YWCA Knoxville and the Tennessee Valley | History


Since 1899, YWCA Knoxville and the Tennessee Valley has been a leading force in community change. With a mission to eliminate racism, empower women, and promote peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all, YWCA offers transitional housing and supportive services to women who would otherwise be homeless; advocacy, outreach, support groups, counseling and prevention services for victims of domestic violence; youth and family development services; and after-school programming.

As one of the oldest organizations in East Tennessee, YWCA has improved the lives of women and their families for generations. In 1900, fifteen girls alone in the City found sanctuary at the YWCA’s humble doors.

The downtown YWCA, located at 420 West Clinch Avenue, was built in 1925 to serve women and girls with women’s housing, an employment bureau, gym classes, a sewing room, and transit services. By 1934, nearly 200 women lived on the top two floors of a bustling facility, accessing training and work opportunities with other women in need. Currently, the facility is a safe space for women in need, providing housing for 58 women for up to two years through the Keys of Hope Women’s Housing Program. The facility is also to home to YWCA staff offices and Club W fitness, which features workout rooms, fitness classes, basketball court, and indoor heated lap pool.

In 1954, the current Phyllis Wheatley Center was built in East Knoxville, located at 124 South Cruze Street. Originally built as a facility for black women in 1920, the Phyllis Wheatley Center is now dedicated to serving the community with youth programs, education, and health & fitness programs.

Beginning in 2015, YWCA Knoxville and the Tennessee Valley expanded its services to Anderson County, including a renovation of the building at 1660 Oak Ridge Turnpike in Oak Ridge. YWCA Victim Advocates provide services to victims of domestic violence, and other programs as community needs are identified.

Today, YWCA serves more than 11,300 women, children and families through a variety of high-quality programs at three sites in downtown Knoxville, East Knoxville and Oak Ridge; and provides services across a six-county service area (Knox, Anderson, Roane, Loudon, Blount and Sevier). Annual events that help to grow, expand and sustain the YWCA’s mission include the Tribute to Women in September, Diversity Day/Race Against Racism in January, Stand Against Racism in April, and Keys of Hope Luncheon in May.


The YWCA has been at the forefront of the most critical social movements for more than 160 years — from women’s empowerment and civil rights, to affordable housing and pay equity, to violence prevention and health care.  The first YWCA was established in 1855 in London, England. The first United States-based chapter formed in 1858, and the first YWCA USA national board was established in 1906.  The World YWCA is a global movement working for women’s empowerment, leadership and rights in more than 120 countries and 20,000 local communities.