President and CEO Dorri McWhorter
Mar 29, 2024

Women’s History Month: A Timeline of Influential Women at the YMCA

While the origins of Women’s History Month date to Santa Rosa, California in 1978, the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago (and Ys nationwide) have a much longer legacy of advocating for women in positions of leadership. As we close out Women’s History Month, we’re looking back on some of the women that have shaped the history of the YMCA and the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago.  

1886: Ellen Brown of Buffalo, New York, became the first woman YMCA employee, serving as the “boys work secretary.” In that position, Brown taught a night class that eventually became its own department. She continued in that position until 1903. 

1918: Fast forward to World War I, when Addie Hunton — a YMCA secretary for Black student work and an NAACP vice president – was one of just three African American women assigned to serve more than 200,000 segregated Black troops in France.   

1940: Chicago’s own Winifred Colton spent 12 years as women’s and girls’ work secretary in three Chicago branches. When the YMCA’s National Council changed its statement of purpose to say it no longer applied to males exclusively, Colton became the first woman professional on the national staff as secretary for women’s and girls’ work.   

2021: Suzanne McCormick became the first woman CEO of the YMCA of the USA. She previously served for three years as U.S. president for United Way Worldwide. She was also a member of the UWW global management team and an executive sponsor of United Way’s Women United Global Leadership Council. 

2021: Dorri McWhorter joined the YMCA of Metro Chicago as President and CEO, the first woman and first person of color to serve in the role. Dorri joined the YMCA after eight years as President and CEO of a different Y — the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago. 

In addition to Dorri at the helm, women make up two-thirds of the Chicago Association’s leadership. 

1980-Today: Just as National Women’s History Week became Women’s History Month in 1987, the influence of women at Ys across the country and the world continues to grow. The Y is proud to commemorate and celebrate the women leaders throughout the YMCA movement’s history who have been instrumental to the success and empowerment of our current women leaders and our organization. We look forward to the contributions of our future women leaders.