The Peoria YWCA was founded in 1893 and the organization's growth reflected that of the larger city and women's organizations at the turn of the century. Membership growth led to the decision to construct this large facility in 1929. The building included residents quarters, a swimming pool, classrooms, a dance hall, and space for a variety of programs aimed at instruction and uplift. In its early years, the YWCA was both a religious and a social organization that reflected the gendered expectations of the era which included programs designed to helped prepare women for marriage and motherhood. The YWCA also helped women learn skills that could help them find employment with courses that taught marketable domestic skills as cooking or sewing. The YWCA also offered a variety of academic courses such as literature, composition, and psychology as well as courses in mathematics and stenography that helped members find work.
Opening in 1929, a few weeks before the stock market crash associated with the beginning of the Great Depression, The Young Women's Christians Association (YWCA) building stood as the home to the Peoria chapter that had been founded in 1893. The local chapter raised $350,000 in only eight days in 1928 after concluding they had outgrown their original location. The building featured an auditorium, swimming pool, chapel, several club rooms, and eighty-six residence quarters.
The 1893 founding of the YWCA emerged at a time when Peoria experienced its first period of industrial growth and concurrent population growth. While industrial workers primarily consisted of men, some women not only worked in factories but also as teachers, clerks, and other professional positions, many of whom were unmarried. Community leaders, notably associated with local churches, felt it necessary to create a social support group that would help women acclimate to "big city" life and, they felt, keep them from falling prey to whey they deemed as negative influences.
Mrs. David McCulloch receives credit for establishing the local chapter of the YWCA, an organization with roots dating back to 1855 in England. The YWCA, similar to settlement homes that grew popular during the Progressive Era, offered social services as well as instruction on typing, sewing, finding employment, and Christian values.
Nearly 300 women joined the YWCA when it opened in 1893, and that quickly increased to 625 by 1895. In fact, the organization gained tremendous popularity so that by the 1920s some of the wealthiest women in Peoria joined for the sake of contributing to the community (inspired in part by the work done by Peoria women during World War I through Red Cross and working for local industries). The group grew out of its facility by 1928 and through contributions from its wealthy members and the community, raised $350,000 in eight days to build what is now the historic YWCA Building.
The 1929 building contained a chapel, tearoom, swimming pool, dance hall, club rooms and enough residential quarters to house eighty-six women. However, the move to the new building coincided with the organization's peak in terms of finances and participation. Hence, garnering funds to maintain a modern, expensive facility stressed the organization, notably as the Great Depression arrived only a month after the building opened its doors. Nonetheless, the local YWCA continued to host a variety of classes ranging from sewing and cooking to writing and typing, as well as psychology and Christian education.
By the 1950s and 1960s, the organization changed to allow married women, but also actively sought to have Jewish and African American women join, which speaks to the era's social climate. However, the rise in feminism during the '50s and '60s did not have as much effect, initially, on YWCA life as preparing women for marriage remained one of its primary disciplines. Furthermore, the YWCA nationally and in Peoria openly stood in opposition to the proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). But, then, in 1973 the national YWCA dramatically changed its position and not only support the ERA, but offered financial assistance to women getting abortions -- a radical change from its original Christian influence; the Peoria chapter was slower to accept those changes, but opinions were divided among its members.
By the 1980s and into first few years of the twenty-first century, membership declined and the historic building, which found itself located to the busy and loud Interstate 74, grew old and insufficient. The YWCA moved out of the landmark building in 2003 and into a new facility; however the organization's lack of membership created severe financial issues leading to the eventual disestablishment of the organization in 2012. The new facility transitioned to a community center (Lakeview Recreation Center) while New Hope Apartments, designed for low-income residents, took over the historic location.
Adams, Pam. "Peoria YWCA closing with ‘dignity’ after 118 years." Journal-Star(Peoria) May 13, 2013. https://www.pjstar.com/article/20130513/NEWS/305139915.
--- --- --- "Peoria YWCA to close due to ‘dire’ finances after 118 years." Journal-Star(Peoria) October 03, 2012. https://www.pjstar.com/x264768960/Peoria-YWCA-to-close-due-to-dire-finances-after-118-years.
Crocker, Ruth Hutchinson. Social Work and Social Order: The Settlement Movement in Two Industrial Cities, 1889–1930. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1992.
Nightengale, Laura. "Peoria YWCA building reopens as Lakeview Recreation Center." Journal-Star(Peoria)January 15, 2014. . https://www.pjstar.com/article/20140115/news/140119398.
Russo, Edward J. and Curtis R. Mann. "Nomination Form: YWCA Building." National Register of Historic Places. nps.gov. September, 2006. Digital copy located at http://gis.hpa.state.il.us/pdfs/119221.pdf.
YWCA Building in downtown Peoria: By Searobin - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21836477