Historic Detroit

Every building in Detroit has a story — we're here to share it

Young Woman's Home

The Young Woman's Home stood on the corner of north side of Adams Avenue at Clifford Street, providing safe housing to single women who had come to Detroit seeking employment.

The building was built by the Working Woman's Home Association, a nonprofit founded in March 1877. The articles and bylaws were signed by prominent Detroiters including Elizabeth Leggett, Mr. and Mrs. W.F. Linn, Dr. Elizabeth Deuell, D. Bethune Duffield, Alexander Lewis, Levi L. Barbour, Judge C.J. Reilly, H.M. Utley, Mrs. Henry H. Swan, Mrs. Thomas W. Palmer, Mrs. H.A. Cheney and Mrs. Stanley T. McGraw. Its first president was Frances Bagley, the widow of Gov. John Judson Bagley.

"The organization draws no line at creed, nationality or occupation," the Free Press wrote April 4, 1937. This was before there was a Young Women's Christian Association, League of Catholic Women or the Priscilla Inn. Indeed, the YWCA was born in the parlors of the Young Woman's Home in 1888.

The organization held opening ceremonies in its first home at 207 W. Jefferson Ave. on May 21, 1877. However, the group grew rapidly, and soon moved to a larger home at 41 W. Congress St., then again in 1881 to 78 W. Congress, and yet again two years later to 120 Cass Ave., near Lafayette Boulevard.

The charge was $2 a week for room and meals each day, or could pay in labor around the house. It was a home, but also had a house mother to look after the young women. That same year, Mrs. Emma Little, who had previously run a similar establishment in St. Louis, became the building's matron. In 1884, the home served 532 women, and talk began of building a larger, more sufficient home.

Funds were raised through everything from refreshment stands at the State Fair to fund-raising cruises on steamers to benefits at the Detroit Opera House.

In 1887, that push accelerated with news that the organization was debt-free and had raised half the funds it needed. An unsigned letter to the editor in the Detroit Free Press on Feb. 9, 1887, noted that "the increasing manufacturing interests of Detroit and the open door for women's labor brings many a girl from her country home to face the temptations of the city. We must offer them at the outset the protection of a home or they will find their way into the low boarding house or the cheap hotel." The year before, some 400 to 500 young women were using the house, and 700 had registered. "Many could testify that they found within its walls a veritable Christian home, with many agencies at work for their advancement and well-being," the letter added.

In October 1887, plans for the new building were exhibited, and the Working Woman's Home Association officially moved into the building on Aug. 31, 1888, but a formal opening and dedication was set for a later date.

The first month it was open, the building immediately had 25 boarders for its 37 rooms. The structure was was built especially "for girls who are alone in the city, seeking situations, and with good reference as to respectability. It was for these the 'Home' was designed by its founders, and not for the class of girls who can board in families or in regular boarding establishments," the Detroit Free Press wrote Sept. 26, 1888, in announcing the building's opening.

"The new home is a handsome edifice, with rounded stories and stained-glass windows," the Free Press wrote. "All its appointments are beautiful and substantial. The large dining hall has several tables, set in the best hotel style." A cooking school was established in the building for them, and there was a parlor organ, as well. "The house is charming, like an old-fashioned residence, the large living rooms furnished with nice pieces of furniture given from the homes of board members, the cheerful library, with its crimson velvet rug - another gift - and bookshelves lining the walls, and the attractive dining room with its groups of small tables, all make a delightful place to live."

The young women - clerks, seamstresses, students and others - had their own separate apartments with separate table and lodging rooms. Rents in the new building were a bit higher, about $3 to $5 a week, though unemployed women were allowed to stay there until they could find a job and pay later. There was also more to the building than just a place to lay their heads. In 1887, the nonprofit began an employment bureau, and in 1890, it added a cooking school and writing classes.

The organization later changed its name to the Young Woman's Home Association, to more adequately express its purpose.

On April 25, 1927, the Young Woman's Home Association celebrated its 50th anniversary at the building. In its first half-century, 45,000 women had stayed in the YWHA's buildings.

There were 79 women living at the home in 1937, and a long waiting list. By this time, more than 40,000 women lived there.

During World War II, with many men overseas fighting, a great number of women stepped into their shoes to keep "the Arsenal of Democracy" churning. Many of these "Rosie the Riveters" stayed at the Young Woman's Home.

However, after the war, tastes began to change, and by the late 1960s, the building found itself with empty rooms and was losing money. The Association changed its mission from providing housing to young professional women to becoming a charitable organization. In 1969, then-YWHA President Agnes Crow spearheaded the sale of the 90-year-old building and the creation of a charitable foundation.

The association still exists today, though left the city for suburban Grosse Pointe Farms. It awards grants of up to $10,000, primarily to agencies serving women and youth in the metropolitan Detroit area.