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In 1870, Black churchwomen in Philadelphia developed the institution that has become Southwest Belmont Community Association, Inc. First called the Colored Women’s Christian Association, its purpose was tied to the recent emancipation of Black people following the U.S. Civil War. It was founded to provide a haven for single, young, Black women coming to Philadelphia from rural areas seeking a better life and intent on taking advantage of opportunities growing out of the blossoming industrial age.

The Colored Women’s Christian Association petitioned the Young Women’s Christian Association (Y.W.C.A.), which was established in the same year, to join the “Y”. It was not until 1912 that the Colored Women’s organization became the Southwest branch of the Philadelphia YWCA. Southwest’s first facility was a house on 16th Street that became a residence within a Christian environment for young Black women. After vigorous fundraising by the women assisted by the Black churches and a $25,000 donation by Chicago philanthropist Julius Rosenwald , the women raised enough money to construct a fully functional YWCA on land donated by John Wanamaker at 1605 Catharine Street. The cornerstone of the 3-story brick building housing an Olympic -sized swimming pool, a gymnasium and an assortment of meeting rooms was laid in 1922. In 1934 the YWCA merged this branch with the Belmont Center in West Philadelphia creating Southwest Belmont YWCA.

The building served as the social and cultural center for Black citizens in the Philadelphia region well into the 1960s when court-ordered desegregation opened hotels, other venues and social organizations to all citizens. Through the years the organization provided training and employment programs for women and men, mentoring and educational support classes for teens and young adults, and day care, after school and summer camp programs for children.

When a crisis affecting the Central YWCA of Philadelphia led to major restructuring in 1994, Southwest Belmont became an independent, non-profit organization, Southwest Belmont Community Association (SWBCA) and purchased the building outright. During this time, Anne Marquess Garrott, who has been affiliated with the organization for more than fifty years, served as a full time, but unpaid Branch Administrator. Since the 1960s, she has been the driving force to sustain the organization and the building. The association’s core programs included: leadership development for women and youth to learn and grow, after school and summer camps for youth; after school and summer camps for youth; and cultural arts built on the Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame which recognizes outstanding Black women from this community.




 

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