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YWCA of the U.S.A. records, Record Group 4. National conventions and conferences

 Record Group
Identifier: SSC-MS-00324-RG4

Scope and Contents

The National Conferences and Conventions records consist of planning materials, mailings, local arrangements, preparatory materials, reports, proceedings, addresses, programs, and newspaper clippings. The records covered by this group include some general and historical information, Minutes and Reports of the Conferences and Conventions Committee/Department, a few files from Regional Conferences, and extensive printed and planning materials from Conventions, 1906-2001.

As is the case generally with the National Association records, the bulk of the Conference and Convention materials date from 1906 to 1970, the interval covered by the microfilm of the Central File and Minutes and Reports. Though there is little conference material dated 1970 and 1988, the Convention files for these years are relatively large.

Since conferences were such a primary means of communicating and training, the minutes and reports of the department contain much about philosophy of the organization mixed with the philosophy of conferences and conventions. As with most departments, the secretaries' reports are a very rich source of information. Like most of the organization, the Conferences and Conventions Committee/Department met on an academic year schedule, taking summer months off from meetings. Since summer was the busiest season for conferences, there are especially good reports in the minutes of the first meeting in the fall.

General Conference records include preparatory mailings and publicity; agendas, programs, and daily bulletins produced during conferences; and reports on the proceedings.

Because Convention business ranges from highly detailed discussions of the internal workings of the national organization to national and international issues that were part of the organization's public policy agenda, Convention records reveal something about most any topic connected with the National organization.

A lot of printed material was generated in connection with each Convention. In addition to the Proceedings, basically a verbatim transcript of the Convention, there are many Pre-Convention materials for discussion and study. These were part of the strategy to make the meeting effective and representative. While they included the predictable hotel and travel information, there were also study documents; workbooks; rules and regulations; resolutions and amendments recommended for Convention action; and elections and balloting information.

Other materials include reports of Student, Teen, Industrial, and Business and Professional Assemblies (which met in conjunction with Convention); reports of commissions, committees, the National Board, and various departments and projects. In addition there can be texts of speeches, information about special sessions, daily bulletins, programs and scripts for skits and other dramatic presentations, worship materials; publicity; and souvenirs.

Dates of Materials

  • 1906-2001


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

To the extent that it owns copyright, YWCA of the USA has retained copyright in its works donated to Smith College, but has has authorized Smith College Special Collections to grant permission to publish reproductions or quotations from the records on its behalf.

Copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. For those few instances beyond fair use, or which may regard materials in the collection not created by YWCA of the USA, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical / Historical


From its earliest days until the early 1970s, the YWCA of the U.S.A. put considerable effort into Conferences as a means of bringing together YWCA people, sharing information, exchanging ideas, and providing for practice in public speaking, group work, legislative action, and parliamentary procedure. A wide variety of Conferences was planned for professional and volunteer staff, and members.

Regional Conferences (also known as General Conferences, or National Conferences in the Regions) brought together representatives from the general membership within geographic regions. Training focused on effective administration of Community YWCAs as well as the mission of the YWCA. They provided a regular avenue for the National Office to hear issues and concerns from the various geographic regions. Regional Conferences were part of "the cycle of meetings between conventions" which allowed the Association to monitor progress toward resolutions passed at prior Conventions and develop issues for discussion at upcoming Conventions.

Though other kinds of training opportunities (workshops, institutes, seminars, round-tables, etc.) continued, traditional conferences disappeared from the YWCA program by the early 1970s when a general desire for change combined with a dramatic re-organization of the staff structure and severe financial problems made them no longer feasible or desirable.


The YWCA's National Convention was the regular meeting of the national organization and served as its legislative body. Delegates from member associations met with the National Board and national staff to share information and methods; discuss, amend, and/or affirm the purpose of the organization; "consider and adopt prioritized program for the ensuing years;" establish and amend policies and procedures for the national organization; establish standards for membership of community and student associations in the national organization; and elect the National Board to shepherd the work of the organization between Conventions. National Conventions were called by the National Board at least every three years except when prevented by travel restrictions during the two World Wars.

Actions of the Convention were determined by majority vote of the delegates. These were either "voting delegates," who were representatives from member associations, (the number of delegates an association could send to Convention was a function of the size of voting membership of that Association); or "ex-officio voting delegates," who were National Board and national staff members.

Convention "entrusts" the National Board with the management of the Association in the interim between Conventions. The National Board was responsible for hiring and directing the work of the national staff. Each National Board member served a term lasting through two Convention cycles and was eligible to stand for one additional term. One third to one half of the membership was elected at each Convention.

The challenge of "creating . . . a common mind which can deal wisely and adequately with complex problems in the life of the organization" out of a large group of women brought together for a few days every two or three years, lead to ever-evolving experiments with preparatory materials and meetings, small group discussions, and various other techniques to achieve effective and representational participation. Though there were enduring traditions and features, no two conventions were exactly the same.

This form of organization-major organizational decisions made at intervals of two or three years-meant that changes in national YWCA policies and procedures were slow in coming. Often when issues were brought to Convention, the result was a resolution to establish a Commission to study the situation and report to the following Convention. It was not unusual for changes to be studied and discussed through two or three Convention cycles before final decisions were reached.

Due to this deliberative process, often-cited "watershed" Convention Actions, such as the adoption of the Federal Council of Churches' "Social Ideals of the Churches" in 1920, the "Interracial Charter" in 1946, and the "One Imperative: the elimination of racism wherever it exists and by any means necessary" in 1970, were in fact the result of years of study, discussion, preparation, and incremental action. They were more a manifestation of a continuum of activity than a dramatic change of direction. YWCA Conventions regularly and repeatedly reviewed such issues as the nature of the organization's role in public policy; the diversity of its membership and leadership; religion, or the "C" in YWCA; and the role of men in the Association.

Auxiliary meetings associated with Convention, the Assemblies, were the national meetings of various YWCA Councils-the bottom-up organizations of various constituent groups within the YW: Industrial, Business and Professional, [college and university] Student, and Teen Age. These usually convened a few days before Convention.

The Convention planned for 1918 was postponed for the duration of the U.S. involvement in World War I.

The Convention planned for 1945 was cancelled at request of the federal government that convention travel be curtailed. In its stead, the National Board election was carried out by mail, and simultaneous meetings were held at each association to consider questions of importance to the whole Association and report back to the National Board. These were referred to variously as "little convention meetings" and "nation-wide discussions."

Any meetings or conferences held between Conventions provided more and less formal opportunities for the Association to measure progress toward goals set at Convention and gather ideas and opinions for future program. After World War II, the Association established a more formal "cycle of meetings between conventions" held all around the country. These were known variously as "Neighborhood Meetings," "Interim Leadership Development Meetings," "Convention Cycle Meetings," and "Mid-Triennium Conference."

After World War II, as the national organization scaled back its program activities, Convention discussion centered more on the organization's public policy platform and the internal workings of the YWCA: affiliation of associations, payment of dues, public relations, and finances. In addition, Convention served as a venue to launch such things as a new YWCA logo (1988), the 135th Anniversary exhibit (1994), and the ill-fated Worldwide Web-based "communications platform" YWLink (1998).

A series of long-range and strategic planning initiatives began circa 1988 to attempt to "transform" the YWCA for the 21st Century. These eventuated in the "Change Initiative" (1998-2000). A Special Convention was called in summer 2000 to approve an outline plan "Steps to Absolute Change." At this Special Convention, a Transition Steering Committee was charged with drafting a detailed reorganization plan for approval at a Convention the following year. The final Convention in 2001 approved the "Ten Steps to Absolute Change Transition Plan" for the restructuring of the national organization.

Staff and Committees

At the national office, Conventions and Conferences staff were in charge of business management and logistical planning of conferences and Conventions, including publicity, budgeting, scheduling, and the production of printed materials. Convention Committees planned program for Convention and any pre-Convention meetings, and solicited and gathered input from associations for resolutions and amendments to be voted on at Convention.

Chronology of administrative locations for convention and conference work within the YWCA of the U.S.A.

Convention and Conference Department
Convention and Conference Division
under Education and Research Division
Leadership Division: business manager conferences and Convention; and General Administration
under General Administration
around 1971-spring 1987
National Convention and Conference Office
fall 1987- August 1992
Convention, Meetings, and Travel Department


16.88 linear feet (46 containers)

Language of Materials



This record group consists of planning materials, mailings, local arrangements, preparatory materials, reports, proceedings, addresses, programs, and newspaper clippings for YWCA general and regional conferences and National Conventions. General conferences were some of the primary training and information-sharing opportunities for professional and volunteer staff, and members. National Conventions were held at least every three years to share information and develop program and priorities for the Association. Actions and resolutions voted by the Convention would direct Association priorities and program for the ensuing triennium. Forms part of the YWCA of the U.S.A. Records.


This Record Group is divided into three Series:

  1. General and History
  2. Conferences
  3. Conventions

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The YWCA of the U.S.A. donated a portion of its records to the Sophia Smith Collection in 1964 and the remainder in 2002 and 2003.

Relationship to the Microfilmed records of the YWCA of the U.S.A.

The Conference and Convention materials on that are part of the YWCA of the U.S.A.'s microfilmed records, which have been digitized and are available online through our repository, are much more extensive than what has survived on paper. They include records of the committees and departments in charge of planning and local arrangements as well as published Convention preparation materials and reports. The microfilmed records completed credential application forms, stenographic proceedings of the many Conventions, and some unpublished materials, such as texts of speeches, most of which are only available on the microfilm.

They can be found in the microfilmed records under:

Minutes and Reports -- Conference Committee -- Convention Committee -- Convention and Conference Department Subject Files -- Conferences -- Conventions

Related Materials

The materials filed in this record group relate to "general" or "regional" conferences. Material about Conferences for specific types of Associations (City, Town and Country, "Colored" Branches), or "constituent" groups (Industrial, Business and Professional, Teen, Student) is filed with other material related to that work. [See RECORD GROUP 6. PROGRAM, RECORD GROUP 7. STUDENT WORK, and RECORD GROUP 8. COMMUNITY ASSOCIATIONS.]

As the governing council of the organization, all aspects of the national association's activities are reflected in Convention records and should be consulted in concert with records related to particular departments, programs, activities.

The YWCA's magazine (The Association Monthly/Womans Press/YWCA Magazine/YWCA Interchange) contains publicity, preparation materials, and reports of conferences and conventions. See RECORD GROUP 6. PROGRAM, SERIES VI. PUBLICATIONS.

Because it was the "representative and executive" committee of the National Association, the National Board's minutes should also be consulted. See RECORD GROUP 2.

There are also Convention materials in the Public Affairs files in RECORD GROUP 6. PROGRAM, SERIES III. PUBLIC ADVOCACY.

Additional Assembly records can be found in the files for the various constituent groups which held Assemblies in RECORD GROUP 6. PROGRAM and RECORD GROUP 7. STUDENT WORK.

Files of the Music Program in RECORD GROUP 6. PROGRAM document planning for music at Convention and the assembly of song books for use at Conventions.

RECORD GROUP 10. AUDIOVISUAL MATERIALS contains audio and videotapes of some conferences and conventions dating from the mid-1970s to 2001. Also included are some materials produced for Convention preparation/Cycle meetings, and miscellaneous materials produced for Conventions, such as tributes to retiring YWCA leaders.

Processing Information

Processed by Maida Goodwin, Amy Hague, Kara McClurken, Amanda Izzo, 2008.

Finding aid to the YWCA of the U.S.A. records, Record Group 4. National Conventions and Conferences
Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
Finding aid prepared by Maida Goodwin, Amy Hague, Kara McClurken, Amanda Izzo, and amended by Scott Biddle (2020).
2008, 2019
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Processing of the YWCA Records was made possible by the generous support of the National Historical Records and Publications Commission and the estate of Elizabeth Norris. Digitization and description of a selection of photographs, microfilm, and publications was made possible by the Council on Library and Information Resource (CLIR) 2106-2018 Digitizing Hidden Collections grant.

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2019-08-14: Parsed existing description into better fields for PUI. Updated with current language, and with post-CLIR grant info
  • 2020-08-28: Added info. to flat file folders

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063