As the ribbon is cut on the sparkling new YMCA on South and Delaware Streets in downtown Indianapolis, many youthful downtown residents are eagerly awaiting spacious new digs to serve their fitness needs. The “M” in said organization stands for Men, and prior to the 1970s, only those with a Y chromosome could enjoy their services and facilities. What was a young lady to do? For over a century, a counterpart dedicated to the fairer sex provided a support network for Indy’s young women.
The Young Women’s Christian Association can trace its roots in Indianapolis back to 1895. Much like its male counterpart, the YWCA catered to young single women who had come to the big city for work and other opportunities. It was a social oasis offering lunches, physical education classes, and Bible studies. Due to the overwhelming demand of over 400 members, a new home was required. The Indianapolis YWCA settled in at 329 North Pennsylvania in 1909, where it erected a stately four story building adorned with four Greek Ionic columns. The building is of historic note, as it featured the first indoor swimming pool in Indiana, so ladies could enjoy a dip in the clutches of winter. Along with its social programs, the YWCA began offering lodging for young women. This venture proved so successful that a second building, the Blue Triangle Residence Hall, was constructed at 725 North Pennsylvania Street in 1924.
In the years following the first World War, an unfortunate era of segregation expanded in Indianapolis. As a result, the demand for an African American branch of the YWCA was also needed. Backed by the industrialist Madam C. J. Walker, the Phyllis Wheatley Chapter of the YWCA opened its doors in 1922, moving to a permanent location at the intersection of Indiana Avenue and West Street in 1929. The chapter served the community until all YWCA branches integrated in 1959.
By the 1970s, gender equality finally became a front burner issue in the nation. No longer barred from the YMCA, women began joining that organization to meet their recreational and social needs. During this time, the YWCA refined its mission to focus more on women’s equality, racial equality, support for single mothers, and daycare. As a result, the massive residential downtown properties were no longer needed. The organization relocated to the former Dolphin Swim Club on the northwest side in 1976. The Indianapolis Star and Indianapolis News quickly swallowed up the 1909 structure next-door to its building, expanding its façade further north on Pennsylvania. The Blue Triangle sat empty for nearly twenty-five years before reopening to shelter the homeless. Boasting a membership of over 2,000 through the 1990’s, the YWCA lost membership in the new century, as the national organization became more of an activist group and less of a service provider. The organization officially disbanded in 2012. Today, the property that was the final site of the YWCA, 4458 Guion Road, is home to the West Indy Racquet Club.
INDIANAPOLIS YOUNG WOMEN’S CHRISTIAN
ASSOCIATION RECORDS, 1896-1986, Indiana Historical Society
Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, Indiana University Press, 1994