Carpenterettes Students' Building Young Women's Christian Association YWCA YWCA Hut

The Importance of the YWCA at UNCG

During the long history of The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG), many organizations, clubs, and sponsors have come and gone. Most of these groups have left traces of their impact on the campus, but none come close to the legacy of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA).

Early Members of the campus YWCA

The YWCA began its relationship with the State Normal and Industrial School (now UNCG) in December of 1892. Once established, the organization began to grow both in membership and in influence. Faculty and staff were encouraged to participate in the various YWCA activities, which ranged from Christmas services to building the campus meeting hall, or “the YWCA Hut.” A female student group called “the Carpenterettes” built the Hut in 1918. In addition to YWCA functions, the building was used for extracurricular activities and special events, such as dances and meetings. The Hut allowed the YWCA to expand its space, which had been previously limited to a meeting room at the Students’ Building.

The YWCA Hut, built by students in 1918

The religious aspect of the organization was appealing to both students and faculty and was one of the biggest services the YWCA provided to the school. The YWCA was responsible for morning devotions, Sunday services on campus (Sunday School), Christmas caroling parties, services at Christmas Eve and Easter, and various other holiday programming. They also incorporated a choir to perform at events, strengthening the relationship between the YWCA and other groups on campus. 

One of the fundamental tasks managed by the YWCA was the creation of the student handbook. This was a set of rules given to the students, as well as the lyrics to the school song, faculty descriptions, and school programs for the year. The handbooks were produced from the beginning of the YWCA’s involvement on campus in 1892 until the 1934-35 school year, when the Student Government Association shared the publication. After 1935, the handbook was published by the college.

YWCA members hanging a wreath on the chancellor’s door, ca. 1947.

In the school’s early years, student life revolved around clubs, organizations, and academics alone. Today we have television, cell phones, internet, and other sources of entertainment that did not exist in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Therefore, the YWCA was important because it provided a source of productive entertainment for the general student body. Its importance was so great that in 1912 the school hired and paid a YWCA secretary to oversee the campus activities. The secretary had her own office within the YWCA Hut and in 1914 was paid a salary of $900 per year, an equivalent to roughly $21,000 in 2017.  This was a luxury no other organizations on campus enjoyed at the time. 

The history of the YWCA on campus has been remarkable. Its founding at the State Normal and Industrial School in 1892 marked the beginning of a valiant effort to organize religious activities revolving around the school, faculty, and students. The YWCA’s involvement on campus ended in 1958. Perhaps the school had grown and diversified by this point, which split members of the YWCA into other organizations. The removal of the YWCA Hut in the 1940s also reflected the waning importance of the organization.

Through examination of the University Archives, it is clear that the YWCA was once a prominent influence in the city of Greensboro. The large number of sources which contain information about the organization, such as yearbooks, scrapbooks, and oral histories that mention the YWCA, show how important this organization once was to the students. Although it ceased to play a major role at the school, the YWCA was and remains an important part of the history of student life on campus.

*This blog was written by Laura Cashwell, History major at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

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