From stay-at-home women to career-minded women: the Istanbul YWCA, 1919–1930

Date
2021-07-26
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Source Title
Women's History Review
Print ISSN
0961-2025
Electronic ISSN
1747-583X
Publisher
Routledge
Volume
31
Issue
3
Pages
496 - 521
Language
English
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Abstract

Examining the labor policies of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in Istanbul from 1919–1930, this article claims that the organization’s mainly American staff were critical of women who stayed at home because the idea of being ‘an individual’ for them meant working, or having a professional goal. They encouraged young women develop their individuality and self-expression as independent career-oriented women. By establishing an Employment Bureau, offering business training, presenting career-oriented role models and talks, YWCA staff encouraged young women to gain financial independence and pushed them towards making active decisions about their careers, detaching them from paternal and societal authority. Working for oneself and focusing on one’s own career became the key to taking control of one’s life and choices, pursuing personal happiness and potential, all of which was part of attaining a sense of individuality. Their prioritizing of having a career over marriage and motherhood contributed to feminist activism. This case-study argues that the YWCA’s mainly American staff at the Istanbul centers promoted the value of a professional identity for women beyond the bounds of nationalistic duty or motherhood, which contrasted with the late Ottoman state’s and Early Republican Turkey’s ideologies while simultaneously challenging gender roles and patriarchal codes.

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