The History of the YWCA of Finland
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The History of the YWCA of Finland

120 years for women and girls!

Grand Duchy of Finland under the Russian Empire

1844: The YMCA is founded in England.

1849: The first YWCA is founded in France.

1858: Two London born YWCAs are founded in England and in 1877 these two associations get united. This is regarded as the “official” birth year of the YWCA.

1894: The World YWCA is founded by the YWCAs of England, USA, Norway and Sweden.

1895:  A group of women in the Helsingin Suomalainen Tyttökoulu (a school for girls in Helsinki) decided to found YWCA of Finland

1896: The Imperial Senate of Finland accepted the rules of the YWCA of Finland. This is our official year of birth.

1896: The first line of work was designed for the benefit of girls. YWCA took care of the spiritual and moral needs of girls and young women.

1897: YWCA of Finland started to participate in the “YWCA–YMCA Week of Prayer and World Fellowship”.

1901: Women of Finland got full rights to study in the university. Before this women had to get a special licence for studies since 1870.

1901: Membership bulletins “Kotia kohti” (in the Finnish language) and “Mot Hemmet” (in Swedish, both the official languages of Finland) started to get issued regularly. The name of the magazine has varied (nowadays it is called Näkyvä Nainen, The Visible Woman). Separate magazines in Finnish and Swedish were issued until 1969, when the magazine was first only in Finnish and since 1973 in both languages, united.

1900: The first missionary workers were elected who went to Tibet and Tunisia. The missionaries were employed by The Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission but they got the financial and prayer support mostly from the members of YWCA of Finland. This collaboration continued until the 1970’s, when the support started to shift to the direction of development work with some YWCAs in Africa, for instance.

1902: The YWCA of Finland joined the World YWCA.

1903: YWCA of Finland wanted to start also domestic missionary work in Lapland. An old farm called Riutula was donated to the YWCA. A missionary station, an orphanage and care centre for elderly were founded. Riutula was later concentrating in children only. Even an elementary school was founded in the premises.

1904: A bookstore selling Christian literature was founded by the YWCA of Helsinki in the city centre of Helsinki, where it served for 60 years. YWCA of Finland had from the beginning a wide range of publications from postcards to magazines, books and booklets.

1906: The Finnish women won the right to vote and to stand for elections. Finland was first in Europe and third in the whole world to grant women suffrage. The first woman parliament members were elected in the year 1907.

1907: YWCA of Finland started first discussions about starting Girl Scouting within the YWCA movement in Finland.

1910: In 14 years over 60 local YWCAs got started. The YWCA movement spread alongside railroads with teachers and other educated women.

1910: YWCA of Finland started to circulate 10 wooden portable bookcases, which were filled by books donated by some publishing houses and private persons to circulate in the local YWCAs before the birth of communal library system. Now some of the cases are in usage at the Hotel Helka lounge and Helka Bar.

Life during the First Steps of National Independency of Finland 

1917: For the first time, some Finnish women are given four weeks of maternity leave.

1917: Finland gains its independence and endures a civil war in 1918.

1918: Many local YWCAs send clothes and other supplies for war prisoners at the request of the state. After the civil war the state asked organisations also to assist in taking care of war orphans. Up to eleven local YWCAs grounded an orphanage to help these children.

1919: Payed jobs were formerly allowed only for unmarried women. Now the married women were allowed to start an enterprise of their own without the permission of the husband. In 1922 married women can sign a contract of employment on their own.

1919: A rising amount of women workers in the factories gave push for the YWCA of Finland to start Industrial Central Work which offered spiritual, uplifting and invigorating programme for woman workers.

1920: Local authorities must provide midwives to help women in childbirth.

1920: YWCA of Finland got permission to build the “Our Own House” (now Hotel Helka) and the site was bought in Helsinki. The building of this house was financed besides loans, shares and donations with silk flowers and cardboard “tiles”, which women were selling to people.

1924: The firs Scout leaders were initiated. Some scouting groups were already in operation before that.

1926: Women have the right to apply for civil service posts, with same benefits as men.

1927: Finland has got now 71 local YWCAs

1928: “Our Own House”, now Hotel Helka, was completed. The house was dedicated festively in the presence of the President of Republic L.K. Relander and the First Lady, and Bishop Gummerus, inaugurated the building. The press had mocked the “stupid women”, who built the house so far away from the city centre. However, soon the city reached this neighbourhood and nowadays this area is very central with central bus station and a metro station. During the WWII “remoteness” was a blessing, because the Russian warplanes were not interested in bombing this area.

1930: The YWCA of Finland resigned from the World YWCA because of disagreement on certain principles, but re-joined in 1947.

1930: Even if married, the Finnish women are recognised as having legal status.

Years of War and Recovery thereof

1939–1945:  The Winter War (1939–40), the Continuation War (1941–44), and the Lapland War (1944–45)

From 1928: The association of companies owned by the YWCA engaged in business in the field of hotels and bakeries after the YWCA's Own House was completed. Company owned bakeries as well as hotels in Helsinki (Hosptz, Hotel Helka later), Kokkola (Hanna) and Kouvola (Hilppa). Hotel Helka continues to serve under YWCA's ownership, others have been sold.

1948: Children get free lunch at school.

1949: All mothers receive the maternity grant.

1949: The YWCA acquitted a plot on the Keimiö Fell in Muonio, Lapland, in the middle of the enchanting nature. The aim was to get women in Lapland to learn skiing. Fell Clubs in the local YWCAs started raising funds for the Women's Chalet. During the first years the women cleared the plot and built their first hut by themselves. The place became a popular tourist destination for the YWCA members. The place is still the property of the YWCA and is called now “Tunturikeimiö”.

1950: Helsinki YWCA's nursery started operations in the Own House (Helka). Especially the local actors wanted to book their children even before birth to this kindergarten. Nursery ceased its operations in 1972, when municipalities began offering day care for children.

1952: The YWCA began refugee work as part of its mission.

1952: “Days of Silence” and retreats gave tools for spiritual growth. YWCA’s Swedish-speaking branch (KFUK) celebrated the first "retreat-days" at YWCA Camping centre in Pieksämäki. The roots for retreats in silence in Finland can be found in the YWCA in the 1920s.

Building of the Welfare Society

1956: At the YWCA Camping centre in Pieksämäki was held a jamboree for over 600 young girls.  YWCA camping activity peaked in the 1950–70’s. Several local associations had their own camping centres.

1967–1991: The YWCA of Helsinki started babysitter functioning which also included child care training. YWCA of Tampere has via Äidikepalvelu (mothering service) been able to offer child care assistance since 1983.

1969: The YWCA Hospitz changes name into Hotel Helka.

1970: Municipalities are beginning to offer day care for children and set up healthcare centres.

1970: The Employment Contracts Act, which incorporates the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of gender, is presented.

1970–1971: The YWCA and some youth clubs fundraised a college scholarship for six young refugees with their program “Key to the Profession”.

1977: The international women’s World Day of Prayer (WDP) started in Finland under the wings of the YWCA. The day still celebrated every year at the beginning of March. 

1970: Missionary work was morphed to development cooperation. The YWCA started in Tanzania the Lugoba-village project to train local women in 1978.

1978: As a result of the general rise in the standard of living, Riutula the children's home closed down its operations after 70 years of operation.

1979: UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women of All Forms is implemented.

From “Feast of Consumption” to Recession

1983: The Hotel Helka starred as “Hotel Budapest” on the American film “Gorky Park”.

1984: The law banning children's physical and oppressive punishment. 

1986: The Act on Equality between Women and Men: After marriage she got the chance to keep her own family name.

1986–1987: The Hotel Helka built additional wing and was having house renovation.

1990: Municipal day care as a subjective right for children under three years of age.

1990s: The YWCA of Finland formed a mental health project for Mozambican refugees in Malawi with the Finnish Refugee Council.

1993: “Why did Sarah laugh?” programme helped to go through a woman's life cycle with the guidance of the Bible.

1993: Ten Sing (Teens singing) is the YWCA/YMCA's youth programme from Norway that inspires and encourages young people to the performing arts. YWCA of Tampere with some other local YWCAs started the program in earnest, which continued until year 2004.

1994: The criminalization of marital rape.

The Visible Woman

1996: The Municipal day care for school-age children.

1996: The 100-year anniversary of the YWCA of Finland and publication of the book “On the Way – På väg”.

2004: YWCA of Tampere launched “Itu-work” in order to support the women in crisis pregnancy situation, and women who have undergone abortion. “Itu” is very popular in many parts of Finland as it is the only place for support for women who have undergone an abortion. 

2005: Campaign against Trafficking in Human Beings called “Not for Sale” is initiated.

2005: Workplaces must draw up equality plans.

2005: YWCA of Oulu start “Horrible Mothers” peer group programme to support mothers parenting their adolescent. “Horrible Mothers” becomes very popular across the country.

2000’s: The first women elected as President of Republic, Prime Minister, Bishop and the National Conciliator.

2006: 110th anniversary of the YWCA of Finland. Publication of the history book called “The Great Circle of Sisters – the YWCA Movement in Finland from 1890–1900”.

2008: Domestic violence is a big problem in the country. “Rose Alley 78” (Rosenstrasse 78) licenced exhibition idea is bought from Germany to circulate various locations highlighting the issues related to domestic violence. A furnished exhibition “home” is communicating through facts sheets about what, how, when etc. domestic violence is occurring in a peaceful looking home environment.

2010s: Working together at the YWCA of Liberia with the support of the EU. In the period 2014–2015 the YWCA of Liberia's is participating in the fight against Ebola.

2012: The YWCA of Finland joins to the UN Resolution 1325 network. The aim of which is to contribute to the implementation to the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on "Women, Peace and Security.

2015: The YWCA of Finland began publishing the Hotel Helka's Respect blog (written in Finnish and English), highlighting the connection between the hotel and the association. The following year, YWCA of Finland’s own blog “Soul Sisters” was born (written only in Finnish).

2015: YWCA of Helsinki founded the “Debora project” with the “SOma SOppi” for school-aged (immigrant) girls.

2016: “Strength Sisters” peer group operation materials are published within the 120-anniversary celebration. “Strength Sisters” aims to provide tools for the processing of emotions and finding women’s own mental resources. The need for this kind of work rises from the hard history of this country, where children mostly were not allowed to show or even have feelings. These suppressed feelings cause illnesses and ruin relationships. Therefore it is important to learn to handle own feelings in a safe surrounding also in order not to pass this harmful behaviour to the next generations.





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Jäsenlehti Näkyvä Nainen

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Toimintakeskus Tunturikeimiö