YWCA Phyllis Wheatley Award
Awarded to a woman who has worked successfully toward eliminating racism
within the Indianapolis community, exhibits outstanding service and
leadership in bringing about understanding and cooperation among all races,
serves as an excellent role model for women of all ages, and reflects and
supports the mission of the YWCA.
On November 1, 1914, nineteen young black women met at a small church in
Indianapolis to discuss the "advisability of [forming a] Young Women's
Christian Association." The group of women, out of a strong sense of
conviction, felt a need to establish a religious organization that would
also offer a constructive, cultural, and educational program. They wanted to
"be one great sisterhood, have Harmony, peace, and union." During the
preliminary meetings, where they met at Madame C.J. Walker's Assembly Hall
at 640 N. West Street, these women actively sought support and membership
for their organization. Although they tried to establish themselves as a
permanent branch of the Central Y.W.C.A. of Indianapolis, they failed to do
so and disbanded by the fall of 1916.
However, seven years later there was a group of black women that
succeeded in establishing a Y.W.C.A. on January 1, 1923. The goal was
primarily the same as the earlier organization: to have a center to benefit
the different needs of black women in the community. By 1928 the branch
known as the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA, named after a famous African-American
poet, had its own building located at 601 West Street. It became a hub of
cultural and educational activity for Indianapolis black women. The
organization offered concerts, plays, and various seminars and conferences,
while it also offered physical education programs, recreational facilities,
and practical classes such as sewing.
The newsletter was an important organ of information and a forum for the
exchange of ideas. Throughout the history of the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA, the
newsletter had at least 3 different names: The Phylligram, The New Phyllo-gram,
and The Phyllogram. The Phyllis Wheatley Branch of the YWCA served the
black women of Indianapolis for over 35 years, until 1959 when the YWCA
became an integrated institution.