As Singapore became more cosmopolitan, with different nationalities coming to live and work on the island, the YWCA also started to serve their needs. In 1930, the Lotus Club was set up to cater to the needs and interests of Indian women. Its name was subsequently changed to Kamala Club. A Japanese women’s club was also set up to cater for the Japanese women in Singapore.
With an increased concern for family planning in the 1930s, the Association conducted family planning and sex education talks as well as adult classes for women.
Cooking classes had been a regular activity of the YWCA for many years. The classes taught expatriate women about local food and gave the young women a life skill. In 1932, the YWCA International Cookery Book of Malaya was published as a result of a conference in Ipoh. It was widely used in cookery lessons both in the YWCA and in local schools.
In 1934, the Malayan YWCA was accepted as a fully affiliated member of the World Young Women’s Christian Association. Singapore then became part of the YWCA of Malaya and Singapore.
Adult classes were started for women in 1936. YWCA’s adult education programmes, especially the night school for factory girls, flourished. This led to the formation of a social club for female factory girls in 1939.
With the industrial development of Singapore, in 1938 the YWCA set up Singapore’s first club in Outram Road for girls working in industries. It aimed to provide Saturday afternoon recreational activities for the children of coolies and girls employed in factories.
Games were organised and a free night school was conducted. Knitting, handicraft, singing, simple hygiene, English and Mandarin were taught. Reading, writing and arithmetic were also taught to 90 children. Miss Mary Chen, the General Secretary of YWCA, was responsible for the success of the club.
During this time, the YWCA organised a Pageant of East and West, where 400 young women representing 37 different races performed national dances. It was held at the Victoria Memorial Hall.
New language classes in French, Dutch, German and Malay were conducted and a Business and Professional Girls’ Club was set up and it organised a series of lectures on “Sex and Life”.
In 1939, the Katong Club was formed. It comprised a group of housewives and teachers to provide fellowship for women and activities for girls in Katong area. It had about 50 members.
When World War II reached Singapore in 1941, the YWCA premises at Fort Canning Road was commandeered first by the British, then taken over by the Japanese. The Fort Canning Road premises were only returned to the YWCA in 1947, after the war ended.
After the war, the YWCA played a crucial role in reuniting families. At Raffles Hotel and Rex World, the Association set up transit camps for ex-prisoners of war and returning servicemen and civilians. YWCA staff was fully involved in dealing with families desperately searching for loved ones. During this period, the Association continued to help in reestablishing the security and foundation of Singapore society, which had been disrupted by the war.
In 1946, the YWCA reopened its enrollment for members. The Fort Canning hostel was also reopened. $80 was charged per person for a bed and three meals per month. The Association’s headquarters was then located at 11 Leonie Hill Road, with an office, staff residences and a garden. By then, there were plans to build a 4-storey building at Fort Canning Road.
By 1947, the YWCA was operating a youth club, with plans to launch another scheme for youth organisations in the city and rural areas. By this time, the Association was already operating a school at Bukit Timah village, with 200 factory girls. It planned to open a similar school in the city area around Havelock Road.
Instructions at the schools were given in English and Mandarin and the subjects taught were general knowledge and simple mathematics. Club activities such as music, handicrafts, health, cooking, home-making, training in leadership and other subjects of general interest were also carried out.
In 1948, the YWCA opened a tea room at 5 Raffles Quay, which was patronised by men and women working in the area. It operated daily from 10 am to 2 pm, charging 10 cents for a cup of tea or coffee and 10 to 15 cents for a piece of cake.
There were many other activities during this period, including two industrial schools for female factory workers. The premises at 8 Fort Canning Road also had two tennis courts adjacent to it, which resulted in the re-opening of the YWCA Sports Club.
The tradition of organising cookery classes for women led to the publication of the YWCA Cookery Book 1948 Edition, a continuation of the 1932 Cookbook.