laying the foundation: Mercer county yWCA

World War I caused a shift in community dynamics and labor needs, which inspired the establishment of YWCAs throughout the country.

YWCA Princeton received its charter in 1922; but to understand how and why our organization came to be, we need to go back a little further. Before there was a YWCA Princeton, there was a Mercer County YWCA. However, there was even a predecessor to the Mercer County YWCA, called the Princeton Women’s League for Patriotic Service which was formed in 1917. The Princeton Women’s League for Patriotic Service provided recreational activities for women and girls, as well as professional development and placement for women entering the workforce. The Mercer County YWCA provided much of the same services once it was established two years later with funds from the War Work Council of the National Board of the YWCA.

The Mercer County YWCA provided services for six towns, and leaders in Princeton recognized a need for youth programming and support that was specific to the needs of their immediate community. And so, in 1921, Princeton withdrew from the County YWCA and received its charter one year later.


Princeton before the yW

Here are some interesting facts about Princeton as reported in our 1921 application to join the National YWCA:

  • The total population was 8,690, including 2,627 students at Princeton University and the Theological Seminary.
    • 25% of the total population were Black.
    • 300 members of the population were immigrants; mostly Greek or Italian.
  • It was reported that roughly 474 girls (between the ages of 18 and 35) were employed.
  • Although the Witherspoon Branch (also known as the “Colored YWCA”) was not formally established until 1927, the needs of Black families in Princeton were referenced in the application, and inequitable housing conditions were noted as a problem.
    • Enrichment activities and opportunities such as art, music, and drama were available through school, but not recreationally.
    • Similarly, lectures were only offered through churches.