Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA)

Singapore Infopedia


The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in Singapore is located at 254 Outram Road.1 Established in Singapore in 1875 by British missionary Sophia Cooke, the organisation was founded on the same Christian principles as its parent in Britain.2

The YWCA was founded in 1855 by Emma Roberts and Mary Jane Kinnaird (Lady) to address women’s needs brought about by the industrial revolution. The major concerns at the time were the fears and ignorance of young women working in the city, as well as providing proper housing for female nurses who had followed in the footsteps of Florence Nightingale.3

Establishment of YWCA in Singapore

In 1875, Sophia Cooke, an English missionary from the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East, established the YWCA in Singapore by organising educational classes for women.4

Key developments before World War II
In 1906, Florence Ellis was appointed the first general secretary of the YWCA in Singapore.5 The association opened a boarding house at River Valley to cater to young women working in the city.6

By 1911, the YWCA’s membership had grown to some 200 from about 20 at around the time of its inception.7 To support the growing membership, the association began to raise funds in 1913 to establish its headquarters.8 It rented a house at Dhoby Ghaut before securing a property at 8 Fort Canning Road in June 1914, which was refurbished and opened in December that year.9 In 1916, an annexe was added to the existing building at Fort Canning Road to cater to the association’s growing needs and also to serve as a hostel. The annexe was opened by Evelyn Young (Lady) in 1917.10

By 1918, the YWCA had 418 members. A plot of land in Penang Road was leased from the government for recreational purposes. In 1925, YWCA sponsored Singapore’s first ladies’ hockey match.11

The YWCA in Singapore also made efforts to support the setting up and expansion of other YWCAs in the Malay Peninsula. A Malayan committee was formed in 1921, which later became the national committee of the YWCA in Singapore and Malaya. The combined membership of the YWCA in Singapore and Malaya was approximately 1,000 in 1931, which allowed them voting rights in the World YWCA.12 With the Malayan YWCA being accepted as a fully affiliated member of the World YWCA in 1934, the Singapore YWCA became a part of the YWCA of Malaya and Singapore.13

To cater to the needs of women and children in Singapore, the YWCA had launched numerous clubs and activities over the years. Through the Singapore Harbour Board, the government had provided the association with a site to build a “lunch and rest room” for working women.14 While the idea of such a dining cum resting venue was mooted in as early as 1918, fundraising only began in April 1922 and a building committee formed in November that year.15 On 12 April 1923, the foundation stone for the “Blue Triangle Lunch and Rest Room” was laid by Lady Guillemard, who also officiated the building’s opening on 8 November in the same year. It had a dining hall, lounge, reading room and an information centre, and also served as the YWCA's headquarters.16 An employment bureau and traveller’s aid bureau were also opened in the building subsequently. In 1934, the Travellers’ Aid Society was set up to assist young women arriving in Singapore to find jobs. Then in 1936, night classes were held for women who had to work during the day.17

By 1940, the YWCA’s members included doctors, nurses, cabaret dancers, journalists and missionaries from 21 countries.18

Key developments during World War II and post-war years
Most of the YWCA’s activities came to a halt during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942–45). However, with the formation of the War Service Committee and an emergency meeting held in December 1941, children who were separated from their parents as a result of air raids were cared for by the association at the Nam Wah Chinese School. Appeals were also made for donations in cash or kind to support the effort.19

After the end of World War II, the YWCA began its rebuilding efforts by seeking fresh membership from all races and sectors of the community. A temporary office was established at its hostel on Fort Canning, as its building at Raffles Quay was occupied by the military.20 The association’s premises were first taken over by the Japanese, then subsequently the British. In 1947, the hostel at Fort Canning was returned to the YWCA, while the building at Raffles Quay was returned in 1948.21

In July 1947, the YWCA held its first meeting and elections after the war.22 In the same year, The YWCA Katong Club was set up at the canteen of St Hilda’s School to cater to members living in the eastern part of Singapore.23

During the post-war years, the YWCA saw a need to provide education for those who had no access to it. Evening classes were thus started. As these classes became increasingly popular, a building was needed to expand the work. Under the presidency of Mrs Loh Poon Lip – the first local to hold the position (from 1947 to 1950), the YWCA applied to the government for a property and chose Outram Road from the options offered.24 In 1956, the foundation stone for the Outram Road Centre was laid . The building was completed in 1959, and the association opened its first play school on the premises for children of squatters living in the area in 1960.25

Key developments from 1970s
To meet the accommodation needs of women who came to Singapore to work, the YWCA House was established in 1970 to provide lodging for female foreign workers working in factories in Jurong. With 604 beds, it was the largest hostel at the time, and it operated from 1970 to 1988.26 In 1974, the YWCA rented additional blocks to expand its facilities in Jurong for women and children, which included a library. However, the blocks were eventually returned to the Jurong Town Corporation.27

At the biennial conference of the YWCAs of Malaysia and Singapore in 1970, a resolution was passed which divided the YWCA of Malaysia and the YWCA of Singapore into two separate movements.28

In 1972, the YWCA established a Chinese section to focus on the needs of the Chinese-educated population.29 This echoed similar sentiments in 1929 when the YWCA desired to develop a separate self-supporting Chinese branch and proceeded to obtain the services of a graduate from Nanking University for this purpose.30 In early 1937, the association had operated a free Chinese night school situated at Tan Boon Liat’s premises in Outram Road. The majority of the pupils, which comprised both boys and girls, were from poor families.31

In 1996, the YWCA set up an adult day care centre to provide day care for senior citizens. Recreational and fitness activities were provided for the elderly aged 60 and above.32

The YWCA has also introduced a series of community programmes and initiatives to reach out to the less fortunate in Singapore. The Hungry No More – Meals-on-Wheels initiative was started in 1997 to provide free lunches for the needy, frail or homebound elderly. In 2006, the programme was extended to provide free dinners for children from low-income families.33

In 2013, the YWCA House was opened at the association’s Outram Road Centre to provide accommodation for girls who have left the girls’ homes and seeking a supportive environment to start afresh.34

Cherylyn Tok

1. “Contact Us,” YWCA, accessed 12 December 2016.
2. “Our Heritage: 1875–1929,” YWCA, accessed 12 December 2016.  
3. YWCA, “Our Heritage: 1875–1929”; YWCA (Singapore), Young Women’s Christian Association: 1875–1995 (Singapore: Young Women’s Christian Association, 1995), 13. (Call no. RSING 267.59597 YOU)
4. YWCA, “Our Heritage: 1875–1929.”
5. “Board and Management,” YWCA, accessed 12 December 2016
6. “Young Women’s Christian Association,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 24 December 1913, 409; “The Y.W.C.A.,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 4 October 1911, 5; “Singapore Y.W.C.A.,” Straits Times, 24 June 1925, 3 (From NewspaperSG); YWCA (Singapore), Young Women’s Christian Association, 13–16.
7. “The Y.W.C.A..”  
8. “Y.W.C.A. Appeal,” Straits Times, 8 January 1914, 9; “The Y.W.C.A. Appeal,” Straits Times, 9 January 1914, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “Singapore Y.W.C.A.,” Straits Times, 28 November 1914, 10; “The Y.W.C.A. Institute,” Straits Times, 9 December 1914, 6; “Y.W.C.A.,” Straits Times, 7 December 1914, 6; “Singapore Y.W.C.A.,” Straits Times, 24 June 1925, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
10. “Singapore Y.W.C.A.,” Straits Times, 19 July 1917, 8; “Singapore Y.W.C.A,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 19 July 1917, 36; “Untitled,” Straits Times, 18 July 1917, 8 (From NewspaperSG); YWCA (Singapore), Young Women’s Christian Association, 19–20.
11. YWCA, “Our Heritage: 1875–1929.”
12. “Y.W.C.A. Malayan Conference,” Malaya Tribune, 8 August 1931, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “Our Heritage: 1930–1949,” YWCA, accessed 12 December 2016.  
14. “Blue Triangle Room,” Straits Times, 13 April 1923, 10; “Y.W.C.A.,” Malaya Tribune, 9 November 1923, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “Y.W.C.A.”; “Y.W.C.A. Rest Room,” Straits Times, 9 November 1923, 9 (From NewspaperSG); YWCA (Singapore), Young Women’s Christian Association, 25.
16. “New Y.W.C.A. Building,” Straits Times, 8 November 1923, 10; “Singapore Y.W.C.A.”; “Y.W.C.A..”
17. YWCA (Singapore), Young Women’s Christian Association, 25–31; Blue Triangle Room.”
18. Vera Ardmore, “People & Places,” Morning Tribune, 7 February 1940, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “Our Home Front,” Morning Tribune, 22 December 1941, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
20. “Y.W.C.A. Seeks Members of All Races to Resume Its Work,” Straits Times, 1 June 1946, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
21. YWCA (Singapore), Young Women’s Christian Association, 32; YWCA, “Our Heritage: 1930–1949.”
22. “Reorganisation of Y.W.C.A. Work since 1941,” Malaya Tribune, 12 July 1947, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
23. YWCA (Singapore), Young Women’s Christian Association, 33.
24. YWCA (Singapore), Young Women’s Christian Association, 35; YWCA, “Our Heritage: 1875–1929.”
25. “Our Milestones,” YWCA, accessed 12 December 2015.
26. Koh Buck Song, “YWCA to Open 'Vacation Hostel' for Senior Citizens,” Straits Times, 29 September 1994, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
27. “Our Heritage: 1950–1979,” YWCA, accessed 12 December 2016; YWCA (Singapore), Young Women’s Christian Association, 53.
28. YWCA, “Our Milestones”; YWCA (Singapore), Young Women’s Christian Association, 52.
29. “YWCA Sets Up a Chinese Section,” New Nation, 26 June 1972, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
30. “Chinese Y.W.C.A. in Singapore,” Straits Times, 9 July 1929, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
31. “Y.W.C.A. Chinese Night School,” Morning Tribune, 13 August 1937, 22; “Free Night School for Chinese,” Malaya Tribune, 13 August 1937, 13; “Chinese Night School,” Straits Times, 17 August 1937, 17; “Y.W.C.A. Night School Grows,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 4 November 1938, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
32. “Our Heritage: 1990–1999,” YWCA, accessed 12 December 2016.
33. “Our Heritage: 2016–Present,” YWCA, accessed 12 December 2016.
34. “Our Heritage: 2010–2015,” YWCA, accessed 12 December 2016.

Further resources
Metropolitan YMCA (Singapore), Metropolitan YMCA Singapore: 50th Anniversary, 1946–1996 (Singapore: Metropolitan YMCA, 1996). (Call no. RSING 267.395957 MET)

Phyllis Tan, ed., Metropolitan YMCA Singapore: 50 Years in the People Business (1946–1996) (Singapore: Metropolitan YMCA, 1996). (Call no. RSING 267.395957 MET)

Raymond Flower, The Y: First 100 Years in Singapore, 1902–2002 (Singapore: Young Men’s Christian Association of Singapore, 2002). (Call no. RSING q267.395957 FLO)

Robbie B. H. Goh, Christian Ministry and the Asian Nation: The Metropolitan YMCA in Singapore, 1946–2006 (Singapore: Metropolitan YMCA, 2006). (Call no. RSING 267.395957 GOH)

Rowland Lyne, et al., The YMCA of Singapore: 90 Years of Service to the Community (Singapore: Young Men’s Christian Association of Singapore, 1992). (Call no. RSING 267.395957 YMC)

The information in this article is valid as of 2013 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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