Lady Mary Colton was teaching a class of young women at the Wesleyan Sunday School in central Adelaide and at the same time, in 1879, another group was meeting in the Pirie Street church under the leadership of Mrs James Tobin. It was suggested the two groups merge and form the nucleus of a YWCA in Adelaide. The idea grew, and in 1880 the first YWCA in South Australia was established.
Mrs Colton became the first President, an office she held for almost twenty years. In 1884 the Adelaide YWCA was incorporated into the parent organisation, the YWCA of Great Britain, and rooms were rented in Franklin Street. The YWCA continued to grow and moved in to several rented properties for many years. It had been a long cherished wish of Lady Colton to see her beloved Association in a building of its own, in which it could more effectively carry out its work. Following the death of Lady Colton in 1897 the Committee of the YWCA determined to give immediate effect to her wish by raising as a memorial to her, the money for a permanent headquarters building. YWCA Adelaide’s first building was opening in Hindmarsh Square on 22 November 1900.
From its beginning as a bible class and tea social group for young women, activities and services of the organisation soon grew and developed to address the needs of other women within the community, such as befriending girls who sold newspapers on the streets of Adelaide, forming the Travellers Aid in 1888 meeting young women migrants arriving in South Australia, starting an Employment Bureau during the Depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s, and housing unemployed girls free of charge.
YWCA Adelaide’s first hostel was in Flinders Chambers, followed by Carrington Street Hostel catering for business girls, students and teachers. Other YWCA hostels included the Woodville Hostel, set up in 1942 to accommodate munition workers during the war, Hindley Street Hostel (see West’s Coffee Palace) which housed transient guests, and Adelaide Miethke House on Dequetteville Terrace – a home for student teachers.
Throughout the 1900s sport was a major feature of the organisation with many YWCA teams providing a team for girls who not attended private schools and could not join old collegian clubs. The YWCA Sports Department had tennis, archery, badminton, table tennis, basketball, cricket, swimming, hiking and cross country walking teams and in the 1930s at least 80% of South Australia’s state cricket team came from the YWCA.
Clubs for women and girls have been a significant part of the YWCA from the Girls Citizens Movement in the 1920s to the Women’s Clubs of the 1960s which provided crèche for children and enabled women to socialise and learn new skills.
In 2005 a YWCA Adelaide History Committee released Before Their Time 1880-2005, a history book celebrating the 125th anniversary of the organisation. You can read the transcript and learn more about our history.
In 2011 two YWCA Adelaide Life Members Heather Crosby and Janet Whitham held a History Bus Tour visiting former YWCA properties and sharing stories of the organisation. You can watch this 10 minute history film.