This undated postcard shows the YWCA at its Franklin Hotel location. Image source: Holyoke History Room


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.

A letter of support from silk manufacturer Joseph Skinner. It reads: "My mother was a believer that young women -strangers in Holyoke- looking for work should have a place to stop at until they could 'find their bearings' and believing that the YWCA will always have a bed for such, we (the Skinner family) will give $10,000- ten thousand dollars towards your fund- 'in memory of Sarah E Skinner.'"

Programming at the YWCA

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.

Life in the Boarding House

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.

  1. The house must be closed and all lights out at 10:30 o’clock.
  2. All members of the home wishing to be out later than 10:30 must register their names with the superintendent and also register the time of their return on a card kept for that purpose.
  3. All lights to be out when not in rooms.
  4. No men to be entertained in girl’s rooms.
  5. Men friends may be entertained in the parlors or reading room.
  6. All members of the boarding home must be members of the association.
  7. A charge of ten cents a week will be made for the use of the laundry.
  8. Bills must be paid promptly each week.
  9. All bills must be paid at the boarding home office and all matters pertaining to the home must be brought before the superintendent.

This advertisement from the YWCA's days at its High Street location shows the type of programming the association offered to the city's women. This advertisement appeals to Polish women to learn English, citing the higher pay they could go on to earn in factories and offering a free practice lesson. Image source: Holyoke History Room

Sale and Demolition

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.

Since 1976, the site of the YWCA has been used as a parking lot for the Second Congregational Church