YWCA Occupied Many Different Buildings
NOTE: The following information comes from the YWCA of Wichita web page, the Women’s Study site at WSU’s twsu.edu and the Tihen Notes index to issues of the Wichita Eagle and the Wichita Beacon.
Although it’s now the YMCA which is in the news for all its building projects, the YWCA has owned a myriad of buildings over its 103 years in Wichita.
The Wichita chapter of YWCA first organized on Feb. 6, 1906. By Feb. 16 of that same month they had leased a building at 111 W. Douglas for the use of the association, and, by March 9 of that same year, had opened their new rooms "for women away from home," at 109 W. Douglas. In addition to providing a room, the YWCA provided employment aid and a lunchroom, which provided "working women with an economical, well-balanced meal."
By 1910, the organization had opened new quarters at 113 N. Market.
Then, just two and a half years later, they began plans to purchase and remodel the Lewis Academy Building, at 350 N. Market, to serve as a dormitory and boarding house for working girls. Lewis Academy, a past "Then and Now" featured building, was operated by the Presbyterian Church for a quarter of a century, but it was not very successful. In March 1909, the presbytery decided to sell the Lewis Academy building and consolidate the school with the College of Emporia.
For a year, the First Presbyterian church held services in the building until their new church was completed. The Power-Myers Conservatory of Music took up residence in the academy building for a few months until the structure was purchased by the YWCA. The Wichita Eagle reported on March 1, 1913 that the "YWCA board yesterday decided to take $20,000 endowment given them by A. A. Hyde and add another $20,000 to it and purchase the Lewis Academy....The building will be converted by YWCA into a dormitory and boarding house for working girls."
However, as their commitments grew, the YWCA needed separate space for administrative offices. They purchased a 50 foot site, in January 1914, at 140 N. Topeka for $9,000 from James Allison.
Architect Henry S. Conrow designed a four story, 48 by 140 foot building that was projected to cost $60,000, including both construction and furnishings.
The Swanson Construction Company, of Kansas City, began work in December 1915 and was dedicated in September 1916.
For over 20 years the YWCA operated two buildings, a dorm and an administrative building.
It was from there, in the 1930s, that they helped organize the USO.
The building also offered space for social functions. During the ‘40s and ‘50s they offered lessons in ballroom dancing. To help those students put what they had learned into practice, they also sponsored teen dances, which some readers may remember. These were primarily aimed at those in intermediate school.
But teens weren’t their only focus.
Their YWCA webpage says, "Our history is rich in civil rights and women’s rights activities. We opened the first restaurant in Wichita where anyone and everyone could walk in the front door and be served equally back in the 1940s. During the 1940-1950s YWCA women partnered with African American women and went to different dining establishments daily and sat and waited until management served them. The YWCA was asked to assist the school system during the time that schools were being desegregated."
By the 1949, the need for a working woman’s dormitory no longer existed, and the former Lewis Academy was razed.
The activities of the YWCA did not cease, however, and, by the 1960s, they were outgrowing their administrative office building. Sixty-one years after they first began, the YWCA dedicated a new building on the site of the old Lewis Academy, Nov. 12, 1967.
Two years later, April 1969, the administrative building at 140 N. Topeka was sold to a group of area businessmen for $27,000, and the site was cleared to be used as a parking lot for the new Midian Shrine Temple.