150 Boise Icons: Women's and Children's Alliance

February 25, 2013 

At the turn of the 20th century, Boise boasted lively streets. Tall buildings, including the Idanha Hotel and the new Statehouse, were springing up. Growth and job prospects lured people to the city from rural areas. The rush created a housing shortage and potentially dangerous situations - especially for young women of modest means. Boise, a place where men outnumbered women, could be a tough town.

According to "Women Helping Women," a book by Sarah Nash celebrating the WCA's centennial in 2011, a group of young, forward-thinking women came together to improve their living conditions. By 1910, they had formed the Young Women's Christian Association of Boise.

After visiting the city, Francis Gage, general secretary of the national YWCA for the Northwest, said, "Boise has already done an unusual thing, in that the call for this organization has come from the girls themselves and not from the prominent women of the city."

Some of those well-heeled women soon joined the cause. The group became affiliated with the national organization. It opened a boarding house and cafeteria in the McCarty Building at 9th and Idaho, the home of today's "Alley History" (the icon in Sunday's Statesman).

The organization settled into its current home at 720 W. Washington St. in 1940. It became many things for many people - residence, cafeteria, crisis center, classroom, gym, thrift store. It housed the city's first homeless day shelter and a bagel bakery in the 1980s. During World War II, more than 40 community groups used the building as a meeting place.

The name changed from YWCA to WCA in 1996, after a decision to allow men on the board forced a break with the national organization.

Through all its years, the group has been a refuge for people - men and women both - in trouble.

Its mission is providing safety, healing and freedom from domestic abuse and sexual assault. The WCA remains true to those young women who hoped for good lives a century ago.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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