By Bud Bakos
The Young Women’s Christian Association movement started in London, England in 1855 to accommodate the needs of a growing number of employed women in the city within a safe environment. By 1858, the movement had spread to America, first organizing in New York City as the Ladies’ Christian Association. The YWCA name would come from the group that formed in Boston in 1859 and would be here to stay. The Civil War interrupted the spread of the YWCA movement in America, but the postwar environment would send the movement into rapid growth. This growth was apparent in Ohio due to the rich industrial economy present in the state. Cleveland and Cincinnati both had YWCA clubs by 1868, and by 1884 every college town would be home to an association. Also in 1884, Ohio formed a statewide YWCA group due to how many individual city and college associations already established, only the second state in the United States to do so. By the late 1870s, Akron seemed an ideal location for a YWCA: a co-ed college, a growing number of employed women, female activist groups committed to the civic improvement of women, as well as a history of reform and advocation for women’s rights. In 1851, Akron hosted the Second Women’s Rights Convention, where Sojourner Truth gave the “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech which linked Abolitionism with women’s rights. By 1894, women in Akron had the right to vote in school board elections as the suffrage movement gained rapid support. A formal YWCA was formed in 1901 and the association began to transform into what it is today. In 1906, the Union Charity Association donated the Grace House at 22 S. High St. to the YWCA for use as meeting space and headquarters. The movement continued to grow and by 1908 the YWCA opened an employment bureau for women. Due to overwhelming acceptance of the YWCA program, space would become an issue once more. In 1929 a joint YWCA – YMCA capital funds campaign raised $2.4mil for construction of a new building. The new building opened on 28 January 1931 and at 10 stories and was the largest building designed by Akron architects Fichter & Brooker. Thousands of women would call the new headquarters home, at least for a time, until 1991. The YWCA was added to the National Registrar in 1982 after being privately purchased and renamed CitiCenter Building. The City of Akron would later purchase the building for office space and other miscellaneous uses, however keeping the pool and gym, where the CitiCenter Athletic Club still meets.