Finding A Place At The 'Madison' members to recall a segregated past over tea

February 26, 1993|By Wayne Hardin | Wayne Hardin,Staff Writer

Kellye Cones spreads the old photographs across the brown table in the conference room at the downtown Young Women's Christian Association. A thick scrapbook sits at one end of the table, five others on a shelf behind her.

At the other end of the table, individual circular pictures of seven black women fill a wide horizontal wooden frame.

The materials represent a parallel world, one created because of racial segregation, one in which common goals on the needs of women became secondary to skin color.

In February 1896, the seven women formed the Baltimore Colored Young Women's Christian Association. Its functions for young women were the same as the YWCA downtown -- housing, food services, education, jobs, recreation. However, the existing YWCA, begun in 1883, was for whites only.

On Sunday, the Greater Baltimore YWCA will hold a reunion tea for black women to recognize the cultural heritage they brought to the YWCA. It is a heritage that started when the CYWCA was founded by Sarah A. Charity; Mary E. Bright; Martha E. Murphy, wife of the founder of the Afro-American newspaper; Frances L. Murphy, her daughter; Mary E. Cooper; Novella Rayne, and Maggie B. Ridley and continued many years when there was a separate branch for blacks.

One who remembers the days of segregation is Edna O. Campbell, of Ashburton in

Northwest Baltimore. Ms. Cones, organizer of the tea, says Mrs. Campbell probably has seen more of the changes in the YWCA than any current member, and her ties go back further than any black member she has been able to find.

"I came to Baltimore after I finished college at Kansas University," says Mrs. Campbell, whose age is "one of my secrets." "I joined the Y here as soon as I arrived in 1925."

But, in name, the YWCA she joined was not the same CYWCA because five years before, the CYWCA had been merged with the downtown YWCA. Now the CYWCA, in a rowhouse at 1200 Druid Hill Ave., became Baltimore's YWCA branch for blacks.

( See YWCA, 2C, Col. 3 YWCA, from 1C

served a need," says Mrs. Campbell, who worked in the city school system 48 years and was a national YWCA board member from 1965-77. "It was a part of the black community the way the Y downtown served the white community."

Emma Gaskin Bright joined the Druid Hill branch five years after Mrs. Campbell. She's 80 now, lives in the Bare Hills section of Baltimore County and is retired from 41 years in city schools, the last 15 as a principal.

"The YWCA had a tremendous impact on my life," Mrs. Bright says. "It was where we went for recreation and socialization."

"I joined the YWCA right after I got out of college in 1943," says Ella Edemy, 74, Ms. Cones' grandmother and another retired city educator. "It was on Druid Hill Avenue then."

Mrs. Edemy recalls a membership in those days that was "largely educators."

There was a reason for that, Mrs. Bright says: "In those days, teaching and nursing were about the only professions open to black women," she says.

All three women cite 1943 as a proud year in Baltimore YWCA history, one in which more than 700 black women joined in an effort to raise money to move to new quarters.

"If the Negro women could raise $75,000, the downtown YWCA would give $25,000," Mrs. Bright says.

The members raised the money in two months. The $100,000 went for the purchase of a four-story building in the 1900 block of Madison Avenue. The chairman of the committee was Miss Emma Bright, the aunt of Mrs. Emma Bright's husband, the "dearest" friend of Mrs. Bright's mother and the daughter of one of the original CYWCA Seven.

The Madison Avenue building opened in March 1945. Its "new and modern surroundings" were detailed in a lengthy Sun story which included such things as the 350-seat auditorium, a lecture hall, library, kitchen, dining room, lounges, two bowling alleys, two upper floors with bedrooms for residents both "permanent" and "transient." Throughout the building, 26 plaques and signs noted donations of money and material, including a drinking fountain given by band leader Cab Calloway.

A year later, the national YWCA voted overwhelmingly for the "complete integration of Negro women and girls" into a "full share in association and community life."

However, "The Madison" remained the black YWCA with a full range of offerings, except for swimming.

"We had all kinds of activities," says Mrs. Edemy, who now lives near Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus. "Fitness programs, trips, dancing, arts and

crafts, literary programs, poetry writing, millinery classes, day camps. My daughter, Kellye's mother, was in the day camp program."

The Madison was a "center for meetings" for groups, Mrs. Bright says, including a number of black sororities.

"It was possible to go downtown," Mrs. Campbell says. "It never was completely closed to us. At first, Madison members weren't invited for swimming, but that changed, too. But there never were many activities for black women downtown."

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