The Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) of Greater Des Moines was founded in 1895 by Della Marquart (later Mrs. Harris Coggeshall) and Helen Ankeny (later Mrs. Mungery) to help young Protestant women find housing and employment. The Des Moines chapter was affiliated with the National YWCA in 1896. The primary purposes of the organization were "...to stimulate interest in evangelical religion among young women of the city and vicinity and to improve their social, intellectual, and physical conditions by means of an association of young women." (Constitution, Box 1, Administrative records, Histories).
Over the years the YWCA has provided numerous programs and activities which were not traditionally offered to women. For example, in 1898, the first women's basketball game ever played in Des Moines was held in the YWCA's gymnasium. Since 1901, the YWCA of Greater Des Moines has also offered a variety of courses to women, ranging from fencing to Shakespeare, foreign language, and sewing.
The YWCA has reached out to minorities and immigrants almost from the beginning. In the 1880s and 1890s, the National YWCA aided immigrants in rural communities. Starting in 1911, the YWCA of Greater Des Moines offered courses in English for foreign-speaking women. The creation of the National Institute for Immigrant Welfare in 1933 was largely due to the YWCA's work with immigrants. In 1903, Mrs. Booker T. Washington spoke at the YWCA of Greater Des Moines and in 1932 Langston Hughes read his poetry there, although he was refused service by the hotels and restaurants in Des Moines. An African-American woman was elected to the YWCA of Greater Des Moines Board of Directors for the first time in 1931.
The Blue Triangle branch of the YWCA was founded for the African-American community in 1919. This branch offered separate programs similar to those of the rest of the organization, as well as a few integrated programs. In 1924 the Blue Triangle Branch started the Book Lover's Club, a reading group for women. The Blue Triangle Branch was located in a separate building from the main branch. It obtained a new building in 1936 and remained there until 1947, when the Blue Triangle Branch was merged with the main branch as part of a nationwide integration program.
The YWCA has also offered a variety of other community-oriented programs. In 1917, for example, the YWCA of Greater Des Moines was used as a meeting place for soldiers and their families. The YWCA's Girl Reserves (changed to Y-Teens in 1946) offered aid to soldiers. Always interested in the welfare of families, in the 1960s and 1970s the YWCA initiated programs and support groups such as Big Sisters, Parents Anonymous (a program for parents of children who have problems with drugs), and a support group for single parents. With a special focus on women and children, the YWCA of Greater Des Moines designed the National Center for Youth Outreach Workers in 1972 to help low-income children and to offer child care; in 1976 it organized the Battered Women's Coalition.
Today the YWCA continues such programs, in an effort to attain "peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all people," and works to eliminate "racism wherever it exists and by any means necessary." (Box 1, Administrative records, Histories).