Happy 161st Birthday to Grace Hoadley Dodge

image of a group of women in white seated and standing.

Above: Grace Dodge with a National Training School class circa 1912

Today we say Happy 161st Birthday to Grace Hoadley Dodge, a founding member and the first president of YWCA of the U.S.A. National Board. She was born on May 21, 1856 in New York City to a prominent family of great wealth. For the duration of her life she used that position to work tirelessly, humbly and graciously in service of others, particularly young women and young women workers.

Grace Dodge was a founding member of many significant philanthropic and activist organizations like Working Girls’ Clubs, The Girls Athletic League, The National Travelers’ Aid Society, and the Teachers College in New York City, which later became a school of Columbia University. She also worked at the American Vigilance Association, sat as the President of the board of trustees for The American College for Girls in Constantinople, and was the first woman to be appointed as a member of the Public School Board of New York City in 1886. In all of these organizations she held prominent leadership positions. In her life she gave copious amounts of financial support to their projects and campaigns, and in her death she willed most of her money to these organizations. The largest single posthumous donation went to the Young Women’s Christian Association, an organization for which she was founder, broker and fearless fledgling leader at the time of her early, sudden death.

Grace Dodge’s work at the YWCA began when she mediated the merger of two women’s advocacy groups in the United States into a national Young Women’s Christian Association. In her time at the YWCA she worked on fundraising campaigns, most notably the $4,000,000 YMCA-YWCA campaign that took place in New York City in 1913. She met weekly with young women staying in boarding houses and used those conversations to write the book A Bundle of Letters for Busy Girls which compiled practical advice on life and homemaking for girls and women who might have missed those lessons in youth.

image of a note sent by Grace Dodge with her signature  Note from Miss Dodge to Joint Committee

In the discussions she held with girls and women, and the people she employed, she always stressed the importance of accepting difference, and respecting those who had led lives different that one’s own. She also stressed the importance of honesty and full disclosure in these discussions, and advocated for comprehensive sex education and care in the classes and trainings that she sponsored. She urged older women to be honest with young women about their lives, and to be open about their mistakes and failures, so as to advise and comfort girls who had or could have made the same mistakes.

After her death she remained an inspiration and a beloved figure in the history of the YWCA. In 1921 a hotel was erected in Washington D.C. and named in her honor. The Dodge Hotel was created to provide young women, who at the time were moving to D.C. for employment opportunities developed by World War I, with safe and comfortable living conditions. It also acted as a temporary residence for women who had been displaced by the War, and were in transition. It honored her legacy by investing in individual women, giving them the opportunity to live comfortably and happily, in order to give them the opportunity to work and provide for themselves.

Grace Dodge was loved and respected by everyone that she knew. In the wake of her death the YWCA publication Association Monthly published a special edition dedicated to her, filled with essays that people had written in her honor that highlighted her work at the YWCA, but focused much more on uplifting the legacy of her character. She was beloved. The people who wrote for the publication in her honor, who spoke at her memorial service, or who otherwise published a dedication to her spoke primarily of her kindness, her generosity, her deep religious faith, and her legendary spirit, describing it as a source of inspiration.They described her tireless work ethic, her unending support of and respect for the people she employed, and those she was working on behalf of as a means of enabling those she touches to do the same work that she was doing. One wrote, “She lived her life full of sympathy,” and another “We have lost our best friend, one who always had loving words, kind thoughts and sympathy for lonely ones.”

Image of page from the Association Monthly announcing Miss Dodge's death

Happy Birthday Grace Hoadley Dodge! Thank you for the legacy you built for the YWCA and for all the work you’ve done on behalf of young women everywhere.

image of page from YWCA anniversary program showing a prayer with Miss Dodge's signature

This information was found  in the YWCA of the U.S.A. records housed in the Sophia Smith Archive at Smith College in Northampton Massachusetts. Historical and Biographical information, testimonies and memorial service documents were found on reel 116 microdex 2 and Grace Dodge Hotel information was found on reel 43 microdex 2 of the microfilm series. Other information, essays about Grace Dodge, can be found in Association Monthly volume 9 no. 1 published February 1915, and in a special edition of Association Monthly dedicated to Grace Hoadley Dodge published in 1915. This project is digitizing these records in the effort to increase and diversify access to records, writings and testimonies like these about significant people, events and activist efforts of the YWCA.

–Gracie Elliott, Project assistant

Over 100 years of social change

image of women working at machines in a textile factory


From its beginning the YWCA of the USA sought to empower women and advocate on their behalf. This mission of social action, though always present, has its official beginning in 1911 at the third national convention of the YWCA of the USA in Indianapolis, Indiana. YWCA of the USA had been working with girls in industry and saw first hand the conditions they faced. In response to persistent deplorable conditions for working women a vote was taken at convention, on the recommendation of the National Board, to take the fight public. This vote, though it may seem a natural step, was a bold step into the public light. Convention delegates expressed support of the recommendation but concern that their public opinion would take a turn and as a result industry bosses would interfere with their industrial clubs. Nevertheless, the recommendation passed and the YWCA of the USA began a path to social action that has had real impact on the lives of American women and men. You can read an excerpt from the convention proceedings taken from the digitized microfilm records by clicking the following link. Excerpt from convention proceedings

image of text of National Board resolution part 1text of National Board resolution part 2

(Text of the recommendation from the National Board of the YWCA of the USA)

Fifty years after that first official vote, the YWCA of the USA celebrated their social action program in a combined ceremony with the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) who also began their social action program in 1911. This celebration highlights the importance of cooperation in the YWCA of the USA social action programs. Though they maintained their own identity and mission, the YWCA of the USA recognized the importance of working with other organizations with shared goals. Such cooperative approaches to social action reach more people and through shared resources, monetary or otherwise, boost impact. The images below are a selection of records of the 50th anniversary celebration from the microfilm records, photograph records and publications.

50th anniversary program page 1 50th anniversary program page 2 image of 50th anniversary program page 3 image of 50th anniversary program page 4

Above: program of the event. Below: Christian Science Monitor article covering the event; letter inviting Eleanor Roosevelt to speak; photograph of Mrs. Persinger, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Mrs. Weinstein

image of Christian Science Monitor article image of letter to Eleanor Roosevelt image of Mrs. Persinger, Eleanor Roosevelt and Mrs. Weinstein

Almost every aspect of the YWCA of the USA records reveals important insight into their social action emphases, programs and advocacy. Browsing through the records provides insight into the social, political and economic climate in the United States from first hand accounts of the people working for change. From the labor movement, to racism, to the ERA, and more, the YWCA of the USA has been on the forefront of many important movements.

For more information about the YWCA of the USA records or this post contact us!


image of four women standing in front of a bus holding a sign that reads state legislature here we come YWCA image of back of photograph

image of a group of demonstrators one holding a sign that says we march for integrated schools now image of back of photograph

image of protesters marching on a beach holding signs for the ERA image of back of photograph

image of YWCA members at Women's march on Washington  image of back of photograph

image of man signing a bill into law and two women and a man standing behind him 

image of conference with women standing at podium in front of a banner that reads the elimination of racism



Metadating! Making connections

I’ve written before about the importance of structured metadata in making connections between materials, creating access and improving discoverability. For this post I wanted to share some examples of how those connections can be powerful. The YWCA of the U.S.A. records contain an abundance of information about Japanese Americans during World War II, their internment and YWCA of the U.S.A. programs working with the interned people.

For this project I am describing at the folder/microdex level. The examples below are individual items I found in folders/microdexes identified when searching the subject heading, Japanese Americans–Evacuation and relocation, 1942-1945. The subject heading directed me to folders containing information relevant to my subject term and I was able to browse the folders and make some interesting connections.

This Wartime Civil Control Administration press release on the “transfer of persons of Japanese ancestry from strategic military areas on the West Coast” takes on a deeper impact when viewed next to images such as this:

text of Japanese American resettlement orders    image of families preparing to move Continue reading