Read a related YWCA story here.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Think of a roaring city full of tall buildings, lots of confusing traffic and sidewalks teeming with people.
Charleston might not immediately come to mind but, to a girl from sleepy, small-town West Virginia in the early 20th century, it certainly looked like one.
"It was a big city," says Lorella Boggess.
At age 18, she moved to Charleston in 1939 to take a job typing and filing with the National Youth Administration, a New Deal jobs program for young people.
Where to stay in that big, possibly dangerous, city, so unlike the quiet streets of home? Back then, there was about one game in town for a young woman facing the bustle of the Mountain State's capital -- lodging at the Young Women's Christian Association.
It's not hard to find, among the women of the city's Edgewood Summit retirement home, tales of what that building meant to them when they were young -- and when they were older.
"It was a comfortable, safe place to stay for young women," Boggess said. "I stayed there through the winter in '39 up until the '40s."
She shared an apartment with another woman and a communal bathroom with a bunch of them. It was so many years ago that she doesn't recall too many details except for big important ones and oddly remembered little ones.
"No men or boys were allowed upstairs, I remember," she said. "The manager -- I guess she was the manager -- I remember her name, of all things to remember. It was Clotille Littleton."
The YW also was where a young girl went in high summer to cool down at a time when pools were few and far between.
"You didn't have a pool in every backyard," recalled Ruth Elam, who grew up on the East End. "As near as I can remember, there was one [private] pool, that belonged to Mr. Middleburg, who owned the Capitol Theater. If we wanted to go swimming, we either had to have somebody drive us out of town or we went to the Y."
Only, you didn't say you were going for a swim, said Elam who could walk to the YWCA from her home along with her East End girlfriends.
"It was called 'the Plunge.' We went for a 'plunge.'"
Forget about bringing your own bathing suit.
"It was required we wear their bathing suits, not ours. They were gray wool. And they had no shape. They covered us, and that was about it."
In 1947, Emily Warden moved to Charleston from the quiet, hilly streets of her hometown of Hinton, hoping to find a teaching job. "So I came to the big city to get that," she said.
She stayed with a cousin for a while. The cousin then asked her to move out for a couple of days, since she'd promised lodging to a visitor.
"She asked me to leave because this famous missionary was coming home. I went to the Y and stayed two nights - and I'll never forget that, because it was a safe haven for me and a place I had to go in a hurry."