Big Sky Chronicles: YWCA

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YWCA of Helena is known for its mission to provide transitional housing to homeless women. In this week's Big Sky Chronicles, Beartooth NBC shows us some little known facts about the house and how it started from the foundation up.

YWCA interiorBonnie Bowler is a YWCA board member and fondly calls herself the house historian. She says one of its most influential founders was the first woman physician in Helena.

“Dr. Maria Dean was interested in the health and the welfare of women coming into these wild gold camps,” says Bowler.

Other famous family names helped establish Helena’s YWCA branch or Helena Independent as it started in 1911. Dean's sisters married into the Child and Huntley families, and Frieda Fligelman served as the first secretary. They started as Helena Independent because not all members of Helena's Young Women's Christian Association were actually Christian.

“They were Jewish women and they made up a good part of who was in charge here,” says Bowler.

Bowler says the "Y" relocated three different times before a Joseph Empson cafeteria regular helped members find their permanent home on the corner of Placer and Park.

“He donated the land for this building to be built,” says Bowler.

And most of the original building still stands today. The bricks that make up the exterior were made at Kessler Brick Yard, The pipes for heating and plumbing the same. The dance hall...

“Many people who grew up here remember coming to dancing classes here,” says Bowler.

During the flu epidemic of 1918, women living at the house even had separate sinks for spitting into and they're still here.

“It wasn't proper for women to spit in the first place and then they couldn't spit into the sinks where they washed their hands,” says Bowler.

And just as the pieces of the building have been preserved, the history and the mission of the founding members have too.

“There was absolutely no place for anybody to go to even get started but this was a place for women to come and be safe,” says Bowler.

Bonnie says members of the current board are continuously updating the house and bringing it up to ADA compliant standards.


Story by Jess Armstrong, Beartooth NBC.
Sponsored by Big Sky Plumbing & Heating of Helena.
Copyright ©2012 Beartooth Communications Company. All Rights Reserved.

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