Widening horizons : the YWCA in Queensland 1888-1988

Gillespie, Aline (1996). Widening horizons : the YWCA in Queensland 1888-1988 M.A. Thesis, School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics, The University of Queensland.

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Author Gillespie, Aline
Thesis Title Widening horizons : the YWCA in Queensland 1888-1988
School, Centre or Institute School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1996
Thesis type M.A. Thesis
Open Access Status File (Publisher version)
Total pages 308
Language eng
Subjects 16 Studies in Human Society
Formatted abstract
This thesis arises from the Centenary History of the Queensland branch of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) of Australia. The YWCA is the largest lay women's organisation in the world, operating in over ninety countries and numbering millions in membership. With its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, it lobbies governments on issues affecting women and children, and is recognised as a powerful political force.

The YWCA was an urban organisation which focussed on the protection of women's morality and the ideals of marriage and motherhood. It was conservative, Protestant, evangelical and aspired to middle-class values of purity, sobriety, duty, thrift, and the belief in self-improvement through education and work. In Queensland, the YWCA, in co-operation with likeminded organisations and the patronage of the dominant class, contributed to the shaping of a law-abiding and conservative society.

The association's objectives were Christian in origin and intent. It trained young women and girls to conduct their lives along the three principles of morality, spirituality and physical health, for the service of the community. While not militantly feminist, the association raised self-esteem and confidence among its members through educational, social and sporting courses. The thesis contends that a conflict existed in the aims of the association from its inception. Through its programs and activities, it empowered young female members, at the same time as it advocated their personal development for service to the community. The conflict between the interests of the individual and the community continued throughout the history of the association, and led to its decline in Queensland.

Originating in England in the middle of the nineteenth century, the association spread rapidly internationally through the agencies of imperialism, immigration and the women's movement. The international nature of the YWCA led to the inclusion of young women and girls of all races in its membership. Fellowship between member countries led to cultural exchange and the breaking down of racial and social barriers. Its evangelical origins were widened to embrace other religious denominations, but the Australian association, which closely followed the English model, officially excluded participation by Roman Catholics until the 1950s.

The progress of the YWCA of Queensland in its formative years was linked to the economic situation of the state, and of its conservative, middle-class supporters. The basic Principles of the association were adhered to, but owing to the YWCA's policy of autonomy, climatic, demographic, geographic and political variations in Queensland led to a modification of introduced standards and imposed a parochial character on the Y'wCA in this state.

The most productive years for the YWCA in Queensland were between 1920 and 1960, after which social changes, particularly second-wave feminism and civil rights demands, undermined its authority. The disparity between the community values espoused by the YWCA and the emphasis on feminist goals became more pronounced than previously, and its hierarchical structure was rejected by those it was designed to serve. While youthful membership declined, older members were unable to accept generational and social changes. They continued their allegiance to an ideal which had supported them in their struggles for equality, but which had been superseded by the time of their centenary year.
Keyword Young Womens' Christian Association of Australia -- History
Young Womens' Christian Association of Queensland -- History
Women -- Queensland -- History
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