Holyoke’s YWCA finds its roots in the Young Women’s Association, founded by city resident Laura Newton Whiting Kirkland in 1888 with the goal of aiding poorer working women in the city and teaching them life skills. “Christian” was added to the name in 1901 and it soon became chartered with the national organization. What became known as the YWCA building was built in the 1880s as the Franklin Hotel. Following a conflict with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, a court ordered the YWCA to sell the High Street building where they had been meeting. This launched a fundraising drive that raised $55,000 in 10 days, including a $10,000 donation from Joseph Skinner. The donations allowed the YWCA to purchase the Franklin Hotel as their new home in 1908.
Starting in 1909, the YWCA began operating a boarding home for young women at the former hotel and took in a consistent number of people. In 1910, 50 women stayed there permanently. Nearly 65 years later, that number was 43. In addition to housing young women, the association also provided classes. A sample from the spring of 1912 includes “The Germ Theory of Disease,” “Baked and Boiled Custards,” and “Irish Crochet.” In 1925 alone, YWCA facilities were used over 35,000 times.
Residents in the boarding house had to follow a set of rules, which were posted in every room. These were the original nine in place when the home opened.
Despite the success of its programs, the YWCA merged with the YMCA on Pine Street in September of 1976, and the boarding house was sold to the Second Congregational Church across the street. The church subsequently demolished it to make way for more parking. Today, the stone frieze bearing the building’s original name, Franklin, stands in the lot, marking the spot of the old building.