Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA)


The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) has its headquarters at 254 Outram Road. Founded on the same Christian principles as the parent YWCA in Britain, the YWCA was established in Singapore in 1875 by British missionary Sophia Cooke. The organisation caters to women through social interaction, self-enrichment and education programmes. The YWCA is the sister organisation of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).

The YMCA was founded by Sir George Williams in England in 1844. The YWCA was subsequently founded in 1855 by Emma Roberts and Lady Mary Jane Kinnaird. The major concerns at the time were for young women working in the city during the industrial period, as well as providing proper housing for female nurses who had followed in the footsteps of the well-known English nurse, Florence Nightingale.

Establishment of YWCA in Singapore

A British missionary, Sophia Cooke founded the YWCA in Singapore in 1875 by starting a Chinese Girls School and coordinating classes for groups of Chinese girls in a bid to promote education for females in the region. This was radical at the time because female education was not considered important in a male-dominated society. Cooke also took on boarders at the school premises at No. 134 Sophia Road. This school later came under the management of the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society, and was renamed St Margaret’s School.

In 1906, Florence Ellis was appointed the first general secretary of the Singapore YWCA. In 1913, the association began to raise funds for obtaining a headquarters to support the needs of its growing membership. The YWCA temporarily rented a house in Dhoby Ghaut until they were able to secure a property at No. 8 Fort Canning Road in June 1914. The existing building on the Fort Canning Road property was refurbished and opened in December of the same year. In 1916, an annexe was added to the existing building to cater to growing needs of the YWCA and serve as a hostel. The annexe was opened by Lady Evelyn Young in 1917.

By 1918,the YWCA had grown substantially, with a total of 418 members comprising Europeans and Eurasians, Chinese and even a few Japanese. The government granted the association some land in Penang Road for recreational use. Netball, hockey, tennis and cricket are some of the sports that women could play at the YWCA recreational grounds.

The YWCA in Singapore also made efforts to support the setting up and growth of other YWCAs in the Malay Peninsula. In 1921, a Malayan Committee was formed that later became the National Committee of the YWCA of Singapore and Malaya.

The YWCA has launched numerous clubs and activities in Singapore to cater to the needs of women and children in Singapore society over the years. The association leased a site for a restaurant and lounge for the needs of the working girls in the Raffles Quay area. This Raffles Quay Centre was subsequently turned into an Employment Bureau and a Traveller’s Aid Bureau. In 1934, a Travellers’ Aid Society was set up to aid young women coming to find better jobs in Singapore. In 1936, night classes were held for women who had to work in the day.

The war and post-war years
The activities of the YWCA ceased during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore in World War II. First the Japanese, then subsequently the British took control of the premises of the association. In 1947, the hostel at Fort Canning was returned to the YWCA and Raffles Quay was returned in 1948.

The YWCA Katong Club was set up in 1947 to cater to YWCA members living in the eastern part of Singapore. The organisation also worked to promote education for many who did not have access to it, especially during the war years. As the YWCA’s evening classes grew in popularity, the organisation sought a building to expand its work. The organisation applied to the government for a property and finally chose Outram Road. The foundation stone was laid on 19 September and fund-raising commenced. The building was officially opened in 1959, and a playschool was opened on the premises in 1960 to cater to children of squatters in the area. The Outram Road Centre continues to offer childcare, kindergarten and before and after school care. The Y-Teens club and Young Adults club were set up in 1959 to engage older youth, As well as holiday camp programmes beginning in 1960.

The YWCA has also consistently provided for the lodging and accommodation needs of young girls coming to Singapore to work. In 1970, YWCA House was established to provide housing for foreign girls working in factories in Jurong. In 1974, additional blocks were rented to expand the YWCA’s facilities in Jurong for children and women and a library was built, although the blocks were eventually returned to Jurong Town Corporation.

In 1970, a resolution was passed at the Biennial Conference of the YWCAs of Malaysia and Singapore that the YWCA of Malaysia and the YWCA of Singapore would become two separate movements. The YWCA of Singapore had been part of the Malayan YWCA for 45 years but from this point on, the YWCA of Singapore was directly affiliated to the World YWCA in Switzerland.

The YWCA Adult Day Centre was set up in 1996 to provide a day care centre for senior citizens. Interactive activities, meals and even physiotherapy exercises were organised for the elderly aged 55 years old and above.

The YWCA has also instituted many community programmes and initiatives to reach out to the less fortunate and disadvantaged in Singapore. The Hungry No More (Meals-on-Wheels) initiative was started in 1997 to provide free lunches from Monday to Friday for needy, weak or homebound elderly. In 2006, this programme was extended to provide free dinners for children from low-income families as well.

In addition, the YWCA has annual flag days and fund-raising activities such as fun fairs, cook-outs, cook book and calendar sales in order to raise funds for charities and towards sustaining YWCA community projects and initiatives.

Cherylyn Tok

Singapore Y.W.C.A. (1914, November 28). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved November 18, 2010, from NewspaperSG.

Singapore Y W C A. (1917, July 19). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942), p. 36. Retrieved November 18, 2010, from NewspaperSG.

The Y.W.C.A. Reception at the Y.M.C.A. (1911, October 4) The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942), p. 5. Retrieved November 12, 2010, from NewspaperSG.

Untitled. (1912, November 21). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942), p. 332. Retrieved November 18, 2010, from NewspaperSG.

Yasmeen, H. (1997, May 23). Touch of class at new YWCA building. The Straits Times, p. 41. Retrieved November 18, 2010, from NewspaperSG.

Young Women’s Christian Association. (1913, December 24). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942), p. 409. Retrieved November 18, 2010, from NewspaperSG.

Young Women’s Christian Association of Singapore. (1995). Young Women’s Christian Association: 1875-1995. Singapore: Young Women’s Christian Association of Singapore.
(Call no.: RSING 267.59597 YOU)

YWCA flag day to raise funds for hostels. (1971, May 14). The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved November 18, 2010, from NewspaperSG.

YWCA Singapore (2010). YWCA of Singapore. Retrieved November 15, 2010, from,3df209ff-9963-4d6d-9f66-5517f2051a44

Further resources

Flower, R. (2002). The Y – First 100 Years in Singapore: 1902-2002. Singapore: Young Men’s Christian Association of Singapore.
(Call no.: RSING 267.395957 FLO)

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

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

Tan, P. (1996). Metropolitan YMCA Singapore: 50 years in the people business. Singapore: Metropolitan YMCA Singapore.
(Call no.: RSING 267.395957 MET)

Tan, P. (1996). Metropolitan YMCA Singapore: 50th anniversary, 1946-1996. Singapore: Metropolitan YMCA Singapore.
(Call no.: RSING 267.395957 MET)

The information in this article is valid as at 2010 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.

Philosophy, psychology and religion>>Religion>>Christianity
Young Women's Christian associations--Singapore
Social Service--Singapore
People and communities>>Social groups and communities
Christian communities--Singapore

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