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2003 Winner YWCA Phyllis Wheatley Award

Wanda Williams

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.

Historical Background

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.