violence Services and Senior Services.


The YWCA launches a Social Change Program to support its mission of eliminating racism. Strategic planning commences to ensure the existing programs of the YWCA are fiscally viable; mission aligned; and effectively meet the changing needs of the Portland community.