St. Louis, Mo.

YWCA St. Louis Celebrates 100th Anniversary of Historic Phyllis Wheatley Branch

In 1911, St. Louis was segregated by custom and by law. Yet, a persistence of spirit led a group of visionary African-American women to start a YWCA branch to address the particular needs of African-American girls, women and the community in which they lived.

The establishment of the Phyllis Wheatley Branch – named for the revered former slave who became America's first published African American – was groundbreaking. Previously, the only other cities with black YWCA branches were New York City; Poughkeepsie, NY; St. Paul, Minn., and Dayton, Ohio.

The Wheatley Branch was a beloved jewel in the African-American community during the 1900s, providing a meeting place for fellowship, education, recreation and “respectable” temporary housing. It was located in the middle of the black community within Mill Creek Valley and stood as a testament to black pride, hope, aspirations and achievements.

Early services included pageants, job service, self-improvement classes, athletics, and clubs for business men and women. As late as 1975, the Wheatley Square Dancers performed throughout St. Louis.

The black community could see and meet important figures of the day, such as W.E.B. Du Bois, the eminent scholar and activist who lectured at Wheatley in 1922; the Fisk Jubilee Singers visited in 1916 and poet/writer Maya Angelou was a guest. Black dignitaries who traveled to St. Louis, such as renowned educator Mary McLeod Bethune and actress Butterfly McQueen, stayed in Wheatley transient rooms because they were not welcome in area hotels.

One hundred years later, Phyllis Wheatley' Branch name is etched in the minds of the African-American community and continues to be imprinted on the buildings of the local YWCA headquarters building and the Phyllis Wheatley Heritage Center, a state-of-the-art multi-purpose event venue.

For more information about YWCA St. Louis' Phyllis Wheatley Branch in St. Louis or its centennial celebrations, visit www.ywcastlouis.org.

YWCA buildings in St. Louis bear the name of Phyllis Wheatley (1753-1784), who was born a slave and became a renowned poet and the first African-American woman to be published.

See also: YWCA Makes Its Mark for African-American Women
St. Louis Post-Dispatch