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Guide to the Ladies' Christian Union Records
1850-2001 (Bulk 1858-1960)
  MS 359

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400


New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Processed by Maurita Baldock

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on September 05, 2019
Description is in English.

Scope and Content Note

The Ladies' Christian Union (LCU) collection documents 140 years of efforts to provide safe and affordable housing to young Christian women in New York City. The collection is arranged by type of material and contains administrative materials, photographs, brochures, articles, and comprehensive information on the houses, boarders, members, and history of the LCU. Portions of this collection have been digitized and can be viewed here.

This collection's strength is its overview of young women working and studying in New York City from 1858-2001. The Annual Reports describe the changes in young women's professions, fields of study, recreational interests, and political concerns. For instance, early occupations of boarders included teachers, seamstresses, governesses, telegraph operators, and milliners while professions in the twentieth century began to include drama students, secretaries, librarians, and eventually, business and engineering students. Similarly, the patriotic work of the women during World War II contrasts with views from the 1968 Annual Report describing the difficulty of providing for young women, "while they are loudly rejecting everything current, including both the domestic and foreign policies of this country."

The early annual reports also recount the number of foreign residents and the number of girls who left the house to marry. The reports describe the large number of illnesses and deaths among the women living in the homes and how the LCU eventually provided nurses and health insurance to its residents. Other items include a ledger book of boarders from 1864-1870 and minutes of general meetings and house meetings, which reveal conflicts with boarders and circumstances when young women were asked to leave.

The collection also supports research on the general history of the administration and membership of the LCU. Claiming to be the first women's Christian association in the world, the LCU was a model for other women's Christian efforts such as the YWCA. The administrative files, particularly the annual reports, demonstrate the rise of the organization and the successes and challenges of its efforts. The collection also documents the early devotional work of the organization. Originally, the LCU focused on devotional work, including a Devotional Committee which oversaw prayer meetings and its Band of Prayer, and Christian housing. The files show how the organization began concentrating less on its devotional work and more on the operation of its houses. The Annual Reports in the collection support research into the architectural history of the various LCU buildings, and some of the general meeting and house meeting minutes describe local crime incidents.

Notable items in the collection include two letters from writer and photographer, Jacob Riis to the LCU administration regarding complaints from a boarder. Another item is a pamphlet entitled, "Behind the Lace Curtains of the YWCA," which attempts to expose the Communist infiltration of the YWCA. The collection includes three metal boxes that display the Ladies' Christian Union logo.

Arrangement

The collection is arranged by type of material.

The Ladies' Christian Union Records have been organized into the following 15 series:

Missing Title

  1. Series I: Histories of the LCU, 1958, undated
  2. Series II: Reports, 1859-2001
  3. Series III: Minutes, 1858-1958
  4. Series IV: Real Estate Documents, 1850-1931
  5. Series V: Financial and Tax Materials, 1869-1907
  6. Series VI: Correspondence, 1872-1977, undated
  7. Series VII: Lists of Boarders and Members of LCU, 1860-1870, undated
  8. Series VIII: Photographs, [1880-1994], undated
  9. Series IX: Brochures, [1870-1966], undated
  10. Series X: LCU Celebrations and Events, 1868-1966, undated
  11. Series XI: Tributes to LCU Leaders, 1874-1949, undated
  12. Series XII: Manuals, 1869-1876
  13. Series XIII: Articles, 1868-1997, undated
  14. Series XIV: Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), 1860-1945
  15. Series XV: Books, 1911-1932